Sales Representative Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn more about sales representative jobs. Find out what skills you’ll need to succeed in this role and how to craft an eye-catching resume.

[Featured image] A sales representative is discussing about a new product with their team.

Companies rely on sales representatives to generate profit. A sales rep promotes and sells products to customers and can work in varying roles, including inside and outside sales. You may succeed in this role if you’re intrinsically motivated with excellent communication and interpersonal skills, confidence, patience, and organization.

Sales representatives jobs are available in various industries and may not require formal education to work in this role. If you’re interested in becoming a sales rep, learn more about it and whether it’s a career choice for you. 

What is a sales representative?

A sales representative sells products on behalf of a company. They are involved in the entire sales process, from reaching out to potential customers to maintaining relationships with existing customers. A good sales rep understands and meets the varying needs of a company’s target customer base. They typically sell products to organizations and other businesses rather than directly to consumers. Common duties may include: 

  • Educating customers on products

  • Answering questions about products

  • Demonstrating the use and benefits of products

  • Understanding and conducting market research on similar or competing products 

Types of sales representative jobs 

Sales representatives may have various roles within a company. As a result, you may find different types of sales representative jobs. Most types share similar skills and requirements but vary in duties, responsibilities, and work environment. 

Inside sales representative

As the name suggests, an inside sales representative works from inside of a company, meaning they spend most of their day in an office rather than out in the field. Companies that utilize inside sales representatives rely on these professionals to generate leads. Depending on the needs of a company, some common tasks include:

  • Working alongside outside sales reps to generate leads and close sales

  • Selling products that may be mass-produced

  • Meeting with new and existing clients remotely 

Read more: Inside Sales Representative: Career Outlook 

Outside sales representative 

This type of sales representative sells products to customers via in-person interactions rather than remotely. Professionals in this role travel and spend the majority of their time in the field and setting up meetings with potential and existing clients. Common tasks of an outside sales rep may include: 

  • Conducting product demonstrations to explain products to customers 

  • Spending more time in the sales funnel education and persuading clients to close a deal 

  • Traveling and meeting with customers face-to-face 

Read more:Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales: How Are They Different?

Sales development representative 

A sales development representative works in the early stages of the sales funnel through inbound and outbound sales prospecting. The goal for sales development reps is to increase customer engagement by building relationships with potential customers. Common duties include: 

  • Conducting cold calls and emails 

  • Creating first impressions for their company’s brand 

  • Educating prospective customers 

  • Communicating with other sale team members    

Sales representative executive 

While a sales executive may also find leads, the primary goal of this position is to close sales. Sales executives set up meetings with potential customers, negotiate deals, and convert leads into sales. Other duties include: 

  • Reaching out to customers 

  • Setting sales targets

  • Conducting market research to ensure target consumer is reached

  • Attending events and related conferences 

How to get a job as a sales representative

You might find that many sales representative jobs value formal training rather than education. Degrees aren’t typically a requirement to become a sales representative. Expect employers to require some form of sales training, including industry-specific or basic on-the-job sales training. 

Meet educational requirements. 

The most common educational requirement for sales representatives is a high school diploma or GED. It’s not common for entry-level sales positions to require a formal degree, though some individuals hold bachelor’s degrees in business or a related field. If you know what industry you’d like to sell for and want to earn a degree, consider earning a bachelor’s degree in that field. For example, a computer science degree would be beneficial if you want to sell computers. 

Build experience. 

Real-world sales experience is a key requirement for getting a job as a sales representative. Employers want to see that you are competent, confident, and skilled in sales. Prior experience can look differently based on the industry and your overall employment history.

Have zero experience. If you are just starting with zero sales experience, you can build experience in many ways. Search sales representative job descriptions of local companies and look for entry-level sales positions with no experience requirements. 

Have some experience. If you already have sales experience but want to work in a different industry, build experience in that specific field by seeking out training opportunities or certifications. Some employers will train you on a product if you already have experience in basic sales skills. 

Consider certifications. 

Certifications and formal training are excellent ways to demonstrate your proficiency in sales. Earning these credentials can mean a more competitive resume and additional career opportunities within the sales profession. Some popular sales certifications and specializations include:

  • The Certified Sales Executive (CSE) Certification is offered through the Sales and Marketing Executives International organization. This certification is for a range of sales professionals who want to improve sales skills and even move into management-level positions. 

  • The Certified Professional Sales Person (CPSP) Certification is offered through the National Association of Sales Professionals. Any sales professional who wants to learn new sales techniques, build technical and personal skills key to sales, and gain a competitive edge in the industry with professional credentials might consider getting this certification. 

  • The Certified Professional Sales Leader (CPSL) is another certification offered through the National Association of Sales Professionals. This certification is best for sales professionals seeking to enhance their career in sales by pursuing leadership positions. Training and skills learned as part of this program focus on sales leadership. 

These certifications can be earned online, with many completed in under one year. Cost varies by each certification. Some professional organizations require or encourage membership. 

Create a resume and apply for jobs. 

Your resume as a potential sales representative should provide a clear and thorough snapshot of what kind of sales representative you are and how you can benefit potential employers. Since formal education is often optional and not always a requirement for this position, a sales representative resume should emphasize skills that highlight your qualifications as a sales rep. 

When you’re ready to apply for jobs, reading through job descriptions to get an idea of the in-demand skills to tailor your resume appropriately can be helpful. When you find the ideal position, apply for the job per the job description. 

TIP: Include a mix of technical and personal sales representative skills, and be specific. What can you offer this employer specifically? Instead of vague descriptions such as good communication skills, think of ways to tailor your skills to the employer's needs in a meaningful, specific way. 


Understanding the sales representative hiring process

Employers have several ways of finding and hiring talent. The method or process a company employs may depend on criteria such as the size of the company, level of need, and type of products it sells. 

Use a recruiter or find the right job opening. 

Recruiters help companies find their ideal candidates. These professionals work closely with employers and know exactly who to look for to fill job openings. A recruiter can match you to sales representative positions based on your skills and overall qualifications. Other reasons to use a recruiter may include seeking a job in a specific or niche industry, being new to a city, or being a novice in an industry. 

How to connect with a recruiter? 

Recruiters may work for recruiting agencies or for a specific company as in-house recruiters. A few ways to get connected with recruiters are to reach out via a cold call or email or optimize your resume so that they find you. Cold calls and emails are often appropriate, but keep your message brief and clear. When building your resume, use industry-specific keywords recruiters may use in searches. 


TIP: Make sure to post your updated resume on your professional LinkedIn page. Recruiters often use LinkedIn to recruit talent. Recruiters may also use recruiting sites like Monster, ZipRecruiter, and Indeed. 


Interview prep 

A sales interview is an opportunity for candidates to showcase their skills as a salesperson. You are selling yourself in the sales interview process. An interviewer wants to see your confidence, communication, personality, and sales skills. Here are some interview tips to land a sales rep position:

  • Research the company and products they sell

  • List out your strengths and weaknesses

  • Prepare to discuss your skills in the context of the company’s needs 

  • Prepare your own questions for the interviewer 

Read more: 10 Sales Interview Questions and Answers 

Salary and career outlook for sales representatives

Sales is an incredibly diverse field and the compensation can depend on multiple factors, including industry, location, size of the company, and your level of experience. Some sales reps earn a commission, while others make a set salary or a combination of the two. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a sales representative in the US is $61,600 a year [1]. This earning includes all wholesale and manufacturing sales reps . BLS projects that the average career outlook for sales representatives is expected to grow 4 percent between now and 2031[2]. Among the top-paying industries for sales reps are technical, scientific, and professional services, merchant wholesalers, and manufacturing.

Next steps 

Launch your career as a sales representative today. Take the initiative and enroll in an online course today to build your skills as a sales representative. On Coursera, you can find courses like The Art of Sales: Mastering the Sales Process Specialization, which can be beneficial for building foundational sales skills. You can also choose to earn the HubSpot Sales Representative Professional Certificate to start your career. 

Article sources


US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives: Pay," Accessed March 8, 2023.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.