(Last Updated On: 04/04/2017)

Last week, I provided a basic overview of terminology and career paths related to the sales field. While sales is a diverse and often lucrative career, it is also a field that is frequently misunderstood or negatively stereotyped by job-seekers. Sales certainly is not a great fit for everyone, but it can be an excellent choice for candidates who are persuasive, persistent, and entrepreneurial.

That being said, there are a core set of skills that employers frequently look for when hiring for sales positions, regardless of the product or industry. These skills enable candidates to succeed in a competitive industry that is driven both by “people skills” and quantitative results.

Let’s take a look at some of the common skills required for sales positions, including why they are important and how you can demonstrate these attributes during the application process:


Resilience is one of the most crucial characteristics needed for success in sales, particularly for positions in outside sales or roles that may require cold-calling. Long story short, resilience is what enables you to persist when a customer tells you “no” – and you may be hearing that word a lot.

Out of 100 contacts with potential customers, you may be rejected 99 times. A resilient sales professional is able to brush themselves off after each rejection and bring the same energy and enthusiasm to the next customer, day after day.

How can you demonstrate this?

Resilience could be displayed on your resume through your “stick-to-itiveness” – that is to say, the amount of time that you have persisted in previous positions or involvements. If you have left every job after a few months, or do not have any activities that involved an extended time commitment (1-2 years or more), hiring managers may question your resilience.

Another approach is demonstrating your resilience in the job interview. Try to think about stories where you have demonstrated persistence or overcome rejection, particularly in a professional setting. Your ability to persuasively talk about your resilience can be a convincing aspect of the interview.

Time Management Skills

Time management is important in the sales world because, quite frankly, time is money. Employees who are efficient and effective managers of their time will be able to make more sales calls and bring in more business in the course of the workday. Furthermore, many sales professionals work somewhat independently, meaning you may be responsible for managing your own territory, portfolio, or book of business. Time management skills allow you to structure your time effectively and not get overwhelmed by the independent work environment.

How can you demonstrate this?

Again, time management can be effectively demonstrated both on your resume and in your interview. On your resume, time management is displayed through the variety of involvements and time commitments you have simultaneously. A candidate who worked part-time, attended school full-time, and served as a leader in 2-3 student organizations during their college career likely has strong time management skills.

In addition, sales managers may ask applicants pointed questions like “How do you prioritize your time?”, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”, and “Tell me about a time you achieved a goal – and how you got there.” All of these questions are opportunities to emphasize your time management skills, and you should be ready with relevant stories and examples from your professional experience.

“People Skills”

“People skills” is a common term that essentially refers to your personality and interpersonal skills. Effective communication and overall likeability are important factors for having good “people skills.” In the sales world, these characteristics are important because sales representatives typically have a small window of opportunity to establish rapport with a potential customer and develop the relationship into a business exchange. People skills are also important for enhancing relationships with existing customers and working effectively in a team environment.

How can you demonstrate this?

On your resume, be sure to display some of your social involvements. Being part of a college fraternity, bartending, volunteering in the community – all of these seemingly minor activities hint at an overall outgoing nature and strong social inclination.

However, the best way to demonstrate people skills is in person, either through networking or during the interview process. When interacting with potential employers, do your best to project confidence, be a good listener, and be friendly and approachable. Two easy ways to connect with others: smile and make eye contact!


Like people skills, professionalism is an important quality which can be difficult to define in any concise way. And – just like people skills – professionalism can sometimes be difficult to measure as well: candidates either have it, or they do not.

I like to say that professionalism means doing all the “little” things well, which includes general communication skills, exercising good judgment, and projecting a professional image. In sales, all of these traits are important for cultivating business relationships and presenting a good brand image for the company. Employees who are sloppy dressers, poor communicators, or struggle with business etiquette (i.e. lack of punctuality) will probably have a very hard time succeeding in the field.

How can you demonstrate this?

Professionalism is one of those characteristics that I would suggest candidates to “Show, not tell.”

It is more effective to demonstrate professional skills in your interactions with employers than to try to persuade them verbally you are a capable professional. For example, a polished, well-formatted resume is one of your first opportunities to display professionalism. Showing up to the interview on time, well-dressed, and well-prepared is another point in your favor. Sending a follow-up note with polite, professional language (and no grammatical errors) will further indicate your professional skills.

Again, think through each stage of the job search process and try to anticipate how you can excel in each of these small tasks. The end result could make a big impact on your professional brand.

Persuasive Skills

We are talking about sales, and one of the key challenges in the sales industry is overcoming customer objections to gain their business. To accomplish this task, you must have some good persuasive skills. Most customers are not readily willing to fork over their money – as a sales professional you must successfully communicate the value of your product, understand customer needs and objections, and create an effective counter-argument.

In my opinion, strong persuasive skills (paired with strong resilience) are one of the most difficult aspects of a career in sales. Either you have it, or you do not, and I learned this fact quickly during my own brief stint in sales!

How can you demonstrate this?

The first strategy for demonstrating persuasive skills is by your resume experience. If you have prior experience in sales, or you have been involved in any activity that required convincing others to change their minds (i.e. debate club), then you should emphasize those experiences and be ready to discuss them. Have some good examples ready – employers will probably ask you directly about a time where you successfully won an argument or convinced someone else to change their viewpoint.

Secondly, remember that the interview is a sales process in itself. The best way to demonstrate persuasive skills is to effectively SELL yourself as a candidate! Look for opportunities to promote your abilities and emphasize how well you fit with the needs of the employer. If you can convince them you have what it takes, then you can probably also convince a customer to buy their product!

Results-Oriented, Competitive Attitude

The final characteristic I want to highlight is a results-oriented, competitive attitude. Most sales positions are very goal oriented, and you are often competing against yourself, your market competition (other similar companies), or even other sales professionals within your own company. Sales employees are usually asked to set and meet concrete goals, whether that is bringing in a certain number of new customers or responsibility for a certain amount of revenue, and a competitive spirit is very helpful in achieving those expectations.

How can you demonstrate this?

One of the best ways to demonstrate a results-oriented attitude is by having plenty of numbers and concrete outcomes displayed on your resume. Rather than saying you “increased fundraising” for your local charity, be more specific and say you “increased fundraising revenue by 20%.” Take advantage of any opportunity to quantify your performance and clearly demonstrate how you made an impact in your position.

Being involved in sports is also a way to demonstrate your competitiveness. Many students ask me if their involvement as a student-athlete or intramural team captain is relevant enough to put on their resume. Most of the time, the answer is yes – and competitive sports is DEFINITELY a relevant activity for candidates pursuing sales careers.

Finally, as with many of the previous skillsets, you should be ready to share examples of competitive accomplishments, significant goals you have achieved, or times you have made a considerable impact in previous organizations.

Think about all of the examples you want to share in your interview – you should clearly be able to articulate the results of that story, AND explain why the example is relevant to the position!

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Andrew Crain
Andrew Crain is a career development consultant at The University of Georgia. He works with business students and conducts trainings on LinkedIn, Personal Branding, Prezi, and Job Search Strategies. Contact Andrew at andrewcr85 at gmail.com, connect on LinkedIn or visit his Prezi portfolio to learn more. The views represented here belong to Andrew Crain and do not represent The University of Georgia or the UGA Career Center. He wrote career advice articles for CareerThoughts.com. Check his profile here.