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Do You Need a Degree for Sales? Exploring the Importance of Higher Education in Sales Careers

RepVue Team
RepVue TeamMar 13, 2024

A lot of people have asked whether they need a degree to get into sales. A whole lot. The short answer is no, you don’t necessarily need a degree to work in sales. While a degree can certainly be helpful, it’s not always a requirement for getting started in sales.

That said, there are some sales roles that may require a degree or specific certifications.If you’re interested in working in pharmaceutical sales, you may need a degree in a related field such as biology or chemistry. Similarly, if you want to work in technical sales, a degree in engineering or computer science could be beneficial. It’s important to research the specific requirements of the sales roles you’re interested in to determine if a degree is necessary.

Ultimately, your success in sales is likely to depend more on your skills, experience and work ethic than on your educational background. Strong communication, listening, and problem-solving skills can go a long way in this field. Given some of the mental challenges that are ever-present in sales, traits like grit and ability to handle rejection can have a huge influence on success — and do not depend on any degree. Additionally, building a strong network and gaining experience through internships or entry-level sales positions can help you get your foot in the door and advance your career. 

Looking for your next sales role? Find it on RepVue.

Understanding the Sales Industry

Skills Over Degrees

While some sales roles may require a degree in a specific field, such as marketing or business, many do not. Instead, what is often more important is having a strong set of skills that are relevant to the sales industry. These skills include:

  • Communication: As a sales professional, you will need to be able to effectively communicate with customers, clients, and colleagues. This includes being able to listen actively, ask insightful questions, and convey information clearly and persuasively.
  • Interpersonal skills: Building relationships is a key part of sales, so having strong interpersonal skills is essential. This includes being able to connect with people from diverse backgrounds, understand their needs and motivations, and build trust and rapport.
  • Time management: Sales professionals often have to balance multiple tasks and priorities, so being able to manage your time effectively is crucial. This includes being able to prioritize tasks, manage your schedule, and stay organized.
  • Adaptability: The sales industry is constantly evolving, so being able to adapt to change is essential. This includes being able to learn new skills, stay up-to-date with industry trends, and adjust your approach based on feedback and results.
  • Curiosity: You may not see this one everywhere, but curiosity is something we see as essential to success in sales. Salespeople who are always curious ask good questions and approach customers’ challenges — and their own — with an open-mindedness that can lead to unique solutions.
  • Grit: Your ability to work through challenges and roadblocks is critical to your success as a salesperson. Every sales job is different, but there are some challenges that most have in common. You will hear “no” a lot more than you hear “yes.” You will have to deal with a lot of factors that are out of your control — many of which may work against you. The best salespeople will succeed despite these challenges.

Industry Expectations

While having a degree is not always necessary for a career in sales, employers may have certain expectations, depending on the company or industrySome sales roles require a certain level of experience or expertise within that specific industry or product category. Additionally, some employers may prefer candidates who have completed relevant certifications or training programs.

Ultimately, what is most important in the sales industry is your ability to deliver results. Whether you have a degree or not, if you can demonstrate that you have the skills, experience, and expertise to succeed in the role, you can build a successful career in sales.

How much money can you make in sales? See salaries.

The Role of Education in Sales

While formal education is not always necessary to become a sales representative, it can certainly be helpful in giving you the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in this field.

Formal Education vs. On-the-Job Training

The value of a formal education versus on-the-job training depends on the stage you’re in: looking for a role or looking to improve your sales skills.

Formal education, such as a bachelor’s degree, is not always required. However, it can certainly be an advantage over other candidates, especially if you are looking to work in specialized industries like pharmaceuticals. A degree in marketing, business, or a related field can provide you with a solid foundation in sales techniques, marketing strategies, and customer relationship management.

On-the-job training is how you’ll really learn to be a successful sales representative. Many companies offer training programs that teach you about their products and services, as well as the sales techniques and strategies that work best for their industry. This type of training can be highly effective, as it gives you hands-on experience and allows you to learn from experienced sales professionals. Sales is definitely a career where practice makes progress.

Continuing Professional Development

Continuing professional development can help you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies in sales, as well as provide you with new skills and knowledge that can help you advance in your career. It can also demonstrate to potential employers that you are committed to your profession and are willing to invest in your own development.

Related article – Sales Conferences: Worth It or a Waste of Time and Money?

Deciding to Get a Degree — Or Not

Many successful salespeople have started their careers without a degree and have worked their way up through experience and hard work. In fact, some companies prefer to hire candidates with sales experience rather than a degree.

If you don’t have a degree, you can still develop the skills and knowledge you need to succeed in sales. For example, you can take sales courses, attend seminars and workshops, read books and articles about sales, and seek mentorship from experienced salespeople.

In addition, you can gain experience by working in a related field, such as customer service, marketing, or retail. This can help you develop transferable skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and customer service, which are valuable in sales.

Ultimately, the path you take to a sales career depends on your goals, interests, and circumstances. Whether you have a degree or not, there are many opportunities in sales for those who are motivated, hardworking, and skilled.

Evaluating Personal Goals

Before deciding whether or not to pursue a degree, it’s important to evaluate your personal goals. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in sales, consider what you want to achieve in that role. Do you want to work for a large corporation or a startup? Are you interested in a particular industry, such as technology or healthcare? Understanding your goals can help you determine whether or not a degree is necessary.

If your goal is to work for a large corporation, a degree may be required or preferred. Many large companies have formal hiring processes that require candidates to have a degree. However, if you’re interested in working for a startup, a degree may not be necessary. Startups are often looking for individuals who are passionate and have a track record of success, regardless of whether or not they have a degree.

Considering the Job Market

Another factor to consider when deciding whether or not to pursue a degree for a sales role is the job market. 2023 and 2024 have seen a large number of layoffs in tech and other industries, leading to a large number of candidates for every open sales position. A degree for those positions may not be required, but it could be used as a deciding factor between two otherwise equal candidates.

What if You Don’t Have a Degree, but the Job Description Requires One?

In many companies the standard job description will require a bachelor’s degree by default for all roles. This is fairly common in many industries. For someone without a degree, this could potentially eliminate many of the best opportunities.

If you come across a role like this and you feel that you’re a great fit, or you feel like the company is one that you are uniquely suited to work for, just apply anyway. 

The challenge here is that you may be screened out by the recruiting team before you have the chance to tell your story. In this case, it’s even more important to do more than just apply online. In this situation, you are at a disadvantage. The lack of a degree will be an easy reason for the recruiting manager or hiring manager to simply screen your resume out of the large stack that they’re reviewing without giving it a second look. 

It’s up to you to be better than other candidates so that they can’t ignore you. Network your way into the company via an introduction if you can. Reach out directly to the hiring manager with polite persistence. Do some work on your own to demonstrate the unique perspective that you would bring to the company. 

These are things that any job applicant should do to set themselves apart — but for those without a college degree they are essential tactics to give yourself the best chance of success in the hiring process.

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