November 5, 2020 by Gwen Burrow
When you think of the top jobs in demand, you might not think of sales. But sales jobs are precisely the jobs that (with a little training) could make good career options for the millions of Americans still out of work due to COVID-19.
Sales is an enormous occupational sector. At 15 million jobs, sales makes up 9% of our country’s entire labor market. Due to sales’ sheer size and a bit of ambiguity, the statistics can look rather glum at first glance. For example, median annual compensation for full time sales jobs is a mere $29K. Sales also currently suffers the second highest unemployment rate in the country (12%). (Although we predict that this is all about to change.)
So how can sales offer a possible bright future to workers who have lost their jobs?
The 12% unemployment describes sales overall. But sales really breaks down into two subcategories: retail sales and professional sales.
Retail sales – Many of these workers don’t perform sales proper. They are the entry-level, often part-time workers with less product experience who handle a large volume of customers for short time periods: cashiers, telemarketers, box office workers, etc. Retail sales’ lower wages and slower growth can skew the overall picture for sales.
Professional sales – This is what we typically think of when we hear “sales.” These sales workers have deep product knowledge, the ability to build long-standing customer relationships, and, perhaps most importantly, the killer instinct that is required to close those deals. Not an easy task. These are the pharmaceutical sales representatives, wholesale merchants, sales engineers, insurance agents, and so on. Professional sales jobs make up roughly one-third of all sales jobs: nearly five million jobs.
When you separate professional sales from retail sales, a more exciting story emerges. And it is professional sales that could make great career transitions for dislocated workers in 2020.
Professional sales jobs earn much more than retail sales jobs in general: $80K vs. $29K a year (median). The top 10% can earn as much as $145K. These high-wage, professional sales jobs are growing rapidly. Over the past five years, they grew 8%. They’re also projected to grow another 5% by 2024—and that’s even taking the 2020 economic recession into account! Between August and September of this year, there were over half a million unique postings for professional sales jobs, with a median advertised salary of over $87K.
The demand for sales stems from the fact that virtually every industry sector needs some sort of professional sales. Dislocated workers could find the variety of destinations attractive as they search for an industry that suits their interests. Sometimes the destination company itself can be appealing. Maybe you’ve never thought you’d enjoy sales before, but would you like to work at Apple (manufacturing) or Amazon (retail trade)? Now we’re talking.
Companies are searching for the kinds of skills you might expect. As it turns out, several of these skills are among the top survivor skills for 2020: skills that have remained in high demand despite a woebegone economy.
But what’s really interesting is that many of sales’ hard skills are very similar to what we call human skills (aka soft skills or common skills). Selling techniques, customer relationship management, and cold calling are all specialized types of communication, just as forecasting is a type of analysis.
Frequently, Americans already possess these human skills—especially if they used to work in hospitality. So if you’re one of the thousands of dislocated hospitality workers, take note! Many of your skills overlap with sales. For example, restaurant waitstaff share several skills with wholesale & manufacturing sales workers: selling techniques, communications, and customer service. Even where the skills aren’t identical, they frequently overlap. Just look at customer relationship management and resolving guest concerns. Both of these skills are required by sales jobs, and are skills that hospitality workers employ in their own field.
What kind of education do sales workers commonly have? The top five programs are business admin, marketing, business/commerce, communication, and economics. Note in the chart below that no college program exists for sales per se, which might seem odd since sales jobs make up nearly 10% of the US economy. However, given sales’ demand for human skills, many companies end up hiring talent who have learned these skills in a variety of backgrounds.
Notice, too, that liberal arts—famous cultivator of those in-demand human skills—is among the top 10 programs for sales workers. In fact, sales is one of the most common destinations for liberal arts grads.
Hospitality workers especially make good candidates for sales positions. During the economic shutdown back in April, the hospitality industry was losing over 12,000 jobs a day. Although these jobs are starting to come back in a few large cities, the industry might not be the same for several years to come.
So in the meantime, hospitality workers—airline, hotel, restaurant employees—are in a good position to use their current skillset to transition into sales fairly easily, with a little additional training. If hospitality workers are interested in such opportunities, they should check out the growing number of sales programs available through sites like Coursera or EdX.
Compare the top skills of sales reps (wholesale & manufacturing) with the top skills of waiters & waitresses. Many skills overlap. Waiters and waitresses need to use selling techniques, give attentive service, resolve guest concerns, communicate, and other tasks—just like sales reps.
Sales is one of the top occupations for remote work. Out of 500,000 unique postings for professional sales jobs between August and September, nearly 100,000 (20%) were for remote jobs. This number might be low, since some remote jobs might not have been explicitly advertised as remote in the postings.
Three of the top 10 most common jobs for remote work are…you guessed it…sales. Since March, job postings have skyrocketed for these remote sales jobs: insurance sales agents, sales managers, and sales reps of services.