First impressions are lasting impressions, and this is certainly true with job interviews. In most cases you get 30 to 60 minutes to make your mark.
Sales job candidates must be intentional about the perception they create with hiring managers. How do you make sure you leave the best impression possible? It’s essential that you anticipate and prepare for the questions that might be asked of you.
Here are some of the most common sales job interview questions and tips on how to answer them.
1) What do you know about our company?
This demonstrates your level of preparation and level of interest. Start by reading the organization's website and the Wikipedia entry if applicable, then search the company name on Google to read what others are saying about them. Concisely summarize what you learned about the organization’s solutions, who they serve, who they compete with, and what industry analysts, employees, and other interested parties say about them. Finally, repeat these steps with the company’s top three competitors.
2) Tell me a bit more about yourself.
This job interview question demonstrates your ability to communicate and balance appropriate personal and professional information. Start with an interesting personal tidbit and then talk about why you are pursuing a sales career in general and at this particular company.
3) Give me an overview of your career to date.
A career retrospective highlights your ability to communicate in addition to bearing testament to the logic and rationale of your career choices. Start with your first professional job (note: not your very first job ever) and talk briefly about what you learned from each successive role. Don’t forget to touch on what attracted you to each new opportunity, culminating in the one you are currently interviewing for. Frame each job change in terms of striving for something greater, not in terms of running away from a crummy manager or company.
4) What are your short- to mid-term career goals?
Job candidates who set goals are perceived to be clear thinkers and motivated workers. Before your interview, talk to a few people who are where you would like to be and ask if your stated goals strike a healthy balance between realistic and achievable. Then, when you talk to the hiring manager, briefly describe your goals and hone in on why you want to achieve them -- your driving motivations and where you think achieving these goals could take you in the next few years.
5) How do you generate, develop, and close sales opportunities?
Core sales skills remain the same regardless of industry or company. This job interview question seeks to uncover the maturity and suitability of your sales process. With this in mind, talk very specifically about how you execute your sales role from start to finish. Address planning, preparation, targeting, engaging, discovering needs, providing solutions, resolving objections, and gaining agreement. Lay out how you tackle each of these tasks step by step.
6) What do you consider your most significant sales achievement to date?
Here’s your opportunity to make a big impression. Take it.
People remember richly detailed stories of success. When fleshing out your crowning achievement, talk about the time, the specific situation or problem, the people involved, the steps you took to achieve the end result, and what happened afterwards. Everyone loves a good sales story, so the more you can amp up the drama, the better.
7) Tell me about a time that you failed to achieve goals you set. What went wrong and how could the outcome have been different?
Salespeople need to be able to deal with failure by critically analyzing failed attempts and learning from them. Knowing how you handle failure is as important as understanding how you succeed, and in fact, the two are interdependent. Be honest here, and clearly spell out one of your failures. Start with the goal you were pursuing, and then elaborate on why it was important to you, what did you do to achieve it, why you failed, who was involved, what you learned, and what you would have done differently. Far from damaging your reputation, the hiring manager will appreciate your candor.
While it is impossible to anticipate every sales job interview question that could be asked, these examples should prepare you for the most important ones and any derivatives that come from them.
Above all, be prepared and be yourself. Your best interviews and outcomes are ahead of you.