Tis the season… that wonderful time of the year when the weather changes, the job requisitions open up, and the interviewees start pouring in to sit through hours of standard interview questions.
You even get to read the same questions from your sales job interview script over and over and over. Some of the greatest hits include: “tell me about a major accomplishment” or “what about that time you had a conflict and how you resolved it?”
The purpose of this article is to talk about the characteristics to look for when interviewing sales talent.
First off, throw the old “Best questions to ask salespeople” article out the window.
Do you want someone to be able to Google and research standard answers and then pass the interview? I certainly don’t. The only thing candidates coming to meet me should be Googling is my company.
I will make the assumption that you have an amazing ad, great recruiters, and a sourcing strategy that has filled the funnel with desirable candidates.
Before candidates come onsite we have to decide who is going to interview them and what are they going to focus on.
How many times in your career have you gone into multiple sales job interviews with the same company?
Did they ask you the same questions over and over again?
As a former performer, I could basically script out my “story” and highlight a few achievements to get me through interviews, but rarely did anyone get to know me. What kind of employee would I be? How would I fit into THIS environment?
First, let’s agree on 5 categories to measure the candidate.
My current list is:
- Intellectually Curious
- Master Communicator
- Can Execute
Each interviewer gets their category and puts a list of questions together that should help them tease out the info they need to give the candidate a strong yes or a strong no.
Here’s how it works:
Is this person coachable?
While conducting a sales job interview, I ask the candidate to give me an elevator pitch (they can use a product they have sold before or use every day – bonus points for attempting our product). Once they give me the pitch, I give them some feedback (no matter how good or bad it is). The goal of this exercise isn’t to judge a pitch; it’s to see how they take feedback.
Did they take direction? I generally give feedback that “should” change the entire direction of the pitch. Their response tells me if they listen and shows me how fast they can adapt. Knowing someone coming in is in some way coachable ticks a box that gets them closer to the sales job.
Is this person passionate?
I want to work with passionate people. Nothing is more fun in a sales job interview than landing on a subject that makes the candidate’s eyes light up. It doesn’t even have to be about work.
There are a lot of questions that can get to the heart of the matter. The one I have used recently is
“If you were given a blank check to start a company – what would that company be?”
Recently, I met a pickling fanatic. The interview was already going pretty well, but when we got to this questions the candidate’s eyes lit up and I got more information about pickling than I ever thought I would. If this candidate uses 1/10th of that enthusiasm on a sales call, they are going to close some deals.
Does this person know stuff? Are they intellectually curious?
We want to find candidates who are intellectually curious, but since I’m southern (and since I totally stole this from Adam Behrens) I like to be around people who know stuff.
A good question for the sales job interview is
“What is the last thing you taught yourself to do?”
This is also a great place to put them in the hot seat for questions.
Sometimes I give purposefully vague product descriptions and then ask them which one they would pitch in a certain scenario. If they pitch cold, they missed the boat. If they ask a few questions then I can see their process. And if they have a process, we are headed in the right direction.
Can this person communicate effectively?
One of the prompts I use here in the sales job interview is:
“On a scale of 1 to 10, rate yourself as a communicator and then give me three examples of why you chose the number you chose.”
Then I challenge HARD. Most people go straight to 9 or 10 and we usually have a great banter about it.
This is also a great time to talk about what is an ideal managerial relationship and what is a challenging one.
The boring answer is “I don’t like to be micromanaged.” When I get that I usually just ask “Why?” and stare them down until they dig a little deeper.
Can this person GSD (Get stuff done)?
My favorite type of colleague is one who gets stuff done. This is the interview where I get into project management. Very few salespeople come in with a PM background but everyone has worked on some kind of project.
- What was the project?
- What was your role?
- How many people did you work with?
- How long did it take?
- Whose idea was it?
- What was the end result?
One candidate planned a fund-raiser. Twenty minutes later I knew the ins and outs of every part of that fundraiser and had a strong sense of the work that went into planning it and what they learned.
When every sales job interview is over and there is a full picture of each candidate, a strong decision can be made. This candidate also leaves having spoken about things they are passionate about, projects they were a part of, and a lot of other topics outside of their Microsoft office skill set that were designed to let you know who the person is that was sitting in front of you.
There are a LOT more steps to the structured interview process on the interviewer and interviewee side, but this an approach I like to take to learn about the candidate who took time out of their life to meet with my team.
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