© 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited.Purpose: The purpose of this exploratory study is to investigate the impact of sales education on recent graduates' career preparedness and understand how sales programs might prepare students better for successful sales careers. We investigate the known competencies leading to sales success that were, or were not, adequately developed by their university sales programs. Design/methodology/approach: The authors collected and analyzed qualitative data from in-depth interviews with a sample of 20 recent university sales graduates working in a sales career. Over 23 h of interviews were transcribed and analyzed via NVivo. Braun and Clarke’s (2006) framework was applied in this study to code the data. Findings: The study identifies that while respondents are positive about their overall sales education and feel confident about their knowledge of the sales process, they are not always confident in their ability to deal with ambiguity and the unknown. This study revealed that constructs of self-leadership and career choice self-efficacy deserve further consideration as components of the university sales program curriculum. Research limitations/implications: As with all exploratory research, there are limits to generalizability; however, this study revealed that the constructs of goal setting, self-leadership and self-knowledge hold promise for further study as a means to increase sales-related self-efficacy and career readiness. Practical implications: Respondents were positive about their overall sales education experience but identified a need for more effective sales education in cold calling, prospecting and the inherent level of rejection to be prepared for inside sales positions in which sales graduates increasingly start their careers. Social implications: Lower turnover and better educational preparedness of sales program graduates clearly will accrue socioeconomic benefits. Originality/value: This is the first study to examine the impact of sales education on recent graduates’ career preparedness and the first study for this journal to focus on sales as an area of professional competency and related sales pedagogy. Further, the qualitative methodology, which is relatively unique in sales research, provides rich data that is particularly useful for exploratory research to help provide a structure for universities to strengthen their sales programs through targeted training to help students enhance self-leadership and career preparedness.