5 Tremendous Interview Questions for Sales Candidates

Sales People InterviewedFriendly hiring warning #1: Asking these questions without understanding the why behind each one is dangerous. You won’t make the right hiring decisions because you won’t fully understand the best practice principles or the outcomes you’re shooting for. I’m serious, darn it. Go to Chapter 1 and start reading.

Friendly hiring warning #2: Don’t allow yourself to be hypnotized by a likeable, well-spoken sales candidate who boasts of past sales success. Hire for skill, personality, character, and mapping. A common mistake made by hiring managers in the pre-employment process is looking only to answer the question of whether a candidate can sell.

The questions in this section focus on sales skills and sales experience, but don’t skip over 1st and 2nd Interview questions about character and mapping. HR professionals will tell you that most of their company’s rules (and their own gray hair) result from nutty things done by sales reps. Capable salespeople who are successful, fun, and have high character do exist. Hold out to hire them. 

1. Tell me about your sales process at your current/previous job.

Don’t assume that the candidate’s sales job is similar to your sales job. This open-ended question will get the candidate talking about details of their sales experience. If you listen closely and ask pertinent follow-up questions, you’ll learn if the candidate was an order taker, a new sales hunter, or somewhere in between. You can also learn about sales cycles, product complexity, pricing, and more.

2. Of all your work in sales, have you been more successful servicing clients or developing a new territory? Why?

Just because a salesperson can claim to be responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales doesn’t mean they have the skills to do your sales job. Someone else might have generated the initial sale, and your candidate is responsible only for servicing the existing customer. Or the candidate could have made the initial sale then handed it over to someone else. This question is helpful because it requires the candidate to choose between servicing clients vs. developing a new territory as their stronger suit. You will then be able to ask follow-up questions about why the candidate feels they are stronger in one area and weaker in the other.

3. Could you see yourself enjoying this job for 10 years or more? Why?

Offer jobs only to candidates you believe will still work at your company in 10 years. There are no guarantees that an employee will stay with your company. But if you uncover reasons likely to cause a candidate to leave sooner, don’t hire that person. You shouldn’t be trying to put bodies in seats. You should be trying to hire the people who will create your future.

4. Give me at least one example of you closing a sale quickly.

4a. Thank you. Can you give me another example?

5. Give me an example of a long sales cycle and your persistence to see the process through to the close.

5a. Thank you. Can you give me another example?

Let’s take these questions together. Asking about both short and long sales cycles measures the experience of the candidate. At my company (Jameson Publishing), our sales cycle is typically a few months long, but of course we like reps who have the ability to shorten the sales cycle when they can. We’ve interviewed some sales reps who had a long list of closing sales quickly – sometimes in one call. But they had to scratch their head to come up with even one example of successfully navigating a longer sales cycle that required them to strategize, be persistent, and influence multiple decision makers. This uncovered a potential aversion that the candidate might not have the skills or personality to tolerate a long sales cycle.

<< Bonus Questions – updated 2016 >>

6. What other types of companies and positions have you looked at or applied to?

Candidates will tell you they’re certain your job is the exact career they’re looking for. But answering this question often divulges that they’re open to anything that will pay the bills. I’ve talked with candidates for a full-time sales position who were spending all their energy applying for clerical or non-professional part-time jobs.

7. How often do you prepare sales reports? How detailed are they?

7a. We require these sales reports: _______. How do you feel about that?

I ask these questions later in the process, after the candidate and I have established a comfortable rapport. Because question 7 is neutral and the candidate is at ease, they may complain unnecessarily about needing to complete sales reports. Or they will have the proper perspective that while nobody loves reports, they are necessary to run an effective sales organization. Either way, we obtain insight into the candidate’s fit with our company.

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