Five Interview Questions to Ask a Sales Candidate

July 24th, 2015

As you sit down to interview each one of your top contenders for an open sales position, make sure you add these questions to your list. Open-ended, behavior-based questions like these can encourage your candidate to speak about her experience and skills in her own words. As she answers, you can read between the lines to gain more information about her readiness for the job.

“Describe the biggest mistake you’ve ever made during a sales call. What were the circumstances and how did the story end?”

As you ask this question, watch out for candidates who can’t seem to recall a single mistake or who claim they’ve never made one. These candidates are trouble, since they lack self-awareness and they may have brittle egos and an inability to learn from their mistakes. They may also respond poorly to criticism. Listen closely to candidates who are unafraid to share their mistakes and who demonstrate a clear ability to learn from these incidents and then place them in the past.

“Would you consider yourself more of a leader or a follower?”

The answer to this question is not as simple as it seems, because everyone leads under some circumstances and follows under others. Great candidates move fluidly back and forth between the two and can’t easily preference one over the other. But they respect the question and the intention behind it, and they think carefully before providing an introspective answer.

“What advice would you give to new sales associates who are just starting out in the business?”

Of course this question only applies to mid-career sales pros, not recent graduates or new recruits. But it can reveal plenty about a candidate’s basic philosophy and approach to client management. Again, listen carefully for signs of a candidate who knows how to take risks, make mistakes, bounce back, and learn from experience.

“What do you know about our product lines?”

This can be considered a trick question, since most candidates can’t be expected to come to every interview with hours and weeks of research under their belts. But be impressed if the candidate actually does seem to possess an understanding of your pipelines and your brand.

“Here are some of the biggest challenges you’ll face on our team: (Insert some details about your products or client base). How do you think you’ll handle these issues?”

If the candidate seems unfazed or even excited to tackle these challenges, that’s a great sign. If not, make note of how much thought and honesty she brings to her answer. You’ll need candidates who can think their way through problems and come up with potential solutions in real time.

For more on how to get the most out of your sales interviews, reach out to the staffing experts at PSU.

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