A sales job interview is among the most challenging of interviews simply because interviewers will inevitably have high expectations for your persuasive powers, and candidates will need to do more than simply responding to questions. They'll have to respond with conviction.
Employment of sales and related occupations are projected to grow three percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While that projection anticipates more than a half a million new sales positions will be therefore created, growth in sales jobs is expected to be slower than average.
To stand out in a competitive field, you’ll need to prepare for your interviews. We polled salespeople, sales hiring managers, sales trainers, career coaches and professors to understand the most common questions candidates get asked in sales interviews at various stages of experience.
Get prepared with our 30 common questions and do your research. Sales should be fun and interviewing can be, too.
1. Why are you choosing or did you choose to get into sales?
2. How will this job help you get what you are looking for?
3. Tell me about a time when you had to convince someone or a group of people to do something your way. What methods did you use? Was it effective — why or why not? Going forward, would you use the same or a different method(s)? Why?
4. Walk me through your sales process from start to finish.
5. Sell me this product or service I am hiring you to sell.
6. In what area (industry, technical, etc.) do you consider yourself a subject-matter expert?
7. From your perspective, how should the sales team interact with the marketing, product and customer success teams?
8. Give me an example of a challenging task you were given. How did you go about completing it? What was the outcome?
9. Tell me about a make or break situation that you were in. How did you handle it? What was the outcome? What do you attribute to this outcome?
10. If you had to rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 for being competitive, where would you put yourself? Give me an example of something you have been part of that would support that rating.
11. Tell me about a time when a big deal didn't go as planned. What caused the failure and what did you do afterward?
12. What keeps you motivated?
13. Do you consider planning an important part of a salesperson’s success? Why or why not?
14. How successful were you in your last role?
15. Tell me about a time when you did not achieve your goals for a given period. How did you feel and what did you do?
16. Think about a time when you lost in a competition. How did you feel? What did you do as a result?
17. What percentage of your quota did you achieve in the last three years? If you achieved quota, how? If you did not achieve quota, why not?
18. What is your renewal or retention rate (if that applies to your business)? How have you successfully grown accounts?
19. How much did you grow new business?
20. What kinds of people do you get along with best or least? Why?
21. How many friends do you have?
22. Think of a person you dislike; how do you typically deal with that person?
23. If you were at a party where you knew nobody, what would you do?
24. Describe yourself using five adjectives, without any fear of being called vain.
25. Given one of your weaknesses, what are you doing to improve in that area?
26. Give me an example of how you demonstrated one of your strengths.
27. What is your leadership style?
28. Will your past supervisors provide a reference, and what would they say about you?
29. Who else are you interviewing with and why
30. Suppose we end up not offering you a job. What would you do next?
Perhaps the toughest question on the list above is being asked to sell your interviewer something. It can be intimidating, because you're put on the spot to sell something about which you might not have any knowlege. It could be as simple as a pen or a pamphlet sitting on the table next to you both. Of course, as with other hypothetical questions, there really isn't any single right answer, but the employer is most certainly interested in your overall approach: the sales process that you follow, your verbal communication skills and your enthusiasm and creativity.
Maybe you're asked if you can sell an apple. That could prove to be a tough question if you're a car salesman or something else, but you should be positive and enthusiastic, emphasize the features of the apple that the interviewer will value most (you should know some facts about this person if you did your homework on them prior to the interview).
According to The Balance, you should "emphasize features of the product and benefits that the customer will derive from owning and using it."
For example, a good approach is to say: "My customers are finding that our apples make an excellent healthy snack for families on the run or to pack with your children's school lunch. Our apples are fresh and crisp since we source them weekly from local orchards. We only sell apples which are grown organically without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Our apples are loaded with beneficial fiber, vitamins and nutrients so, in addition to being sweet and tasty, they are great for your health," according to The Balance.
Then you should probe for reservations and make an attempt to close the deal.
That's just a particularly intimidating question, though. The second toughest question is probably having to admit to your weaknesses. When asked, you should pose your weakness as a shadow of a strength.
The Balance suggests that you give an answer like this: "I would say that my greatest strength is my ability to follow through. In sales, I have found that I am most successful when I pay attention to every piece of the sales cycle, from the first contact, to the thank you at the completion of the sale. The shadow side of this strong detail orientation is my tendency to over think a situation, which is probably my most serious weakness. I sometimes take too much time to strategize on a sale, and find in the end that my initial plan was the one that was the best."
Or like this: "My greatest strength is my organizational ability. I like to plan out the sales cycle to the letter, and follow it through. My greatest weakness is related to my greatest strength, because I would say that when my plan needs to change, I can be a little bit inflexible."
Or even like this: "My greatest strength is my ability to think on my feet. I am very flexible in my approach to my sales, and am able to work with many different kinds of customers at once. My weakness is that sometimes I don't plan things out as well as I should, and end up reacting to things as they come up."
It's important to note that each and every one of the responses that you give to the aforementioned sales interview questions (and any job interview question ever) should include concrete, explicit, measurable examples of your sales achievements. It's important because you should be clear about how you can actually help the company and grow sales for them. Include numbers to back up statements if you can. For example, if you happened to quantify your achievements on your resume, you should certainly share some of those numbers and percentages in your responses — and expand on them, since your resume doesn't have room to do so.
On top of being specifc, you'll also want to tailor your responses to reflect the company's products, services and goals. So be sure to do your fair share of research before the interview. You should know about the company and the person who is interviewing you.
Dr. Michael Mallin, Professor of Marketing, at the University of Toledo’s The Edward H. Schmidt School Of Professional Sales, created a guide, which he uses to prepare students to answer interview questions effectively. The interviewer’s questions attempt to measure attitude, motivation, initiative, emotional stability, ability to plan, level of insightfulness, leadership potential and social skills — attributes companies want at all hiring levels.
Fletcher Wimbush, Senior Sales Executive at The Hire Talent, a recruiting firm, loves to simply ask, “How many friends do you have?” Wimbush explains it is more about the persons’ perception of how many friends they have than the real number. Extroverts are more likely to include anyone who might remotely be a friend, while introverted professionals manage to pare down their list to the core eliminating fringe relationships. “A highly social person, with great rapport building and people skills, embodies the sales profile nicely,” Wimbush explained.
As your career progresses, questions get added about your previous performance and subject matter expertise, according to Ann Wilkerson, a salesperson with 10-years of experience and currently the training director at ERE Media, Inc., an information resource for HR, talent acquisition and recruiting leaders and professionals. “Salespeople are always measured by numbers and companies want to know yours,” Wilkerson said. Companies should ask a lot of questions to add context to your performance. For example, salespeople at quickly growing companies may just be riding the wave, while professionals at struggling companies may be outperforming even if a goal has been missed.
“As a hiring manager, I am looking for people who believe that constant refinement of their process will eventually lead to wins," noted Mary Fox, co-founder & CEO of Marlow, a career coaching platform. "We want them to be self-motivated and have a positive attitude. At the same, they need to be curious enough to figure out what works and what doesn't with their sales efforts. This combination of self-awareness and grit is gold."
Understanding the industry trends for your prospective employer plays a part in both standing out as a candidate and vetting the company. It's important to understand the current dynamics of the industry and where your potential employer fits. Wilkerson explained, “I interviewed for a sales job a couple of years ago in which I could tell the sales manager did not understand the industry. I knew this person could not provide me with the strategic support I needed in sales meetings. Beyond that, the product team did not have the knowledge necessary to keep their products relevant. I turned down their offer!”
Mike Smith, Founder of SalesCoaching1, a company that provides sales training and recruiting solutions, wants to understand what other companies a candidate is interviewing with and why to judge commitment. He gave the following advice: “I’m really trying to find out if you are looking for a job in a specific industry, and if you are motivated to find a sales job. If the candidate is interviewing for anything but sales jobs with other companies make sure you know why. Great salespeople normally want sales only."
Independence is a trait organizations want in salespeople, but Fox reminds us that candidates should know that success is a collective effort with this question: From your perspective, how should the sales team interact with the marketing, product and customer success teams? "To ace this question, candidates should have a good understanding of this company's sales structure," Fox explained. "It's okay to ask questions about the company culture before you answer. In this way, you will demonstrate that you understand each company culture is different and communicate that you are flexible enough to work in a variety of organizational structures.”
Rejection is a regular occurrence for salespeople, and companies interview many candidates to fill just one role. Smith likes to understand a candidates ability to respond to rejection by asking, "Suppose we end up not offering you a job. What would you do next?” Keep going!
And, because you did your homework, you should also have some questions of your own. In fact, you should never leave an interview without asking questions back. According to The Balance, these are some of the best questions to ask the interviewer for a sales job for which you're interviewing.
1. What qualities does a successful salesperson at your company possess?
2. What direction do you see this company taking in the next five years?
3. What is the quota for this position?
4. What percentage of employees meet their quota?
5. What percentage of employees exceed their quota?
6. Is there a lot of travel associated with this position?
7. How is the commission structured in this position?
8. Do many people achieve bonuses for high levels of sales?
9. How much flexibility does the salesperson have in negotiating price with the customer?
10. What do you see as the most difficult challenges for the sales team at this company?
11. How many people are on your sales staff?
12. How do you motivate your sales staff?
13. What does a typical work day/week look like at this company?
Jennifer Bewley is the founder of Uncuffed which provides detailed research into prospective employers. Jennifer has an unhealthy love of financial data and speaking her mind and she uses each to help candidates choose the company they work for wisely.
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