There’s no magic interview formula. You never know what you'll be asked, and you’re always afraid you’ll completely blank on the answers you’ve been rehearsing.    

I totally get it. In the 17 years I’ve spent working in both sales leadership and in sales recruiting, I’ve interviewed my fair share of candidates and brought many sales organizations together with top sales talent. So if you’re thinking about getting into sales, or are ramping up for a change, I’d like to share some insights on the recruiting process to help you prepare and squelch those interview jitters.  

First, narrow your search…

… by defining what you’re looking for. Do you want a short sales cycle or a relationship sell? B2B or B2C? Do you need sales training? If so, what companies have great sales training programs? What kind of culture are you looking for? Figure out where you want to be and why, so you can articulate why this company would be a good fit. It also looks good to show that you’ve done your research, and you’re not just applying because you need a job -- you’re applying because you want to work at this specific company.  

Be proactive, not reactive, with recruiters.

Think about developing a relationship with a recruiter you trust instead of only contacting one when you’re desperate and looking. If you’re already working and winning where you are, you’re a much more appealing choice to a recruiter over the candidate who has been unemployed for six months or was fired because they weren’t hitting their quota.    

The formula for success in recruiting is to find top talent who are working and winning where they are, and match them with an opportunity that would be an upgrade for their career. Why not make sure you're the one who gets the call when a great opportunity comes across your recruiter’s desk?  

Nail the questions most candidates underrate.

When an interviewer asks you to walk them through your career history, it’s not just a warm up exercise to get the conversation started. I think most candidates really underestimate the importance of this discussion. Go through each position and think about how you want to discuss your reason for leaving.    

While it may be true, responding with, “a recruiter called,” is going to raise questions about why were you even open to talking to a recruiter. Responding with, “the culture really wasn’t that great for me” will beg the question, “What was wrong with it?”

Use this time as an opportunity to demonstrate what motivates you and link what your past positions may have lacked, to what you hope to find in the position you are applying for.  

Go below the surface.  

It’s easy to rehearse answers to the most generic interview questions -- but that’s the problem. Anyone can rehearse the “right” answers. But that doesn’t show the interviewer that you’re the right person for the job, and it surely doesn’t set you apart. It means you can interview well.    

When asked about quota achievement, many people might say, "Yes, I achieved 100% of my goals last year and I was #1."  

Well, #1 out of how many? Was it every month or was it one time? What was the makeup of your quota attainment? Did you sell a few deals every month, or did you sell one big deal and then slack off for the rest of year? Was that by luck or by action?

Don’t stop at the easy answer, be more specific, even if they’re not scratching below the surface.  

Give examples of key deals you’ve sold and how you made it happen.

How was the relationship formed? How did you initially get into the account and how did you expand your way through? Who ultimately signed the deal? How often did you see that person? Talk to them?  How did you go about building that relationship and what does that relationship look like today? Is that person a referral for you? This will demonstrate your thought process and approach to success, which brings us to my next point.  

Can you articulate your formula for success?

In my experience, if someone cannot articulate their formula for success -- aka what it took to get there to win, how many appointments, how many leads, what their closing ratio is, what their process looks like on a daily and weekly basis -- it’s likely not replicatable anywhere else.  

Meaning, they got lucky. They don’t know how they did it and they probably can’t do it again. Often, sales leaders hear what they want to hear and are happy with the surface response and just want to hire someone that feels good. Think about how you will stand out if you go out of your way to articulate, “Here’s how I make it happen” in great detail.  

What do you do daily and weekly to attain quota? How will you replicate your past success at this company?

Characteristics sales leaders are looking for:  

To take this all a step further, think about specific ways you can demonstrate each of these characteristics in an interview:

  • Drive, collectively, is someone’s need for achievement, how positive and optimistic they are, and how competitive they are. It’s the fire in the belly. You can be trained on a lot of things, but you can’t train a "I'm going to win" attitude.  What motivates you to work?  What are your personal goals?  What is your purpose?  How would this job connect to your life and personal goals?
  • Problem solving skills. The epitome of what we do in sales is problem solving. If you can look at sales as helping an organization solve a problem, you are a great sales person. The minute you start your pushing and selling, you’ve lost it. Giving examples of how you’ve solved problems in the past is key.
  • Relationship skills. I still believe people want to do business with people they like.  Are you likeable? Relatable?  How do you handle conflict?  

While you don’t get to choose what questions the interviewer will ask you, you can be prepared to shine when they ask the right questions. A good interview should feel like a conversation -- not an interrogation. Don’t be afraid to bring things up you’d like to discuss where you see an opportunity or a segue. Good luck hunting.

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Originally published Mar 19, 2014 8:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017

Topics:

Sales Job Interview