Recruiting the Best Sales Talent & Interviewing Questions You CAN & CANNOT Ask

How you conduct an interview and the techniques you use will ultimately affect who you hire, which has a net effect on end results. Many mistakes are made in the interviewing process each day which prevent attracting and keeping the best salespeople. Following are some proven techniques to increase the quality of your company’s sales team.

Hire People – Not Resumes

A resume represents a piece of paper with words. It is like a marketing piece or a small brochure for a sales candidate. Incidentally, approximately 70% of all resumes contain “inaccuracies” – relating to dates worked, positions, achievements, etc.

Common Mistakes that hiring managers or business owners often make:

  • Placing too much emphasis on the resume by interviewing the resume vs. talking directly to the sales candidate.
  • Structuring the interviewing process as an interrogation vs. a conversation with the sales candidate.
  • Sitting behind the desk with the sales candidate in front of it. This process creates an authority approach and therefore can inhibit good communication. The best structure for effective interviewing is to be seated at a round table or at a table in a conference room.
  • Asking too many closed-ended questions vs. open-ended questions.
  • Talking too much.
  • Trying to sell your sales position to the candidate. The sales candidate should have the attitude that they are there to sell you on their superior sales skills – they should be selling and you should be buying the right sales candidate.

Good Interviewing Questions

As a good interviewer you need to be asking open-ended questions which require the candidate to analyze, think and communicate vs. just giving yes or no answers. This approach is especially critical in hiring salespeople, even more than other types of employees, because a salesperson’s true focus is to communicate to solve a prospect’s problems. In the interviewing process, you really need to determine if the salesperson is a good communicator — both in words and body language – two critical areas that resumes do not indicate.

Questions that you could use in your interviewing process:

  • Tell me about your current goals, both short term and long term.
  • What do you consider to be your greatest strengths? weaknesses?
  • What are you currently doing to correct your weaknesses?
  • Why did you choose sales as a career?
  • Give me three reasons why you are a good salesperson.
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Give me three major problems you have encountered in sales and how you were able to overcome them.
  • Would you rather sell a product or a service? Explain your answer.
  • What are your income goals this year? next year? the following year?
  • Why do you think the majority of people do not have a really good opinion of salespeople?

Questions You Cannot Ask:

Equal Employment Opportunity Laws state that there are specific types of questions you cannot ask when interviewing a sales candidate or any other potential employee.

You cannot ask any type of questions in your interviewing process that relate to these topics:

  • race
  • religion
  • sexual preference
  • age
  • veteran status
  • physical disabilities
  • arrest record
  • credit rating
  • marital status
  • pregnancy

For example, let’s say you are interviewing a sales candidate for a position and you ask them their age, where they went to church or if they have ever been arrested. You decide not to hire this person, not because of these questions but because you felt the candidate was really not the right fit. This candidate could subsequently contact the EOE office and sue you for age discrimination, religious discrimination, etc. based on those questions that you asked. In fact, lawsuits are at an all time high based upon alleged discrimination issues.

Things to Look For

When you are interviewing a sales candidate there are specific details and behavior that you should look for because they indicate behavior patterns. An important principle relating to life in general is “how you do anything, is how you do everything.” For example, how a person treats his or her family will usually be the same as they treat their employees.

Behavior / What it means

  • Walks at rapid rate / Is goal-directed and has a sense of urgency
  • Shoes are shined / Attention to detail
  • Speaks with hands in front of their mouth / Generally indicates he or she is masking something–not necessarily telling you the truth
  • Candidate has their feet pointed away from you / Not feeling comfortable and not necessarily connecting with you or your company
  • Has a list of prepared questions to ask you during the interview / Good planning ability
  • Candidate gives a short, crisp presentation about themselves and why they should be offered the position / Shows confidence, preparation and a sense of control
  • Candidate asks for the position / A true, confident sales professional