Building a sales team takes a lot more than simply finding outgoing personalities and giving them a product to showcase. Asking the right sales interview questions and honing in on how these questions are answered is what will narrow down a candidate pool, floating the best sales reps to the top.
Here are 10 must-ask interview questions that separate the sales rockstars from the rest. How a candidate answers these questions is their first sales pitch at a company. Can they close the deal?
1. “What do you know about the company?”
This may seem like an obvious question, but it’s shocking how many candidates come into a sales interview not knowing the name of the company or what it does. Keep in mind if a candidate’s done their research, you typically won’t need to ask this question directly, as it’ll show in the way they answer other questions. Candidates will likely sprinkle in some facts about the organization or demonstrate that they have ideas that’ll enhance its current business model — which are always good signs.
2. “How do you establish trust with a prospect or lead?”
Depending on your business, there could be a few right answers to this one. The key here is to evaluate the candidate’s relationship-building skills. For example, if they’re coming from an outside sales role and did the majority of their initial contacts face-to-face, what channels did they use to follow up afterward?
If they have a good communication plan in place, what kind of content are they following up with? The answer to this question will also give you a good idea of how badly your candidate wants the business and what they’ll do to get it.
3. “Why are you looking to leave your job?”
The trick with this one is the candidate usually reveals just as much in how they answer as they do with their actual answer. For example, subtle jabs at former bosses or just general blaming is a pretty good indicator that this candidate might have had some issues with conflict management in the past.
While a bad company culture fit is a legitimate reason to leave a role, it gets a bit fishy when it’s the same reason they left their last three jobs. In that case, the common denominator in these abandoned positions is the person sitting across from you at the interview table.
4. “Can you give an example of when it was necessary to admit to others that you made a mistake? How did you explain/handle it?”
As humans, we all make mistakes. We shouldn’t expect the people we hire to be perfect robots, but they should know how to handle things when they drop the ball.
It’s better to have a rep who makes 10 mistakes in a year but owns up to them and does everything in their power to make things right than a rep who makes only one but refuses to ‘fess up (or is even willing to throw others under the bus to cover it up).
5. “How do you educate yourself outside of work?”
This question lets the interviewer know if a candidate takes the initiative to perfect their craft — whether it’s sales-related or a personal interest. It shows that they’re growth-oriented, open-minded and aware of the fact that there’s always room to better yourself.
6. “Walk me through a time when you had a measurable impact on a job or organization.”
It’s helpful to know that a candidate has the desire to go beyond the basic requirements of their role and make a difference at the company. For example, maybe they went above and beyond to create their own pipeline of leads in addition to what the marketing team was bringing in, or initiated a referral program with existing customers. Maybe they mentored a colleague into bettering their sales skills as well.
7. “Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.”
Just as a professional athlete would know the exact parameters of the world record they set, a prepared sales candidate will have their most outstanding metrics memorized and in their mental back pocket (if not already presented on paper with lead conversion rates, exceeded quotas, and earned revenues).
8. “What is a criticism you received and how did you handle it?”
The point of this question is to shed light on a candidate’s character and find out if they have an essential attribute that can’t be taught: humility. This is a clever way of asking, “Can you admit your own faults?” and “Are you coachable?” Any denial or arrogance in the answer won’t do them any favors here.
This is also a question that people tend to answer insincerely. For example, they might try the old disguise-a-strength-as-a-weakness trick. “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I’m a workaholic,” are two statements that don’t show how someone handles criticism — these answers would be considered a flop in the interview.
9. “What are your hobbies outside of work? What do you like to do in your free time?”
This is mainly for interest purposes and to help show their human side versus just technical strengths. Although, when a candidate says they play sports, this shows they have experience being a team player, likely have a competitive nature, and know how to have fun—all great transferable skills to a sales role.
10. “What are the qualities you value in a manager?”
It’s interesting to flip the table and hear what a candidate is looking for in a manager. Not a lot of salespeople expect this question, so the answers you get are usually raw and genuine. It benefits prospects to take on the perspective that their employer needs to be just as much a fit for them as they are for the employer.
Interview prep isn’t just for the candidate. As the hiring manager, be ready to ask the right questions and know what to look for in an answer to pick out the winning candidates. Finding a candidate who’s the right fit for the company — including your management style and sales team dynamic — will be the difference between a long-term employee and someone who’s here today and gone tomorrow.