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Almost half the graduate roles on Guardian Jobs are in sales, making this an appealing career choice regardless of your degree subject. Hugh Alford, a sales training consultant, says: "There's no such thing as a 'typical salesperson' – they have all sorts of backgrounds, education and personalities."

A sales background can open the door to management roles. David Heard, commercial director for Abintegro, says: "The great thing about sales is if you perform well, you'll get recognition and this is a good platform for building your internal network and exploring other avenues."

A high number of vacancies are trainee recruitment roles or selling advertising and subscriptions. However, there are many other opportunities for high-calibre grads in FMCG, technical, pharmaceutical and financial sectors.

General guidelines

For most roles you'll need to be target-driven and financially motivated, with excellent communication and presentation skills (a good phone manner is essential for cold-calling where questioning and listening skills are vital). Tenacity, resilience, and an ability to think on your feet and build long-term relationships are also important, while some posts require analytical and research skills.

Personality and confidence are key. Owen Gill, of Graduate Recruitment Bureau, says: "You need to be down-to-earth. People buy from people they like. Within professional B2B sales, clients appreciate integrity, professionalism, expertise and honesty rather than a pushy or scripted approach."

Nicola Catherall of Guardian Jobs adds: "The skill is balancing a big character with integrity. I've interviewed so many people for entry-level sales roles and sometimes people put on an act of what they think a salesperson is like. My advice is to be yourself and work with what you've got."

Ben Turner, national sales manager for the Institute of Sales and Marketing Managers emphasises an entrepreneurial and problem-solving approach. "The best sales people have entrepreneurial qualities. They can look for and explore opportunities and also look to really understand the business and the problem. Engineers often make very good sales people; they come from a basis of understanding a problem and looking to solve it."

An ability to think laterally is valuable. Nicola Catherall explains that because getting through to a decision maker can be a challenge, you'll need to think creatively about your way in, then be organised to stay on top of the sales deal.

Consider including a video presentation in your application to convey your personality or to illustrate (through a brief anecdote) your persistence or ability to overcome obstacles. You can also display characteristics that Marc Fels, director at Meet the Real Me (video recruitment specialists) says are crucial. "For me the perfect candidate is well presented, articulate, motivated and intelligent."

Preparing to write your CV

Find examples of achievement (such as in sports) or where you've interacted with people outside your social circle. Voluntary work, work placements, gap years or other "character-building challenges" are all useful on your CV.

Valuable work experience can come from retail or hospitality roles, or in call centre work where you'll have learnt to handle pressure.

Suggested CV format

Name, contact details (Also supply the URL of your complete LinkedIn profile. Prove your commitment to sales through membership of relevant LinkedIn groups, or by listing any sales books you're reading.)

Profile (Include unique selling points such as foreign language fluency or specific requested skills.)


"Ambitious business studies grad with glittering record of academic and sporting achievements. Background in target-driven cold calling. Proficient in Excel."
Education (For many roles, previous experience isn't required. Aim to stand out through achievements – either academic or through extra-curricular activities.)

Include awards and activities that show personal qualities. Owen Gill explains: "You can be a natural salesperson by being the captain of a sports team, debating in competitions, presenting to people, convincing peers or friends that you have a great idea and they should take it up."

A strong education section also compensates for lack of sales experience. Nicola Catherall suggests you think about how you could show business acumen, influencing skills, and so on, through university clubs or group work.


BA (Hons) Business Studies (2:1) University of Lincoln 2008 – 2011
Gained a solid foundation in sales, finance, economics and management.
Final thesis based on research: "Principles of Sales Success."

Academic highlights
2009 Award for Most Promising Student of the Year (worth £500 in book tokens)
2010 Joint prize-winner for Entrepreneurial Idea of the Year (Team entry for sales-tracking software)

2009-2010 Presidency of BizSoc - student society for BA Business Studies.
* Organised fund-raising activities such as 'University Challenge' style quiz nights.
* Negotiated discounts for society members at off-campus businesses.
2010 Captaincy of University Hockey Team (leading our team to win 5 out of 7 matches)

Sales experience
Give details of employers, dates, responsibilities and achievements.


Telesales for "HotelWorld" (2008, 2009, 2010)
Cold-calling for hotel and restaurant memberships. Invited back three years running for summer work.
* Identified potential leads
* Met and exceeded target number of calls per hour
* Consistently earned shift bonuses, doubling basic pay
* Won "Sales Star Of The Week" award

(With thanks for the input from Nicola Catherall, commercial business manager for Guardian Jobs )

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If you’re starting a job search in 2018, getting your cover letter right is just as important as perfecting your CV.

After hours spent crafting your CV, it can seem a little superfluous to transfer the information into letter format. However, your cover letter shouldn’t be a regurgitation of your CV. Instead, it should zoom in on a few key skills and experiences on your CV that the employer values the most. As a result, your cover letter should be bespoke for every application.

Some recruiters may receive hundreds of applications a day, so your cover letter gives you a chance to stand out from the crowd. With 57.1% of professionals ranking the cover letter as an essential application component, you can’t afford to leave it out.

We know that writing these letters can seem daunting at first, especially as it can feel like there’s a lot to remember. To help, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to building your cover letter and tailoring it for each opportunity you apply to.

Download our cover letter template

Do your research

Research is a crucial part of many aspects of job hunting, and before you begin writing your cover letter, you need to make sure you’ve done your research properly.

The important things you should research before writing are:

  • Who will be receiving and reading your letter
  • The skills and experience mentioned in the job description
  • The company and its culture
  • Their competitors and market position
  • The sector and any recent news or trends
  • The organisation’s aims for 2018 and beyond

Building up a good knowledge of the company and industry helps you to tailor your cover letter for each company you apply to, and shows your passion for the job and sector.

The basic format

There’s a basic format for writing a cover letter that you can follow each time. However, every letter you write should be tailored to the specific job role or company you’re applying for.

Your cover letter should address the following:

  • Which position interests you and why
  • Your most relevant skills and experiences
  • How your skills and experiences can benefit the employer
  • Requesting an interview

Below is a basic break down of how you should structure your cover letter for 2018:

How to structure and write a cover letter

In 2018, it’s very rare for cover letters to be hard copies as most are sent online. However, traditional cover letter conventions state that your cover letter should be written like any other formal business letter, even if you’re emailing it.

Start with your address and contact details in the top right-hand corner. Make sure your contact details are sensible – email addresses like ninjawarrior2000@hotmail.co.uk won’t make you look very professional!  You should then follow this with the address of the company you’re applying for and the date further down and on the left-hand side.

[Address Line 1]

[Address Line 2]

[Address Line 3]

[Phone Number]

[Company address line 1]

[Company address line 2]


To [Name],

Paragraph 1:

Your opening paragraph should be short and sweet made up of three things: why you’re writing the letter, the position you’re applying for, how you found out about the position. For example: “I am writing to apply for the role of [job title], in response to an advert I saw on [name of job site]. Please find my CV attached.”

Paragraph 2:

The second paragraph should be about you, expanding on your CV and giving a brief summary of any relevant skills or education you have. Remember, your cover letter shouldn’t be a copy of your CV; it should take your most notable achievements, explain a bit more about them, and then show how these skills could benefit the employer. Mirror the skills mentioned and the phrasing that’s used in the job description.

Paragraph 3:

The third paragraph is your chance to show your knowledge of the company and the sector and go into detail about why you want to work for their company specifically. You should state how you can help the company and add to their success, as well as why you’ll fit in with the company culture and core values.

Paragraph 4:

End your letter with a call to action. As you’re hoping to secure an interview, let them know your availability for a callback. If you plan to follow up with a phone call, say so! If you plan to wait for a response, close with “I look forward to hearing from you”. Thank them for taking the time to read your letter and sign off with:

Yours sincerely,

[Your Name]

Download our cover letter template

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Sending a cover letter online

With today’s technology, it’s common to send a cover letter – and a whole job application, for that matter – online or by email. This is especially common on job boards like CV-Library, and even with direct employers. If you need to send a cover letter online or via email, the approach you should take is a little different in terms of formatting.

If you just need to send your cover letter as an attachment, then write it as explained before. When it comes to saving it, make sure you use the .PDF file extension; any computer will be able to view the file, and all your formatting will be preserved.

Windows PCs use the .docx file extension for documents by default, whereas Macs use .pages. Avoid either of these, because there’s a chance that the employer won’t be able to open your cover letter. Stick with .PDF.

If you need to send your cover letter as the actual body text of your email, your approach will need to be slightly different. First, make sure you format the subject line of your email like so:

Application for [Job Title] – [Your Name]

If you were given a reference number, include that in the subject line as well. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to think about the layout of your letter. The paragraphs can be the same as a hard copy of your cover letter, but you can remove the addresses, date and signature.

If you’re applying for a job via a job board, you can sometimes afford to scale down your cover letter to key components. Check out this cover letter template for 2018:

Hi [Name],

I am interested in applying for the current vacancy you have for a [job title].

In my current role as [role title] with [company name], I am responsible for [insert relevant experience relating to job advert] but am currently looking to make a step up into a more challenging role with a reputable company who can offer career growth.

I am currently on a notice period of [notice period] and can interview immediately.

Kind regards,


[Phone number]


How long should my cover letter be?

Your cover letter should be no longer than a single A4 page. This can be tricky, especially since you want to impress the employer with all your skills and experience. But trust us; they simply won’t be interested in reading a 3,000-word essay. Even if they were, they probably just wouldn’t have the time! Keep it short, sweet, and simple.

Tailoring each cover letter

Each cover letter you write should be tailored specifically to the company and role you’re writing it for and should be detailed. Therefore you’ll want to avoid vague and generic phrases.

During the research stage, try to find the name of the hiring manager or whoever will be reading your letter. This way you can make the letter even more personal, and it will prove you’re a determined candidate who wants this job.

If you really can’t get hold of their name, you should instead start the letter with “Dear Sir or Madam” – but remember, if you don’t know their name, ensure you sign off your letter with “Yours faithfully” instead.

Read the job description so you can pick which of your skills or experiences to reference, and try to mirror some of the phrases they use in the job description. Illustrate your skills with examples to show why you’re the ideal candidate; as each company and role will be different, you’ll probably find that you’re using different examples on each letter.

Having done your research, you should also be able to talk specifically about the company in greater detail. Refer to their values or specific campaigns they have run that you enjoyed. This way they’ll know that you took the time to learn about their company and that you’re genuinely interested in them and the role.

When there’s no job advertised

If you haven’t seen an advertised position, but you’re contacting a company to find out if they currently have any vacancies, the format will be slightly different as you’ll be submitting a cold-contact cover letter.

You should address the letter formally as before, and try to get hold of the name of the hiring manager.

As you aren’t responding to a job ad, you should use your opening paragraph to explain why you’re writing to them and what it was that drew you to their company. If the reason for your application is a recommendation from someone, you know that already works there include their name.

You should also refer to the area of the company that you’d like to go into, for example, marketing or sales.

The body of the letter should remain relatively the same, highlighting your skills and experiences and giving detailed examples. Reiterate why you’re interested in their company specifically, talk about the sector and show that you’ve done your research.

In this instance, you should close the letter by thanking them for their time and expressing your interest in hearing from them with any available job vacancies that they may have.

Remember, each cover letter should be unique (even if you follow the basic format), and the aim is to make yourself stand out to recruiters. Follow these steps to writing your cover letter, and try to have fun with it!

Marketing yourself

In both your CV and your cover letter you should try to imagine yourself as a commodity and sell yourself to the company. There are several ways you can market yourself, and most of this will come from your research.

You need to demonstrate your knowledge of the company and the sector so that you can effectively explain why you’ll be beneficial to their company. As well as listing your skills and qualifications you could also demonstrate your interpersonal skills through talking about social activities and clubs.

All these aspects should help you build a case for why you’re going to add to the success of the company.

Top tips for success in 2018

Follow these cover letter tips for success to make sure you avoid making some fatal cover letter mistakes.

1. Keep it short

It may seem difficult with so much information to include, but you need to keep your cover letter short and sweet. Recruiters will give each letter about 20 to 30 seconds of their time, so it should be no more than an A4 page – they won’t trawl through ten pages, no matter how experienced and skilled you are.

2. Don’t just re-write your CV

The point of a cover letter is to expand upon your CV, not just re-write it—your CV should be attached to accompany your letter. Make sure you pick the most relevant examples and give details of your achievements.

3. Sign by hand

If you’re sending the letter in the post (old school, we know) then you should sign the letter by hand before you send it off—it adds a personal and more professional touch.

4. Sending online

Macs and PCs haven’t quite learnt to work in total harmony yet, and the last thing you want is the recruiter being unable to open your document. Instead, save your final CV as a pdf file; that way you know they’ll be able to open it on any device.

5. Proofread

Once you’ve written your letter, check it over for mistakes and perhaps even have someone else read it over too. Recruiters aren’t going to take you seriously if you’ve made silly spelling or grammar mistakes.

6. Avoid clichés

Each letter should be personal, so avoid clichéd phrases that recruiters have read a thousand times! Don’t just say “I’m a team player”, these buzzwords and phrases won’t make you stand out. Instead, choose an example of when you worked well in a team and explain what happened and what you achieved.

7. Use numbers

If you can, use numbers or stats to illustrate your points as it’s a nice way to quantify your results and adds to the format of the letter.

8. Be creative

Writing cover letters doesn’t have to be boring; you can be a bit creative in your approach – especially if you’re going into a creative industry or job role. Play around with layouts and formats; as long as all the important information is in there and the layout isn’t distracting, have fun with it!

9. Use bullet points

This is not always necessary, but depending on the format you’ve chosen or the job role you’re applying for, bullet points could be an effective way of demonstrating your points and adding to the layout.

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