Asking the Right Questions How to Interview a Sales Candidate

  • Introduction Interviewing is an art form, one that requires a disciplined approach. The guidelines that follow are applicable for virtually any executive position, but the questions included at the end are specifically designed to help you find the ideal candidate for your sales position.Preparation is critical to a successful interview. In particular, you should have detailed knowledge of the position for which the candidate is being considered. The interview itself should be private, and you should maintain control at all times — keeping the initiative and progressing at a steady pace. It’s important to draw the candidate out and encourage discourse, but don’t let him/her ramble along unproductive paths.Establish rapport that encourages the candidate to open up and respond more spontaneously than one would in a rigid question-and-answer format. Take care to make the candidate feel comfortable and develop confidence in the interviewer. Less guarded responses elicited in this manner are likely to be more reflective of true feeling and more candid as to shortcomings.Interviewing Errors
  • Poor homework — Do your homework on position specifications before the interview. Avoid over-generalizations about the job and the company.
  • Rambling — Have a plan for focusing on specific areas of inquiry.
  • No notes — Be receptive and thorough. Know what you’re after and keep a record by taking notes.
  • Leading questions — Don’t telegraph the desired response to your questions. Never over-question, and keep your opinion to yourself. Don’t dominate the conversation. Be a good listener and use silence. It’s difficult, but let the applicant be the first to break the silence.
  • Prejudices and stereotypes — Review your prejudices and don’t let them influence your judgment. Don’t, for example, be misled by the candidate’s appearance.
  • Theoretical questions — Don’t ask too many “What if …” questions. Instead, skew questions toward specific behavior patterns, responsibilities, accomplishments and methods used in getting results.
  • Chemistry — Interviewers don’t always hit it off with candidates. Don’t let poor personal chemistry cloud the interview. On the other hand, be careful when the chemistry is very good. In any case, be sure to thoroughly evaluate the candidate’s qualifications.
  • Pop psychology — Shun the role of amateur psychologist.
  • Tough ones — Don’t shy away from asking the hard questions. Similarly, ask follow-up questions — details should be developed rather than overlooked. “Why” is an invaluable probe and should be used frequently.
  • Halo effects — Sometimes an interviewer will judge by inference from answers not thoroughly given by the candidate. This behavior tends to “wish” someone into a position. Again, follow up and seek specific answers. Have data to support your assessments and conclusions.
  • Buying vs. selling — Evaluate the candidate’s experience from a buyer’s perspective. Make an informed judgment and decide upon the degree of persuasion needed or not needed to “sell” the candidate.
  • Executives often say proudly: “I don’t want the person if he/she doesn’t want to come here.” However, if the candidate is truly desirable and is currently employed, strong reasons must be given to induce a change. This requires a shift from “buyer” to “seller.”
  • Sales Candidate Interview Questions

Personal selling

  • What management level (who) have you sold to?
  • Tell me about some of your selling experiences.
  • What type of products have you sold?
  • Who did you target? How did you target them?
  • What was the price point of the product/service you were selling?
  • How complex was the sales process?
  • What industries and segments have you sold in?
  • How did you facilitate the client making a decision?
  • How was your sales team structured?
  • What were your personal revenue target numbers over the last three years?
  • How were you compensated?

Product/service pricing

  • What was your average sales size? What did that consist of?
  • How many (number) of sales per year?
  • How was your product/service priced?
  • How did you overcome pricing objections?


  • Who was your best?
  • Who was your worst?
  • What was your hardest sale? How did you overcome the obstacles?
  • Who was your largest?

Sales process

  • What was your sales process (one call, strategic, tactical)?
  • What was your sales psychology (relationship, solution, consultative)?
  • What decision makers had to be involved with the sale (recommenders, influencers, specifiers)?
    As soon as the candidate interview is over, take time to reflect. Carefully evaluate the information you’ve obtained, interpret the facts, weigh them and determine a course of action. Make notes of salient points, especially personal impressions that tend to fade faster than objective information. Write a paragraph summarizing your observations.

Then you can hire or not on an informed basis.

Vistage speaker Joe Heller is founder of The Samurai Group, a speaking, coaching and consulting firm based in Houston, Texas.

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