Skip to main content

Working on commission -- the challenges

  • Story Highlights
  • To sell on commission, you need magic formula of skills and personality
  • Author: Recession is very tough time to be working on commission
  • Jobs include insurance agents and wholesale manufacturing sales agents
By Anthony Balderrama
CareerBuilder writer
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

Editor's note: has a business partnership with, which serves as the exclusive provider of job listings and services to

A commission-based sales position requires particular skills.

A commission-based sales position requires particular skills.

Not everyone is suited for every job. For example, I'm in awe at anyone who works as a restaurant server.

I'm certain that given a tray of food to carry from the kitchen to a table, I'd drop it in the first few steps. I'd also dump a pitcher of water on any customer who was rude. And I guarantee you I'd forget to put orders in and would serve food to the wrong tables. I just don't have the talent.

Yet, plenty of people do. They've got good personalities, customer service skills and the patience of multiple saints.

Similarly, if you don't have that magical formula of skills and personality, you're probably not likely to go into sales -- especially a commission-based position.

Positions that rely on commission usually have a base salary, then for each sale or goal met, the employee earns additional compensation. Depending on how you react to that description, you might know if the field is right for you. Are you thinking of all the opportunities you have to earn more and challenge yourself, or are you freaking out that you could end up barely earning enough to live because you're not a good salesperson?

H.U. Nguyen used to work a commission-based position, and he found the compensation system beneficial.

"I worked at a company for two years where there was a base salary of under $40,000 and commission on top of that," Nguyen says.

"The company provided online products that would help with media relations (i.e., media database, media monitoring). We had a quarterly goal in which we had to meet in order to receive commission. Also, we had sales contests, and whoever sold the most was rewarded monetarily." In addition, all employees were given an additional award if the company met a separate revenue goal. "With commission, we were able to earn $10,000 on top of our base salary."

For Nguyen, his compensation structure worked better than companies where the base salary is extremely low and the commission package is disproportionately higher.

"I would probably have focused on 'making the numbers,'" he says. "I think it was more important to serve our clients. We had a good relationship with our clients; they [wanted] to work more with us. There [was] loyalty."

Still, commission-based work is difficult because you can't just coast from paycheck to paycheck, says Stephen Viscusi, author of "Bulletproof Your Job: 4 Simple Strategies to Ride Out the Rough Times and Come Out on Top."

"It's a really difficult time to work solely on commission. You have to have faith on the product or service you are selling," he cautions. "But people who do are usually very confident and make very good money."

Where to find commission-based jobs

Jobs based on commission are everywhere. Most industries have these positions at some level; you just have to look for them. The reason is that sales is a vital part of most organizations, whether in the form of a sales associate in a store or an inside sales agents behind the scenes.

Once the economy bounces back, you might see sales positions among the first jobs to benefit. Because these positions are integral in every company across every industry, and without them many businesses wouldn't be able to earn money, employers will be eager to bring them on board. Sales skills will surely come in handy once this recession gives way.

To help anyone looking for sales work, especially if the idea of earning commission appeals to you, we've put together a list to jumpstart your job search.

Note that outside and inside sales are not separated by industry. Each employer in the list below could employ agents in both inside and outside sales. If you think you're a better field agent than inside agent, contact the company anyway and see if they're not looking for both.

Here are some jobs that earn commission:

Retail sales associates
What they do: When you go to a retail store to buy clothes, a new computer or cell phone, retail sales associates help you choose the right item and answer any questions you have. They try to make your shopping experience as easy as possible.
Who employs them: Clothing stores, electronics stores, telecommunications agencies

Automotive sales associates
What they do: Buying a car would be pretty tricky if you didn't have a salesperson to help you with the process. These sales associates help customers choose a car that best suits their needs and fits within their budget.
Who employs them: Automotive dealerships

Insurance agents
What they do: Insurance agents might sell individual policies or larger policies for businesses of various sizes. Depending on their specific position, they might approach prospective customers or customers might first approach them.
Who employs them: Insurance companies.

Marketing sales agents
What they do: Marketing agents often respond to inquiries from customers looking for advertising opportunities. They can also be field sales agents making the first contact with potential customers.
Who employs them: Advertising agencies

Wholesale manufacturing sales agents
What they do: When companies are looking to purchase bulk products, they deal directly with wholesale manufacturers. The sales agents work with companies to make large-scale transactions of whatever good or service their employer provides.
Who employs them: Wholesale manufacturers in various fields

Copyright 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print