Sales Representatives


Employment Prospects


In the United States, more than 1.7 million people work as manufacturer's and wholesale sales representatives. Around 321,000 work with technical and scientific products. Food, drugs, electrical goods, hardware, and clothing are among the most common products sold by sales representatives.

Starting Out

Firms looking for sales representatives sometimes list openings with high school and college career services offices, as well as with public and private employment agencies. In many areas, professional sales associations refer people to suitable openings. Contacting companies directly also is recommended. A list of manufacturers and wholesalers can be found in telephone books and industry directories, which are available at public libraries and online.

Although some high school graduates are hired for manufacturer's or wholesale sales jobs, many join a company in a nonselling position, such as office, stock, or shipping clerk. This experience allows an employee to learn about the company and its products. From there, he or she eventually may be promoted to a sales position.

Most new representatives complete a training period before receiving a sales assignment. In some cases new salespeople rotate through several departments of an organization to gain a broad exposure to the company's products. Large companies often use formal training programs lasting two years or more, while small organizations frequently rely on supervised sales experience.

Direct selling is usually an easy field to enter. Direct sale companies advertise for available positions in newspapers, in sales workers' specialty magazines, and on television and radio. Many people enter direct selling through contacts they have had with other door-to-door sales workers. Most firms have district or area representatives who interview applicants and arrange the necessary training. Part-time positions in direct selling are common.

Advancement Prospects

New representatives usually spend their early years improving their sales ability, developing their product knowledge, and finding new clients. As sales workers gain experience they may be shifted to increasingly large territories or more difficult types of customers. In some organizations, experienced sales workers narrow their focus. For example, an office equipment sales representative may work solely on government contracts.

Advancement to management positions, such as regional or district manager, also is possible. Some representatives, however, choose to remain in basic sales. Because of commissions, they often earn more money than their managers do, and many enjoy being in the field and working directly with their customers.

A small number of representatives decide to become manufacturers' agents, or self-employed salespeople who handle products for various organizations. Agents perform many of the same functions as sales representatives but usually on a more modest scale.

Door-to-door sales workers also have advancement possibilities. Some are promoted to supervisory roles and recruit, train, and manage new members of the sales force. Others become area, branch, or district managers. Many managers of direct selling firms began as door-to-door sales workers.

Tips for Entry

Join professional associations to access training and networking resources, industry publications, and employment opportunities.

Visit for job listings.

Read Agency Sales ( to learn more about the field.

Conduct information interviews with sales representatives and managers, and ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.

Attend industry conferences to network and participate in continuing education classes.