16 Common Sales Job Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

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Pree Sarkar
Pree Sarkar


Sales job interview questions tend to cover several angles — and for good reason. Sales roles are multifaceted. And a successful career in the field requires a wide range of skills, a certain disposition, ambition, a growth mindset, and a host of other key attributes and tendencies.

people reviewing common sales job interview questions and how to answer them

You can't address all of those elements with a short, cookie-cutter list of four or five universally telling questions, so there's not really a definitive guide for how to interview for a sales job. That being said, there are certain themes you can draw from to prepare.

To help you get there, we've compiled a list of common sales job interview questions that can help set you on the right course along with insight on how to answer them with or without experience, go over a few questions you can ask to impress your interviewer, and some interview preparation tips. Let's dive in.

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1. "What do you know about our company?"

Why They're Asking

This question helps interviewers gauge your levels of preparation and interest. They want to know that you're enthusiastic about working for their company not specifically — not just the idea of working in general.

Employees that care about the businesses they work for are more likely to remain engaged and actively contribute to a company's culture and their team's dynamic. By asking this, they're trying to get a read on whether you'll be a team player who believes in their organization's mission or someone who might potentially "phone it in" and ultimately fall off shortly after taking the job.

How to Answer

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 it serves, who it competes with, and what industry analysts, employees, and other interested parties say about it. Finally, repeat these steps with the company’s top three competitors.

Sample Answer:

“I’ve been very familiar with your company’s innovative solutions like X. I see the value it provides your target market of Y, and how it has done so against competitors Z.”



2. "Tell me a bit more about yourself."

Why They're Asking

This question helps your prospective employer get a read on your ability to communicate and appropriately balance personal and professional information. It doubles as a chance to get a feel for both who you are as a person and an opportunity to see how well you can comfortably build rapport without being overly casual.

How to Answer

As I said, this question is supposed to incorporate elements of both your personal and professional lives — so make sure you touch on each without getting too hung up on one in particular. Start with an interesting personal tidbit. Then, talk about why you are pursuing a sales career in general, and finish by discussing why you're interested in this particular company.

Sample Answer:

“Well off the clock I am deeply in love with my X hobby, I’ve done it for years and enjoy it with my friends and family! And professionally, I’ve been a salesperson for Y years as I have a passion for Z, which led me to find your company that aligns with my interests.”

3. "Give me an overview of your career to date."

Why They're Asking

A career retrospective highlights your ability to communicate while speaking to the logic and rationale of your career choices. It also allows you to tout some of your more impressive accomplishments.

How to Answer

Start with your first professional job — not your first job ever. Nobody wants to hear about how you worked as a camp counselor as a teenager. From there, 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.

Sample Answer:

“I got my foot in the door in sales at X company, that gave me the foundation I needed to develop Y skills. I then found the opportunity to progress with Z company, where I was able to build on what I had already learned and excel in…”

4. "What are your short- to mid-term career goals?"

Why They're Asking

Effective goal-setting is the mark of a clear-thinking, motivated worker. It's essential in the context of both fulfilling day-to-day responsibilities and staying the course throughout your development within an organization.

An interviewer wants to know that you'll remain organized, engaged, and ambitious throughout your tenure at their company — this question gives them the chance to see that.

How to Answer

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 high-minded 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.

Sample Answer:

“My short-term goal is to X, as I want to outdo myself in Y motivations, This will help me build up the skills I need to achieve my long-term goal of Z and reach new heights.”

5. "How do you generate, develop, and close sales opportunities?"

Why They're Asking

Shockingly enough, if you're interviewing for a sales position, you need to demonstrate that you have legitimate sales acumen. Interviewers want to know that you have the requisite skills to deliver on your responsibilities — cultural fit can only get you so far if you lack the technical ability to actually make sales.

How to Answer

Talk specifically about how you execute a sale from start to finish. Address planning, preparation, targeting, engaging, discovering needs, providing solutions, resolving objections, and gaining agreement. Layout how you tackle each of these tasks step by step.

Sample Answer:

“I begin to generate sales opportunities by X through calculated preparation and client targeting. I develop opportunities by listening to the needs of the customer and working on providing the most appropriate resolution. I close sales opportunities by gaining the customer’s trust in both the product and me until we reach a positive agreement.”

6. "What do you consider your most significant sales achievement to date?"

Why They're Asking

This question is where interviewers allow you to make a meaningful impression. They want to know that you've been able to apply your skills effectively to legitimately impressive ends. They're also looking to see how well you can identify the challenges you've faced and articulate the strategies you leveraged to overcome them.

How to Answer

Specificity is key here. People remember richly detailed stories of success. When fleshing out your crowning achievement, talk about the time, the specific obstacles you overcame, the people involved with the process, the steps you took to achieve the end result, and what happened afterward. Everyone loves a good sales story, so the more you can amp up the drama, the better.

Sample Answer:

“I had been trying to find new avenues to explore, and after putting myself out there and traveling to more events, making more calls, and building relationships with people around the world, I landed a six-figure sale to a corporation on a lead that I sourced myself!”

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?"

Why They're Asking

Successful salespeople learn from their mistakes. They're able to deal with failure by critically analyzing their shortcomings, taking them in stride, and not making the same errors twice.

Knowing how to handle failure is every bit as important as understanding how to succeed. Hitting hitches and hiccups is a natural part of sales life, interviewers want to know that you'll be able to effectively overcome obstacles without getting overwhelmed, demoralized, or confused.

How to Answer

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, how you tried to achieve it, why you failed, who was involved, what you learned, and what you would have done differently.

Sample Answer:

“When I was first beginning my career, I wasn’t able to meet quota for deals in the X industry. I took a step back to get to the root of the problem and found out I was targeting the wrong demographic in terms of age and occupation. I learned that I needed to conduct deeper research with data and have kept that way of thinking at the forefront of my strategy today.”

8. "Why are you interested in this company? Why are you interested in this role?"

Why They're Asking

In a similar vein to the first point on this list, this question is meant to gauge how enthusiastic you are about the interviewer's company specifically — an enthusiastic employee is an engaged one.

And they're much more likely to go the extra mile when push comes to shove. They want to know that you're a good fit. If you can't specifically articulate why that's the case, then they'll probably pass on you.

How to Answer

While you're researching the company and role, make a list of what excites you about both. Do you believe in the work the company does? Explain why. Are you interested in expanding your skillset to include the enterprise-level business they conduct? Tell them that. Does the role play to your strengths? Explain which strengths and how.

Even if your interviewer doesn't ask you this question, it's a strong way to begin or end your meeting.

Sample Answer:

“I’ve always been fascinated by this industry and how your company has made such an innovative solution for its customers. It would be a pleasure to learn more about the different types of solutions you offer, and to contribute to the success of your company through my skill set. I would revel in the opportunity to learn more about it all and grow within this position.”

9. "Consider a time when you haven't gotten along with someone on your team. What would that person say about you?"

Why They're Asking

Salespeople are passionate. It's a high-stress field and employers want to know you have self-awareness and the ability to work as part of a team. If you can't effectively contribute to a team dynamic, collaborate with others, and thoughtfully resolve conflicts with coworkers, you're more or less doomed to detract from your sales org's success.

How to Answer

Be honest with this answer, and give specific examples that have a clear resolution in the end. Hiring managers don’t want candidates who can't take responsibility or are too prideful to resolve conflict.

Sample Answer:

"In my last role, I worked closely with a BDR with a very different communication style than my own. We clashed early on because I'm an external thought processor and he was an internal processor. Ultimately, we took some time together to work out ways he could be more explicit in articulating his ideas and how I could be more grounded in hearing him and offering feedback."

10. "How do you keep up with the latest industry trends in sales?"

Why They're Asking

This question is a way to help interviewers get a feel for how passionate you are about sales as a whole — an opportunity to see that you're in the field because you want to be, not just because you're trying to make money. Keeping up on industry trends demonstrates motivation, sincere interest, and a commitment to growth and professional development.

How to Answer

If you're not reading the latest industry books, listening to sales podcasts, or following the hottest blogs, how are you keeping your skills sharp? Always come armed with a few ways you're learning about and bettering your craft.

Sample Answer:

“I stay in the loop on sales trends in many ways. I’m always reading the trending topics circulating my favorite business publications, and engaging in the conversation over LinkedIn. I even have a growing collection of sales success literature.”

11. "Tell me about the toughest sale you've ever made."

Why They're Asking

Interviewers ask this question to give you the chance to tout a major accomplishment, articulate your problem-solving skills, demonstrate critical thinking, and show how you've leveraged the skills you learned throughout your professional development.

They also want to see passion here. You're talking about something you're extremely proud of, they'd like to see some enthusiasm that will carry over when you take on your new role.

How to Answer

Every salesperson has that one sale that took a year to close, went through 37 levels of bureaucracy, or required them to win over a whole team that wanted a different product. Tell that story — and get specific. Talk about how much time you devoted to the sale and how you justified that time.

You want to demonstrate how you thought strategically about your time and your company's resources — not how much time you wasted closing a small deal. So make sure that the deal in question had a big payout.

Sample Answer:

“There was a time when I pitched my business to a gentleman at a networking event, I wasn’t there originally to do so, but couldn’t help but overhear that he was having troubles with X in his business … After hours of deliberation, exchanging business cards, holding multiple meetings over the span of months, I landed the largest deal of my career with a major company in my Y years of work!”

12. "Have you ever had to break up with a client or prospect? How did you approach that?"

Why They're Asking

This question sheds light on your capacity for empathy, assertiveness, strategic thinking, and communication skills. It lets interviewers know that you have a good feel for when it's time to cut your losses with prospects, the confidence to act on that sensibility, and the necessary touch to end relationships amicably and thoughtfully.

Breaking up with prospects is not for the faint of heart — but it's a necessary part of sales. It shows you're confident in your ability to work on other deals, cognizant of what's best for your customer, and fierce about protecting your company's resources.

How to Answer

Identify an instance where a relationship with a prospect or client didn't pan out. Establish exactly why they weren't a good fit, and highlight the moment you realized that was the case. Then, speak to how you communicated with them calmly but assertively, ended the relationship gracefully without burning the bridge, and benefitted from moving on.

Sample Answer:

“There have been times where the product offering had no longer aligned with a client. While I want to meet the quota, I know when a product isn’t the right fit for a customer. I would weigh all options before coming to the conclusion, and would respectfully communicate that they would need to explore other avenues.”

13. "Why are you interested in sales?"

Why They're Asking

Like a few other questions listed here, this one helps interviewers gauge how much skin you have in the game. They want to know you have an extremely personal stake in what you do — that you approach your career with passion and sincere interest.

With this question, they're allowing you to show that you'll bring solid energy to the position. If you can't articulate why you like sales, they might think you're pursuing the position for the wrong reasons.

How to Answer

Be sincere. You obviously have a reason why you got into sales — and that should extend beyond, "I wanted to make money." Start with how you got into the field. Then, explain why you've enjoyed it enough to stick with your career trajectory.

Talk about how your personality and skill set align with sales as a practice — but also discuss the specific aspects you love about both your day-to-day and overarching goals.

Sample Answer:

“I was inspired to work in sales because it’s a profession where hard work and problem-solving pay off. I enjoy the challenge of making a deal and feel accomplished when I provide a customer with the solution they’re looking for.”

14. "Do you consider yourself a team player?"

Why They're Asking

Team players can achieve their own goals while supporting and uplifting those around them to do the same. After all, hiring managers want to bring on candidates who boost the morale of the team — not damage it.

This question is to gauge how well you’ll work with and around others in the business place, and if you’re against that notion then they know someone else will be more willing.

How to Answer

Assure the interviewer that you can successfully work both in a team and alone. You want them to know that you’re open and inviting to work with a team, but not overly dependent or needing their help constantly.

You can even bring up positive past experiences of team projects that you found to be enriching to your work experience.

Sample Answer:

“Yes, I enjoy working in a team environment that encourages one another to reach new heights. I can flourish in a role working both alone or in a team, as in my latest experience, I have performed well in either.”

15. "In what ways do you build rapport with customers?"

Why They're Asking

This question is very straightforward and very important to the sales hiring manager. They’re asking to see if you already have a reliable sales approach that helps you build rapport, or a connection, with prospects.

If you already have some sales experience listed on your resume, the interviewer will definitely be expecting an answer that you shouldn’t have to take too much time to reach.

How to Answer

Answer their question by explaining that you build rapport with customers through personalized, unique, and appropriate conversation. You want the interviewer to know that you see the value in offering customers good experiences, and that you can do so in a professional manner that they’ll respect.

No customer is the same, and knowing how to build rapport with diverse customers is music to a sales hiring manager’s ears.

Sample Answer:

“Every customer is different, so to ensure that I can build relationships with them, I would personalize my approach to their unique needs, and hold conversations that are inviting and appropriate as we conduct business.”

16. "What do you do when sales are down?"

Why They're Asking

Being in sales means that not every month is going to be the most profitable, the hiring manager wants to know how you identify and approach this problem when it occurs.

They’re looking to make sure that you have a plan in place, and an attitude that reflects that you won’t give up or dwell on the setback.

How to Answer

Tell the interviewer that you would make a strategic plan to come back from the slump. Provide the ways you would track your own progress, and how you would weigh your benchmark against it.

Sample Answer:

“When sales go down, I don’t panic. Instead, I take a step back and make a strategic plan to reach more customers, with a different approach. I would calculate how far I am from my benchmark and re-evaluate my plan as needed.”

You’re familiar with the most common questions an interviewer will ask you, but how do you answer them when you’re new to the industry?

How to Answer Sales Interview Questions with No Experience

1. Phrase your lack of experience as eagerness to learn and grow.

Everyone has to get their foot in the door somewhere, so make it abundantly clear that you are motivated to learn and grow with their company.

Don’t talk down or apologize for your lack of experience in your interview, instead, phrase it as enthusiasm to become a great salesperson.

  • “I’m excited to take on the challenge of being a hard-working salesperson.”
  • “I’m eager to learn more sales skills if given the opportunity.”
  • I’m ready to take what I’ve learned from my classes and apply it to the real world.”

2. Highlight extracurricular activities you’ve done from your educational background.

Having an educational background in business is definitely a move in the right direction, but if you don’t, talk about activities you’ve participated in that’re useful in sales. Some value-adding extracurricular activities include:

  • Knowing or studying more than one language: This is a hard skill that sales jobs are constantly looking for, and is especially important for global businesses.
  • Holding a leadership position in an organization: This shows that you understand teamwork, have a self-starter attitude, and that you aren’t afraid to take on responsibility.
  • Fundraising for a cause: This extracurricular activity shows that you’re proficient in project management, business savvy, and motivated to help others.

3. Talk about transferable skills from your background — no matter the title.

Whether it was paid or unpaid — any experience is preferred. And oftentimes, common jobs, like retail or restaurant positions, teach skills that salespeople need.

Discuss what all you’ve learned that has transferable skills for the sales industry. Some skills to pull from your background include:

  • Organizational Skills: Time management and the ability to multitask show hiring managers that you have the ability to succeed in sales.
  • Communication Skills: Verbal or written, you need to let your interviewer know you can effectively communicate with customers — and even better — if you can talk about how you’ve negotiated or persuaded someone in the workplace.
  • Relationship Building Skills: If you’ve worked well in teams, or had a managerial background, then you have valuable relationship-building skills. Demonstrating that you care about people and their needs makes you a more reliable salesperson.

4. Talk about how you have problem-solved in the past.

Problem-solving is something effective salespeople do every day, and if you think about it, you too can bring up a time where you’ve had to problem solve in your day-to-day life.

Whether it was diffusing a disagreement, fixing a gadget on your own, or coming up with a solution or “life hack”, these are all situations that hiring managers can see that you have critical thinking skills useful for the workplace.

Now that you have a feel for how you should carry yourself in a sales job interview, let's see some questions you can ask to wow your interviewer.

Questions to Ask in a Sales Job Interview

1. "What are the characteristics of your top salespeople?"

This question shows that you're interested in seeing if you fit the mold for your interviewer's company. It demonstrates that you want to know what it takes to thrive in this role on a fundamental level — and the value of that is twofold.

For one, it shows your interviewer that you have a legitimate, personal stake in landing this role. And secondly, it gives you some insight into how you'd fare at the company.

2. "What types of objections do your reps consistently face?"

This question shows you're thinking proactively — that you are already interested in figuring out the challenges that come with the job. It tells the interviewer that you want to understand the day-to-day obstacles your potential colleagues deal with. Like so many other points detailed here, it also helps your interviewer place you in the role mentally.

3. "What are the biggest challenges new hires face in their first three months?"

This question demonstrates specific interest in the company and indicates that you have a growth-oriented mindset. You're showing that you're already interested in assuming and overcoming the challenges salespeople in this role face.

Asking about the obstacles new hires traditionally deal with is an excellent way to tell interviewers, "I'm already thinking about what I'll need to do to thrive at your company."

4. "Can I get a high-level overview of your sales process?"

Asking about the company's sales process shows that you're a practical thinker. This question shows that you want to understand how you'll be selling and whether your skills and sales acumen align with how the broader org operates. Interviewers will appreciate that kind of brass tacks thoughtfulness.

5. "Can you give me some more information about your tech stack?"

Like the fourth question listed here, this one shows that you're interested in the more nuts-and-bolts, practical aspects of the job. By indicating that you want to know which tools you'll be using, you're demonstrating two key pluses for anyone interested in a sales role. First, you're showing that you already know how to use some sales tools. Second, you're revealing that you're willing to learn how to use tools you might not be familiar with.

In addition to asking interesting questions yourself, you should be preparing for your sales interview in other ways. Below, you'll find our top tips.

1. Research the company and the products it sells.

The key to being prepared for a sales interview is understanding the specifics of the job and demonstrating fit. This begins with learning all you can about the opportunity.

Just as you would research a prospect to build rapport, research the company to help you get more easily acquainted with the interviewer. Doing so solidifies how competent and knowledgeable you appear.

2. From there, identify who its target buyer likely is.

Once you've taken a thorough look at the company you're interviewing with, start to piece together who its target buyer is. Based on its product or service's functionality, the copy on its website, its competition, and other clues, figure out who the business is trying to market to.

Being able to talk about the buyer and their pains demonstrates your empathy and skill as a salesperson — as well as your value to your prospective employer.

3. Take stock of your sales achievements.

Reflecting on your successes can help you build confidence in yourself and get you in the mindset of communicating in detail why you're the right person for the job.

If you're just breaking into sales and don't have sales experience, draw on related skills and achievements. For example, being in customer service may have sharpened your communication and problem-solving skills. Coming from an academic background may have prepared you for the research aspect of prospecting.

Always play to your strengths.

4. Consider how to convey them in a concrete, measurable way.

One way to communicate your achievements is by attaching numbers to them. By using concrete details, you can up-level the quality of your communication, back up your assertions with "proof," appeal to the logic of the interviewer and challenge them to imagine themselves in the numbers.

Here's how:

Instead of saying, "I have experience in cold calling," you'd say, "At my last company, I'd make X cold calls per hour and successfully convert around X% of them into warm leads."

Instead of saying, "I'm skilled at fundraising," you'd say, "I fundraised X dollars last year for the [Program Name]."

5. Be able to talk about yourself the way you would a product or buyer.

An interview is just like a sales meeting. However, instead of persuading a buyer as you sell a product or service, you'll be assessed on how well you sell yourself. Consider the company's pains and what value you can bring to the organization. Doing this will help your interviewer imagine how well you'll sell the company's products or services.

Be able to articulate your goals, motivators, and working style. How well you know yourself and can advocate for yourself will help them imagine you doing the same for their buyers.

6. Practice the STAR interviewing method.

STAR is an effective way to answer interview questions, and it stands for:

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

This helps you structure your answer in a way that has a narrative or storytelling component while including only the necessary details and outcomes, the result being more comprehensive and understandable communication.

In short, it allows you to get to the point quicker.

7. Compile a list of open-ended questions for your prospective employer.

You definitely want to get a sense of the organization in the interview, but that's not the only reason you should do this as you prepare.

Think of your interview as a sales meeting. Open-ended questions are an important aspect of the "discovery" or "information gathering'' aspect of the meeting. You can exercise your active listening skills to pick up on information that can help you in the interview.

At the very least, it gives the interviewer a chance to evacuate your skill at asking questions and imagine you with their prospects.

Now that you know what to do to prepare for the interview, here’s some last-minute tips to maximize your chances of landing the job.

1. Concisely summarize what you've learned about the organization's solutions, who they serve, who they compete with, and what industry experts say about them.

Demonstrating a healthy understanding of their business and industry shows you've done your homework.

Your interviewers don't expect you to have followed every move their company has made over the past five years, but learning about its largest competitors, what sets it apart in the market, and the accolades it has received will impress them and will distinguish you from other candidates.

2. Explain why you're interested in this company and role.

We touched on this above, but it bears repeating. Take time to really think through this question, and deliver an answer that goes beyond, "You have such a great culture," or, "I think it will be a really great fit."

Discuss why their product/service resonates with you, what it is about their business model that speaks to a specific skill you've honed, or how you think their sales team can help you grow in a certain area.

3. Talk very specifically about how you execute your sales role from start to finish.

When it comes to discussing your sales performance, go hard on the numbers. Have them ready and explain how you achieved them. Did you exceed your quota three quarters in a row last year? By how much? And how did you do it?

If you can't explain how or why you succeeded in your role, it doesn't really matter what you achieved.

4. Always mention data to back up claims about your past performance.

Similarly, don't just tell interviewers you closed the biggest deal in company history. Tell them how much bigger that deal was, how much time it took to close, and why it was worth it for your company and your quota.

5. Everyone loves a good sales story, so the more you can amp up the drama, the better.

Did you close a deal in the middle of a lake while on vacation in between water ski turns? Tell that story like you've told it a million times. You're a salesperson, and part of the job is being an outstanding storyteller. Demonstrate these skills to your interviewers by telling your all-time greatest sales stories.

6. Be honest about failures, and clearly spell out an example of when you've been challenged and how you moved forward.

Now's not the time to drag out the old, "I'm a perfectionist, and it frustrated a prospect once," narrative. Dig deep and show your interviewers you have healthy self-awareness and the ability to learn and proactively move on from your mistakes.

Talk about a time you lost a client because you were so focused on closing a bigger fish — and mention how you've taken those lessons and avoided making the same mistake again.

7. Above all, be prepared and be yourself.

Be unapologetically you in an interview. If you're not the loudest voice on the sales floor, don't pretend to be. If you have a weakness, be honest about it. And if you're especially kick-ass at closing or demos, be honest about that too.

Imposter syndrome is one of the worst traits to carry into an interview. So, just like you'd be comfortable letting a bad-fit prospect go, enter every interview with the confidence to let this job go if it's not the right fit for you.

Now that you have a feel for how you should carry yourself in a sales job interview, let's see some questions you can ask to wow your interviewer.

Nail your Next Sales Job Interview

While it’s 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.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in October 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.


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