How to Interview a Sales Professional – Tips for Recruiters

Selecting the right sales person is one of the most important tasks for someone in a leadership position.  Too often it is approached in a casual and unprofessional manner. The consequences of recruiting the wrong candidate are costly, damaging and time consuming.

What are the two most important abilities that a sales person needs? There has been extensive research in this area and the answers are clear. The two most critical factors for a sales person are the ability to ask questions and the ability to listen. Both of these capabilities can be tested at interview yet most interviewers miss the golden opportunity to do so.

Here are some tips to help you when you are next interviewing a candidate for a sales position in your company.

  1. Do not put undue emphasis on appearance. The candidate’s appearance and initial impression matter but only to a limited extent. Many interviewers put too much significance on how the candidate looks and their first impression. What the candidate says and does is more important. Do their skills and experience meet the criteria that you have set? Do not let a smart suit, bright smile and firm handshake fool you.
  2. Have they done any research? A good sales person will do their homework before the interview. They will have visited your web site, spoken to the agency and gathered as much information as they can find. Ask them about this. See what investigation they have done. If they have failed to some basic market research then it shows a sloppy approach to selling.
  3. Assess their questioning technique. After an initial preamble, let them do the questioning. See if they use a structured approach. They should ask about all aspects of the sales cycle for your products. A professional sales person will want to know facts and figures about prospects, leads, order values, close rates, quotas etc.
  4. Don’t use standard questions. Candidates can easily prepare for obvious questions such as ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’ or ‘Tell me about a recent sale.’ Try putting them into hypothetical situations where they have to do some thinking. Talk about a recent sales challenge in your business and ask how they would have handled the situation. See if they can think on their feet.
  5. See what they have learned. I often asked candidates this question, ‘What was the biggest deal you ever lost?’ Then I would ask follow-up questions to see who they blamed for the loss and what lessons they learned. A great sales professional takes responsibility and is always learning.
  6. Investigate their sales experience. Resumes can be misleading so check to find out exactly what kind of selling experience they have. Have they been selling face to face or over the phone? How long is the sales cycle? What is the value of the sale? What was their quota and what was their performance against quota. Any hesitancy or waffle in these areas is a cause for concern.
  7. Check that they have listened. Towards the end of the interview ask some questions that relate to topics you discussed earlier. See if they were listening or just nodding.
  8. Can they close? The interview is itself a sales call so at the end of I would expect the candidate to try some kind of close. They should ask questions like. ‘How do I measure up for this position?’ ‘Do you have any concerns about me?’ ‘What happens next in the process?’ etc. If you raise concerns they should address them – just as if they were handling sales objections – and then check that you have been reassured.
  9. Check their resumes and their references. Any deceptions on the resume should rule them out immediately.
  10. Get other people’s opinions. Have them meet some other directors or senior managers and one of your sales people. Then compare notes. They will often spot things that you miss.
  11. Finally, if you are in the happy position of having two or more excellent candidates and you cannot choose, then try this. Ask the candidates to return and give a short sales presentation on a product of their choice. A presentation is different from an interview and you will be able to assess their communication skills. Did they use jargon? Did they sell features or benefits? How well did they handle objections? Did they ask for feedback? And so on.


Don’t select someone just because they make a strong initial appearance.  Don’t appoint someone who is likeable but cannot sell.  The use of these simple techniques will help you to avoid that problem.

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