An interview is more than the succession of questions and answers between a candidate and an interviewer. It is rather about how the candidates: 1) present themselves, 2) organize their thinking, and 3) show the ability to articulate on the spot.
Especially when hiring salespeople, even more attention should be paid to the implications behind the literal interview responses. Questions should also provide an opportunity for candidates to show their ability to close a deal, reveal what motivates them internally, and give a glimpse into their working style and how they handle challenges.
For hiring salespeople, subtleties are key.
Top Questions to Ask in a Sales Interview
Asking candidates the right questions will help you avoid costly hire mistakes and bring the top sales talent to your team. Here are our suggestions:
1. Tell me how you organize your day
- This “question” aims to reveal how candidates prioritize their daily tasks, such as balancing cultivating relationships, finding new prospects, etc. Those who mention necessary but unimpressive tasks such as cold calling show that they also spend time on work which is monotonous but nonetheless important to do.
- The candidate’s reply should also show the recruiter how they manage their time and which processes they value most in the sales process. Do they have logical reasoning for spending more time on certain tasks?
This question also gives you a preview of what to expect from your future employee.
2. Describe a time you had a challenging prospect and how you handled the situation
- This question aims to reveal the candidate’s problem-solving skills. It shows what the candidate considers to be a challenge, and the steps they took to resolve an issue.
- It also gives an idea of the candidate’s level of resilience, from how they handled the challenging situation and how they subsequently behaved. Did they bounce back from the struggle ready to tackle more challenges?
- The reply is also an opportunity to admit a mistake or imperfection, implying that they are coachable. A changing workplace environment requires learning skills to tackle new challenges, making coachability an important employable trait.
- This question can also give the recruiter a sense if the candidate is pessimistic or optimistic. During challenges (of which salespeople face many!), staying positive helps overcome challenges and persevere ahead. A study by Dr. Seligman found that optimistic salespeople, some of whom even lacked aptitude skills, outperformed pessimists with aptitude skills in a company. “Optimistic salespeople outsell pessimistic salespeople from twenty to forty percent.”
3. Why sales and why this team or company?
- This question looks into their inner motivation for why they chose sales. If it’s just for money or commission, there might be a problem of long-term fit.
- Being able to identify the benefits of the company and tell the recruiter why it is valuable shows potential for sales skills (identifying benefits/value and then persuading).
- The reply should help indicate whether or not they fit into the company culture. Eighty-nine percent of hiring failures are due to poor culture fit; therefore it is a very important trait to screen for.
4. Tell me about an important achievement in your life
- Having the candidate talk about something subjective like an achievement will give insight into what the candidate values in life, whether it be money, power, responsibility or respect in the community.
- An additional benefit—the candidate will probably also speak about the steps he or she took to get to this accomplishment, showing their pattern of thinking or problem-solving if they had to overcome a challenge to reach it.
5. Have you ever been asked to do something you didn’t know how to do or complete a task outside of your job description? How did you manage the situation?
- This tests for adaptability, a trait which has been found to predict salespeople’s success. In fact, 69% of hiring managers consider it to be the most important soft skill that they screen for. In today’s increasingly digitized world with changing effects on businesses, skills to overcome these changes are in demand, meaning you need employees who will be able to learn new skills and adapt to changing workplace situations.
- Moreover, sales teams can greatly increase their efficiency by incorporating technology into their work processes. Those open to using new technologies to automate processes or generate analytics end up working more efficiently and can increase the productivity of your company. It’s no wonder then that top-performing sales teams are 2.3 times more likely than underperforming teams to use guided selling.
Also look out for…
Another important aspect to look out for when hiring salespeople is the ability of a candidate to successfully work in a team and across departments. After all, 77% of salespeople say it is important to sell collaboratively with other departments such as marketing and service teams in order to become aware of marketing campaigns and interactions with customers. Customer service reps are also likely to alert sales teams to client opportunities.
These interview questions can help you investigate candidates’ capabilities, personality and motivation to assess future job potential, culture fit, and traits such as adaptability; however, when choosing interview questions, we advise you to of course consider what is already known about the candidate from application materials and probe into what is left to discover.
Buried within each response are implications of soft skills and personality traits which unveil the candidate’s potential as a salesperson. Because it may be difficult for the human recruiter to instantly identify these skills and traits during an interview, consider integrating AI into your sales candidate screening methods. Retorio’s artificial intelligence tool creates soft skill and personality profiles of candidates based on their recorded interviews by analyzing verbal prose, face and body pose, as well as voice changes, giving you valuable insight in just a few minutes. Think of it as a sales recruiter’s knowledgeable companion throughout the hiring process.
Bova, Tiffani. “26 Sales Statistics That Prove Sales is Changing.” 25 Jan 2019, salesforce blog, https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2017/11/15-sales-statistics.html.
Lewis, Gregory. “12 Interview Questions to Ask Every Sales Candidate.” 18 Sep 2017. LinkedIn Talent Blog, https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/interview-questions/2017/12-interview-questions-to-ask-every-sales-candidate.
Seligman, M. E., & Schulman, P. (1986). Explanatory style as a predictor of productivity and quitting among life insurance sales agents. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(4), 832-838