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3 keys to identifying a sales achiever in a hiring interview
How can you identify the great salesperson in a job interview? Well, it’s not
First of all, true sales virtuosos are scarce, even though there are many
good salespeople and sales is one of the most common and necessary types of
jobs. Also, research shows that the job interview is notoriously unreliable as a
predictor of job performance. And it’s even worse if you are interviewing
salespeople. Because if there is one thing that all salespeople – from the great
ones to the average ones – have in common, it is the ability to interview
So, how can you use an interview to increase your “hit rate” in hiring the
best salespeople? Naturally, you want to look at their history, references,
performance on pre-employment tests, and the like. You want to ask the usual
interview questions (Tell me about yourself. Why did you leave your last job?
What are your strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures? Etc.).
But salespeople are experts at getting past a typical interviewer. So here’s
your challenge: How can you turn the odds in your favor? How can you interview
in a manner that will reveal whether the person sitting across the desk from you
will be first string on your sales team or will be a sales underachiever?
As a psychologist who has spent decades interviewing and counseling
salespeople, I have learned that there are certain patterns that keep coming up
so frequently in interviews that they have become highly predictable. Using the
power of communication, here are 3 powerful interview tools to add to your
1. “How will our company be better off if we hire you?” This is the mother
of all hiring questions. It speaks to whether the sales applicant is focusing
on your bottom line. Most applicants are primarily worried about how to
explain themselves and how they come across in an interview. But you want to
see if their major focus is on helping your company become more successful.
Especially in sales, you are looking for someone whose has a laser-beam focus
on bottom-line sales productivity – making money for the company, expanding
the company’s customer base. You don’t want to hear about what this applicant
did for Imbecile Machines in 2004; you want to know what he or she can do for
you NOW. What they did in another job is only an example of what they can
(presumably) do for you, not an answer to “Why should we hire you?”
2. Think about what is the most challenging thing about the job you are
offering. Then say, “This job requires a lot of cold calling [or whatever is
hardest]. Looking at your background, I’m not sure you can do it. How do we
know you can do it and can keep doing it?” What you are actually doing here is
presenting an “objection.” How does the applicant handle this objection? How
they handle your objection will tell you a great deal about how they handle
objections when actually selling your product or service.
3. Pick something from your desk (such as a pad of paper, a paperweight, or
a pencil) and say, “OK, sell this to me.” This requires the applicant to do
more than say the right things about themselves and about sales. It requires
more than their often well-prepared responses to your questions. It requires
them to actually do what you are hiring them to do. And who better to evaluate
how they do it than you?
There are three areas to watch for in following up:
A. Look for specific examples. If an applicant makes a strong claim but
cannot think of a specific instance in their history that illustrates it,
B. Look for what is avoided or missing. For example, training can consist
of reading, coaching, participating in workshops, being mentored, and of
course experience. If any of those elements are missing when the applicant
discusses training, this is another potential red flag.
C. Look for evidence not only that the applicant can perform the sales
task, but also that he or she can do so on an ongoing basis. For example, if
the job requires cold calling, and the applicant says they are good at cold
calling, ask how much they cold call (how many hours a day or week, how many
months on a consistent basis).
Adding all of the above ideas will increase the depth of your interview and
give you more specific and better information to help you make a good sales
hiring decision. And if you find that some variation works better for you in
your particular situation, by all means use it.
About the Author
Dr. Sander Marcus is a clinical psychologist with the Center for Research &
Service at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. Specializing
in motivational, career, and business areas, he has co-authored two books on
underachievement and a nationally used sales test for hiring and training (the
SalesAP, Sales Achievement Predictor), as well as dozens of articles. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 312-567-3358. The IIT Center website is
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-08-30 22:18:47 in Employee Articles