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Future job prospects are considered to be good, average earnings are among the highest for occupations in the Canadian service sector, and in many ways, you are responsible for your own advancement. You are measured by your own performance, the leads and contacts you create, the relationships you maintain, and the revenues you generate. This is sales, which yearly employs over 100 000 Canadians across a wide smattering of industries, product lines, and services across the country.

The growth in this occupation has been significant over the years and it's likely to continue. The Canadian Professional Sales Association reports that over the next five years, growth in sales management opportunities will outpace growth in the supply of qualified candidates. This is incredible news for new graduates, as career prospects continue to increase. Getting your feet wet in an entry-level sales position is an excellent starting point and the chance to gain experience and start building a track record. This is especially true in the wholesale trade, business services and advertising sectors.

Indeed, for as many sectors and products that exist in Canada, there is a pretty good chance it will fall on somebody to actually sell it. And while the titles - Sales Representative, Sales Agent, Account Executive, Broker or even Merchandiser - techniques or know-how may vary from job to job, the same core characteristics are common.

For those who might equate the profession of sales to pushy door-to-door business, telemarketing, or simply cold calling, excellent opportunities and challenges may be overlooked. And while cold calling may indeed be a part of sales used to generate new business and create new leads, the profession provides a vital link between companies and their customers in other ways. In fact, the success or failure of a company and their product or service depends on the skills of their sales force. These employees are the professionals who will communicate the company's product and match it best to meet their client's needs. Many companies will invest heavily in their sales professionals, as they are often the first point of customer contact and an on going diplomat-of-sorts for the entire organization.

New graduates may get their foot into this exciting sector by working their way up through customer service positions or other entry level positions that can provide a solid core understanding of a company's series of products or entire range of services. This is essential as product knowledge lends credibility, confidence, and helps to foster the excellent client-sales relation that is essential for success.

Depending on the area of sales you choose to enter, the level of education and experience necessary will vary from job to job. A university education in specific fields may be required to work in certain areas, such as a background in science or engineering that might be required to be technically proficient and comfortable with medical, health or technical products. Those entering specific fields such as real estate or financial services may have to be licensed and take provincially administered tests for proficiency and knowledge. But then again, even in areas like pharmaceuticals, a specific educational background may not be required - just the flare and talent to sell.

Successful sales professionals have limitless career development possibilities within their own firms, competing firms, or even completely different industries. New graduates who enter this field and are successful can quote specific targets, figures, and sales dollars achieved to get a promotion or even be hired by another company. Quotas speak for themselves, and good sales people are always in demand. A successful career can lead to management sales positions of a region, sales force or even a specific product or service. Employees may move on to lead projects, create sales plans, consult with marketing departments, or deal with public relations of a company. In general, the skills developed in this line of work are highly transferable and desired, making you an asset.

"Exciting and different everyday" is how Derek Gross, a recent graduate with about two years of sales experience, describes his sales position. Having completed his undergrad degree in business, Gross has worked for a midsize international insurance company that specializes in a wide range of insurance and risk management solutions.

"Sales is one way of describing my function within the company, but I see it more as proposing a good product or service to a client and building a relationship from there," Gross says.

It was the experience Gross spent in support, development, and coordinating functions within his sales department that provided him product knowledge and the confidence and skills to go out into the field and work with prospective and existing clients.

One of Gross' first assignments in the field dealt with his company's car insurance division approaching car dealerships to promote a particular insurance plan for new automobiles. "We had an insurance plan that car dealerships could sell to their customers, which was comprehensive and very competitive. If a policy was purchased then the dealership would earn a referral fee and our company would take on a new client. If the customer purchased the plan then all three parties would benefit. It was a win-win situation for everybody," he explains.

When asked what tips he might give to new graduates interested in entering a sales career, Gross underlined the importance of maintaining a good rapport with people, putting yourself in 'their shoes', and being able to listen carefully and match the client's needs with the company's products. Gross also credits much of his people skills and success to a working exchange in Australia, where he had to adjust to new situations and work with people of different backgrounds and customs. Participating in varsity sports, as well as various university organizations, helped Gross build the high level of confidence and interpersonal skills essential in the field of sales and customer service. With these in mind, he points out social skills are invaluable in a job that requires you to know your client enough to point out relevant product features and benefits, as well as to persuade effectively and anticipate the client's needs.

All in all, these are excellent skills for any industry where group work and interpersonal relations are always valued. Do you already possess them? Does a social atmosphere and working with people appeal to you? If so, get sold on the sales industry and get ready for a rewarding and challenging career!

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