Becoming a Sales Associate: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a sales associate career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a sales associate is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Working as a Sales Associate

Sales associates help customers by locating, describing and explaining the value of retail goods. Here are some of the pros and cons of this career.

Pros of a Sales Associate Career
Jobs are often available to those without a college degree*
High turnover rate creates more job opportunities*
Most training takes place on the job*
Part-time work is often available*

Cons of a Sales Associate Career
Job advancement opportunities are limited*
Low paying (the average hourly wage in 2014 was slightly over $12.00)
Weekend and holiday hours are often necessary*
Most associates work on their feet all day*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties and Career Information

Most sales associates work on the floor of retail shops. As an associate, you'll interact with customers and try to help them locate the items they are looking for. You may also suggest items and even try to sell goods that customers may not have originally been looking for. Some associates may also work the cash register, take inventory or stock shelves. If the sales associate works in a specialized retail store, they may also need to be able to communicate specialized information about the products they're selling.

Career Path and Education

Sales associates can often obtain entry-level jobs without any kind of college degree or training. In fact, some associates begin working in this field while they are still in high school. Much of the skills you'll need are learned on the job rather than in a classroom. However, a college degree may help sales associates advance into managerial positions.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

In May of 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) determined that sales associates earned an average annual salary of around $25,000 (www.bls.gov). Those working in clothing stores averaged around $22,000, while associates working in jewelry, leather goods and luggage stores averaged around $28,000 a year. The BLS projected that retail salespersons would experience a 10% increase in employment in the 2012-2022 decade. The agency noted that this growth would largely be due to a high degree of turnover in the field, thus creating more job opportunities on a regular basis.

What Are the Requirements?

Sales associates must have keen social and verbal communication skills. Successful sales associates are also patience and have the capacity to handle difficult or unhappy customers. Associates may also need special knowledge or skills if they handle certain products. For example, associates working in computer retail outlets need to know technical information about the products. They must also be able to explain the products to customers who may not have an extensive technology background.

Real Job Listings

When you begin looking for jobs, you will find that many employers are interested in associates that have some sales experience. Depending on the type of retail business, there may be minimum amounts of weight you will need to lift or you may have to have knowledge about a particular kind of product. The following available jobs were posted in March of 2012 on national job websites:

  • A Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, electronics store was seeking a sales associate who was willing to get to know customers, determine their needs and help them choose products. The successful candidate needed to have about six months of retail experience and the ability to lift as much as 50 pounds.
  • A home improvement store in Illinois was looking for a sales associate who was 18 or older and had two or more years of retail or trade experience. The store specialized in different types of hardware and home goods and preferred sales associates who have worked with the materials found in the store.
  • An Internet start-up based in San Francisco, California, sought a sales associate to help sell marketing and advertising products to real estate agents. The ideal candidate would have at least one year of sales experience, be energetic and confident, and have the ability to multi-task. The company preferred candidates who possessed a college degree.

How Can I Stand Out in This Career?

Although most sales associate jobs do not have formal educational requirements, you may want to obtain a college degree or certificate in business or marketing. A college degree may help you move into a managerial position. The BLS actually notes that college degrees are becoming increasingly attractive to employers looking for sales associates.

Alternate Career Options

If you are not interested in working as a sales associate, you may look into some other careers that require similar skills. The following are some alternate jobs that you may be interested that also involve working with the public and typically require only a minimal amount of training to enter.

Cashier

Although some sales associates will occasionally handle cashier duties, you may also think about working full-time at the cash register rather than on the sales floor. The BLS predicted that employment of cashiers would only increase by 7% between 2010 and 2020. The agency also reported that in May of 2011, cashiers earned a mean annual salary of about $20,000.

Customer Service Representative

If you are interested in helping customers, but don't think that a sales job is a good fit for you, consider working as a customer service representative. Customer service representatives handle customer inquiries and work hard to make sure customers are satisfied. The BLS reported that employment of customer service representatives was expected to increase 15% between 2010 and 2020. In 2011, customer service representatives earned an average annual salary of approximately $33,000.

Information Clerk

If you are not interested in working on a sales floor, you may want to explore an information clerk position. Information clerks offer administrative support and also respond to customer inquiries. The BLS notes that information clerks earned a median annual salary of around $27,000 in 2011 and employment in this field would only increase by 7% between 2010 and 2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • AASBA in Sales
      • Associate: Business Admin.
      • AASBA in Customer Service
      • AASBA in Retail Management
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Business Management
      • Associate of Science - Business Studies
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    3. Colorado Technical University

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    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Business Administration
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    4. American InterContinental University

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    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts in Business Administration
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    5. Keiser University

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    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Accounting
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    6. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • A.S. Business
      • A.S. General Studies - Business
      • A.S. General Studies - Marketing
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    7. Thomas Edison State University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • AS in Business Administration (ASBA)
  • Ann Arbor, MI

    Washtenaw Community College

  • Toledo, OH

    University of Toledo

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • AASBA in Sales
  • Associate: Business Admin.
  • AASBA in Customer Service

Which subject are you interested in?

Herzing University

  • Associate of Science - Business Management
  • Associate of Science - Business Studies

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Associate of Science in Business Administration

Are you a US citizen?

American InterContinental University

  • Associate of Arts in Business Administration

Are you a US citizen?

Keiser University

  • Associate of Arts - Accounting

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • A.S. Business
  • A.S. General Studies - Business
  • A.S. General Studies - Marketing

What is your highest level of education?

Thomas Edison State University

  • AS in Business Administration (ASBA)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Washtenaw Community College