Surrey Careers blog

Official blog of the University of Surrey's Employability and Careers Centre

A career working in sales: myths, tips, and the skills you need to succeed

You might not think you want to pursue a sales career after graduation. Yet, having strong selling skills is an integral part of building a successful career – whether it be investment banking, law, accounting, pharmaceuticals, travel, education, retail, or starting your own business. Even interviewing for a job requires good selling skills.

At our recent ‘Working in Sales’ event we were joined by panellists Barney Ely (Director, Hays – the world’s leading recruitment organisation) and Regina Van Burkleo (Group Talent Acquisition Manager, Enterprise Rent-A-Car – Target Jobs’ Graduate Employer of the Year 2016).

Our panellists helped us to uncover what a career working in sales really means, and shared some top tips to enhance your sales skills and increase your future employability (whatever career path you pursue). In this blog, we’ll round up some of their insights:

The myths of ‘working in sales’

Sales is all about having ‘the gift of the gab’: As the saying goes, ‘we’re given two ears and one mouth for a reason’. Listening is an essential skill for a career in sales. When you don’t listen to a potential customer, you don’t learn about the individual, the company or their priorities. You won’t be able to address their needs, and your chances of making the sale are greatly diminished. Great salespeople have fantastic customer service skills – would you go back to a company if you had received very poor customer service? It’s very unlikely! It’s the same when making a sale.

You need to be an extrovert to do well: Sales roles often involve a lot of interacting, but that doesn’t mean you need to be an extrovert to be successful. Introverts can be fantastic sales people due to their ability to listen and tune into the needs of their customers.

There’s no career progression: Working in sales is usually a complex job, and a graduate role will give you a firm grounding in all aspects of the business you’re working for. Roles can often be extremely varied, and the skills you develop can be transferred to a wide range of other positions across the business.

Sales is simply about cold calling: Gone are the days that sales was all about cold calling – although it can still be an element of the job, cold calling is a dying art. Due to the rise of the internet, the general trend has been for salespeople to work more closely with marketers to target individuals and businesses in more specific ways. Also, it’s worth noting that as your career in sales progresses, you’ll find yourself doing less and less phone work – you may find yourself handling fewer, bigger accounts with major clients as opposed to making individual new sales.

Top tips for success

As senior representatives of their respective companies, Barney and Regina offered some useful advice for graduates looking to pursue a career in sales.

Show up, step up, wise up: In a sales role, you need to be on top of your game. So when you show up, you need to give it your all. Stepping up to new challenges and technologies is also important. At Hays, CVs used to be faxed to clients, but now Hays has millions of connections on LinkedIn, acting as a live source of data on candidates. Finally, wise up about what ‘sales’ actually means – don’t fall for the ‘myths’.

Network, network, network: Being a good networker and building connections is essential for a successful career in sales. You can get far from showing a genuine interest in someone – whether that be face-to-face, or via channels such as LinkedIn. You’ll never know if you need to work with that person in the future, so make a good impression.

Look ahead: Profile the job you want not only now, but where you’d like to be in 3-5 years’ time. You’ll outgrow your current role, so by looking ahead you can get a better understanding of how you can progress and move forwards.

Sell yourself in an interview – but be yourself! If you lie in a job interview, it’s very likely the interviewer will see right through you – and if they don’t, it’s very likely the job won’t be right for you if you. Be yourself, be genuine.

Be prepared: When attending an interview, ensure you’re fully prepared to to showcase the skills that will set you apart; have ten or so stories ready to fit into any situation the interviewer may ask.  The STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action and Result) is also useful for ordering your thought processes and can make you be more specific with your answers. For more tips, see our post on How to Ace A Job Interview.

Key competencies

Many graduate employers look for natural competencies that would suit a career in sales with their company, and then train the specific skills. Our panellists listed the top competencies they look for in a candidate:

  • Recruiters look for resilience in candidates – the ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off after a setback. Sales people need to be able to keep motivated and driving forwards.
  • Drive is a key skill that employers test for in candidates applying for a role in sales – you need to be able to self-motivate and have a strong desire to succeed.
  • The ability to offer high levels of customer service is essential. Listening to a customer and discovering and addressing their needs is a key part of the sales process.
  • Strong networking skills are helpful is most roles, but they’re even more important in sales. The ability to do this effectively (whether face-to-face or online) is something recruiters look for in a candidate.

Help and advice for your future career

The Employability & Careers Centre provides a varied and comprehensive careers guidance, information and vacancy services to all University of Surrey Students, from first to final year undergraduates and postgraduates, and to recent Alumni. Discover more about what is on offer and how we can support you via our website.

One World Week: A Spotlight on International Placement Projects

one world week university of surrey

This week celebrates One World Week at the University of Surrey. Developed by the One World Week Charity, the aim is to raise awareness of the rich cultural diversity we are lucky to have within our student body, as well as encouraging students from all backgrounds to expand their views of the world we live in. More information about the One World Week activities on campus can be found here.

To celebrate One World Week, we put a spotlight on some amazing placement year projects that our students have completed. The examples below show just some of the great work that our students are doing around the world, as well as some examples of projects that make a real difference to global issues.

Spotlight on 4 student placement year projects:

Sam Pemberton, Mathematics

Sam Pemberton completed his placement year at Thames Water, the UK’s largest water and waste services company. Here Sam talks about the water shortage challenges he discovered as a result of his placement year and the work he undertook to make a positive change:

At the end of my first year at the University of Surrey I travelled to Indonesia to do voluntary work in an orphanage. It was located in the middle of the jungle some distance from the nearest town. The living environment was completely different to the UK, and it was there that I appreciated the precious value of drinking water and how easily we can take this resource for granted in the UK.

During my placement year at Thames Water, I came to recognise the significant water shortage problem the South East of England faces. I undertook work to explore and understand the water consumption patterns of their customers. By analysing data using a variety of techniques and software packages, (some of which I had previously used whilst at University) I found indicators that could be used to estimate the water consumption of different properties. These findings and the resulting extrapolations provided a foundation, for gaining better insight into water usage, planning for the future water resource requirements, and for ideas that could lead to improved water efficiency programs.”

Catherine Okuboyejo, Biochemistry

Catherine Okuboyejo had the unique opportunity to work on a research project for United Airlines studying fatigue in airline pilots:

As a biochemistry student interested in sleep and circadian rhythms, I did my placement at the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University (WSU) in Spokane, Washington, USA. I worked in the Occupational Sleep Medicine Group, led by Dr Gregory Belenky, who performs fatigue studies for United Airlines. The studies involve comparing pilot sleep and performance on flights that are inside Federal Aviation Administration regulations to flights which are outside of the regulations.

For me, the most rewarding outcome was gaining an interest in data analytics and thus a career direction. Advised and encouraged by WSU, I undertook an online course through the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John’s Hopkins University in data science. Using knowledge I gained on the course, I was able to help write the code for a plot for an analysis technique that has been submitted for a patent. Finally, I was recommended by WSU to a company in London who I have already started working for.”

Kaitlin Day, Biomedical Sciences

Kaitlin Day completed her placement for the BASE Facility (Be Active Sleep Eat) in Australia within the Nutritional Research Department. Kaitlin worked on a huge range of projects including assisting with a human clinical trial assessing the effectiveness of a current sleep apnoea treatment and validating a piece of lab equipment (DXA for measurement of visceral fat).

I am incredibly proud and honoured to have worked for the BASE Facility in Melbourne, Australia as a Research Assistant. My placement was an opportunity for me to gain valuable experience within an active research group. I gained skills in review writing and preparing a manuscript for publication. Working on two separate data collection projects I was able to acquire essential skills within the laboratory. Working with participants helped teach me valuable communication skills especially in communicating research goals to the public. I have furthered my working relationship with BASE through carrying on project work through my dissertation and have had a systematic review, completed with the department recently accepted for publication. I gained amazing insight into the world of work and hope to be able to encourage other students to engage with this placement and seize this amazing opportunity in a wonderful part of the world.”

George Butler, Civil Engineering

George Butler chose to complete his Professional Training Year placement overseas with Arup. George was challenged with ground-breaking analysis and design of some iconic tall building structures, and worked effectively alongside the Chinese engineering team, having to overcome significant language barriers and cultural differences.

I grew up on a farm in Dorset and was drawn to Civil Engineering for the chance to use maths and physics to solve practical problems. I have been especially taken by the structural engineering modules of my degree, so decided that this was the discipline for my Professional Training Year. I was fortunate enough to be accepted by the Structures Department of Arup’s Hong Kong office in July 2015.

My role within Arup was as an assistant to the engineers in my team. I worked primarily on analysis models of high rise buildings in the early stages of design; the highlight was being part of the 3 person team responsible for a bid that won Arup a 459m skyscraper project. Throughout my placement I became especially proficient with a new design programme – after my PTY had finished and I was travelling Vietnam I gave a presentation on this software to the Vietnam Arup Structures team.”

Student of the Year 2017 Nominees!

All students featured are currently nominated for our Student of Year Award 2017, the judging for which will take place on Tuesday 28th March 2017 at the University of Surrey. Check back on this blog for highlights from this event!

Video interviews: live vs recorded and how to embrace this new technology


More and more graduate recruiters are using video interviews as part of their recruitment process. There are two different types of ‘video interviews’; live videos via a tool such as Skype, or recorded video interviews, which consists of a series of pre-recorded questions with no face-to-face interaction. Whichever method is used, both can be a strange, somewhat off-putting experience for the first time, so sufficient preparation beforehand is crucial for interview success!

Live interviews

Interviews via Skype (or other online video software) is the most akin to being interviewed in person and is increasingly popular for recruiters who don’t have the time or resources to conduct face-to-face interviews, particularly with international recruitment.  Plus, for the candidate, a Skype interview can be less pressured and demanding than a face-to-face interview; although you should always remain just as professional!

Top Tips for live interviews

  • Make sure you prepare as carefully as you would for a face-to-face interview, which includes dressing professionally.
  • Make sure that you have your equipment already set up beforehand, including doing a test call beforehand.
  • Make sure you’re in a quiet area where you won’t be disturbed or distracted.
  • Once you’ve set up your webcam position, consider turning off the box on the top right which shows your own image as this can become distracting and lead you to glancing off in a different direction.
  • Maintain eye contact with the interviewer. It is better to focus on looking at the camera rather than the main screen.
  • Avoid speaking over anyone by making sure that the person has finished speaking before you answer their question.

Recorded video interviews

In a recorded video interview, the interviewee answers a series of questions which are recorded on camera for the recruiter to review at a later date.

You will be sent a link where you access automated questions online without necessarily seeing a human being, and are given a time limit to respond to each question. Most recorded video software platforms give you the opportunity to practice a couple of questions before you start, in order to get used to the technology. But remember, once you’ve initiated the interview, you cannot rewind or review your answers!

Top Tips for recorded video interviews

  • You need to dress as appropriately as you would for a face-to-face interview.
  • Make sure you prepare as carefully as you would for a face-to-face interview.
  • It is also worth practising so that you get used to answering automated questions without necessarily seeing a human being.
  • You may be given a set time limit to answer each question, so answer concisely.
  • Be aware of your surroundings, including the lighting and make sure you are in a quiet place with no interruptions.
  • Look at the camera and not at other parts of the screen or down at the desk or table.

Practice your interview skills with GSK

Want the chance to practice your interview skills? Come along to the “Video Interviews” careers session next Tuesday 14th March with GSK, 6-7:30pm in LTB. Register your space here.

How to Ace the Psychometric Test


Over 70 % of large companies currently use psychometric tests as part of their selection process to gather vital information from potential employees, according to AGCAS. But what exactly are psychometric tests and how can you prepare effectively for them?

What are psychometric tests?

Aptitude/Ability Tests test your capabilities, usually in numeracy, understanding text and logical problem solving. They are generally multiple choice, timed, lasting around 30 minutes each with 20-30 questions to be completed.

Tests often take place at an early stage of the recruitment process and are online. This is usually after you have completed the application form and it has been reviewed by the employer. Often at a later stage, such as an assessment centre, employers will often ask you to take a further test in person, to check that it was really you that completed the online test before offering you the job.

Tips for doing well in Aptitude Tests:


  • You need to be both quick and accurate
  • There’s not usually time to check each answer as you go. If you have time left at the end, that’s your opportunity to look again at questions you’re not sure about.
  • Work steadily; questions tend to get more difficult as the test progresses, although an easier question can be placed amongst harder ones.
  • It may not be possible to answer all the questions in the time given.
  • Practise by doing puzzles, answering quizzes, playing cards, “Test your IQ” books etc. All provide experience of answering short questions at speed.
  • See below for details of practice tests and useful websites.

Tips for doing well in Numeracy Tests:


  • Brush up your arithmetic. Numerical tests are not purely arithmetical but it will help. See Further Information for sources to help with this. You need to be completely comfortable with working out percentages, exchange rates, time differences, time/speed/distance calculations, reading charts, graphs and tables.
  • Revise your multiplication tables.
  • Practise mental arithmetic by working out prices/weights/values when shopping.
  • You may not be able to use a calculator. Your results will always be compared with candidates who have had the same access, or lack of, to a calculator as you.

Tips for doing well in Verbal Reasoning Tests:


  • You are generally given a written passage of text and asked to use that information to answer questions.
  • Use only the information given in the text to decide on your answer – it’s not a test of your general knowledge but a test of understanding.
  • It’s quickest to read the questions first, then read the passage, seeking out the answers to the questions. Be sure to read the whole passage though.
  • Develop your skills in quick comprehension by reading an article in a serious newspaper and summarising each paragraph in a sentence or two.


Practice, practice practice! Resources for practice tests and helpful materials

My Professional Training placement – Alice Bentham, BA Theatre and Performance


The experiences you can gain as a placement student are invaluable – especially in an industry such as ours where it can seem impossible to get a foot in the door.”

Hear the Professional Training experience of Alice Bentham, BA Theatre and Performance, who split her Professional Training placement year between the National Theatre and the Young Vic Theatre, in London.

“My first placement was in the production department at the National Theatre, assisting Production Managers at the very heart of the organisation.

I joined the department during the production period for As You Like It, from the first day of rehearsals until press night. A major part of my role was assisting the Production Managers in the day to day running of pre-production work. Examples of tasks included research, sourcing materials, liaising with suppliers and purchasing items using the NT’s purchasing systems. I was also expected to act as runner to the production team during fit-ups and onstage production periods. As You Like It was particularly tech-heavy as the scene change involved flying 30+ chairs and tables, which had to be concealed from the audience until the last possible second.

I took on a lot of responsibility not long into my placement after my Production Manager had to unexpectedly take some time off. I took initiative and stepped up to provide additional support to the Deputy Production Manager, taking minutes in weekly production meetings and rigging meetings and being assigned full responsibility for sourcing items such as confetti and snow, liaising directly with the designer throughout. They were so impressed that I was asked to continue these responsibilities as Production Assistant on his return.

Through my placement at the National, I connected with the Technical Director at the Young Vic Theatre, who was able to create a placement for me at the Young Vic, just down the road from the National.

My time at the Young Vic was split between stage management and the lighting department. I assisted the stage management team from the first day of rehearsals through to press night on Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange starring David Haig, Daniel Kaluuya and Luke Norris. My main duties involved sourcing props, rehearsal furniture and assisting with the upkeep of the rehearsal room. It was important that we responded quickly to any fresh demands that emerged during the rehearsal period, whilst still negotiating with suppliers to keep items at competitive prices. Furthermore, because audience members were guided through a replica of the set before they were seated, the props had to be produced to a level of filmic detail. A highlight was the detail of the research I had to produce – I even conducted research at the Welcome Trust into historic mental health-related promotional materials for all of the paper props used in the production.

During tech rehearsals for another show ‘Cuttin’ It’, I was seconded to assist the stage manager so that he could remain in rehearsals. I provided him with support in prop sourcing which I’d developed a proficiency for on Blue/Orange.

I worked with Young Vic Lighting department on a period of maintenance, and then a community show entitled ‘The Curtain’. During the maintenance period I learnt and developed a lot of hard skills and knowledge relating to the maintenance of lighting fixtures and cables. When it came to the show, I was fully involved in the rigging and focusing during the fit-up, and I took on responsibility for the practical lanterns, which were crucial to the show, seeing to the maintenance of them throughout technical rehearsals and performances.

The experiences you can gain as a placement student are invaluable – especially in an industry such as ours where it can seem impossible to get a foot in the door.

I made a real effort during all of my placements to introduce myself and make contacts around each organisation, which will be an advantage when I’m looking for employment after graduation.

Completing my Professional Training year at such a high calibre of organisations was definitely my greatest university achievement of 2016.

As a result of my developed aptitude in lighting through the Young Vic placement, I was able to successfully design the lighting for a production at the Yvonne Arnaud’s Mill Studio at the beginning of September.

Taking a placement year gave me a refreshed sense of determination for my final year of study. And a lot of the knowledge I gained on placement has directly informed and supplemented my learning on modules in Final Year. If asked, I wouldn’t exchange my experience for the world.”

Sprint 2017: helping undergrad women fulfil their potential!

Sprint Programme

In a study by the Higher Education Careers Unit, 70% of women graduates were earning less than £24,000, compared with 55% of men. Sprint was developed to help to close this gap and support women in achieving their goals and aspirations.

What is Sprint?

The programme consists of four action-packed half day workshops which explore areas such as assertiveness, making an impact, personal power, goal-setting, managing change, exploring personal values, confidence, networking and time-management. Plus, Sprinters get the opportunity to meet inspiring, successful role models in business, as well as coaching and work shadowing opportunities.

70% of Sprint participants said the programme improved their effectiveness in studying. Many women have increased their focus on their studies at university, achieving results such as improved visibility and effectiveness in tutorials, better time management, less study stress, and a boost in confidence and self-esteem.

e-hamill-image“The overall experience of Sprint was amazing. I was able to meet and more importantly get to know a group of diverse and strong women, to share our experiences and lift each other up when we most needed it.”  E Hamill.

The more I read about Sprint, the more I wanted to be a part of it. What really drew me in was the idea of promoting the acceptance of women’s ability and importance in the workplace, in a world where we still face such challenges, a world where less than 10% of the UKs CEOs are women and a world where women are still paid less (9.4%), despite working the same jobs as their male counterparts (The Guardian, 2015). I wanted to be part of a group where I could support my female peers and get support when I needed it, not just emotionally, but also to discuss my aims and aspirations.

Our amazing Sprint programme leader Sue made us feel so welcome and the whole group bonded instantaneously, setting up a comfortable premise for the 3 coming weeks. The focal areas of the workshops varied from ‘Mindfulness’ to ‘Assertiveness’ and didn’t limit themselves to workplace issues, but focused on us as individuals and our personal lives. Inspiring female speakers from all walks of life were invited to talk to us and share their experiences of their accomplishments, but also their experience of sexism, in the workplace.

In our final workshop we worked with our home groups to create a presentation and perform it in front of our peers and a panel of 3 extremely successful women; Amy Phillips (Media Molecule), Katherine Ray (founder of Talentology Ltd.), and Michelle Moody (Capgemini). Our presentations focused on what we thought we had gained from the Sprint workshops, the overwhelming themes being; assertiveness, a sense of community and confidence.”

sylvia-moschona-image-200x“Sprint was one of the best programmes run by the University. It does not care about your grades or your faculty. It cares about YOU and your team! It aims to make you strong, independent and assertive women. And it does!

Sprint recognised the challenges of Uni, work, family and friends. Everyone in the room was the same as you. Everyone wanted to help, because everyone believes in you. We found inspiration from our lovely guest speakers, who gave us life and career advice valuable for our next steps…Every week, every sprinter would be looking forward to the next session. Our exercises and activities during the workshops enabled to enhance our self-growth and self-awareness.” S Moschona

Want to join the next Sprint programme, starting on 1st March 2017?

The next Sprint programme takes place on the following four dates: Wednesday 1 March, Wednesday 8 March, Wednesday 15 March and Wednesday 22 March 2017. All workshops run from 12:30pm-6:30pm, with lunch and afternoon tea provided.

If you want to get involved, sign up here!

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