Welcome to “The Pipeline” — a weekly column from HubSpot, featuring actionable advice and insight from real sales leaders.
Sales interviews are like speed dating. In both cases, you‘re given a tight, stressful window to prove that you’re worth a sizable investment of time and effort — and like a speed date, an otherwise smooth interview can be ruined by you demonstrating glaring red flags.
So to help you avoid the sales interview equivalent of wistfully talking about how you and your ex “used to come to this place all the time” and/or going on an unprompted rant about how Limp Bizkit's cover of “Behind Blue Eyes” is better than the original, we've asked some experts to give their perspective on the big-time red flags you need to avoid at all costs while interviewing.
Let's take a look at what they had to say.
Sales Interview Red Flags
- Not Demonstrating Any Evidence of a Growth Mindset
- Lacking Self Awareness
- Being Too Risk Averse
- Being More Arrogant Than Self-Assured
- Not Being Able to Cite Times You Tried and Succeeded to Get Something You Wanted
- Only Being Motivated by Money and Status — Not Solving for the Customer
- Treating a Sales Role Like a Stepping Stone to Another Field
- Not Being Able to Shift Gears in a High-Pressure Conversation
1. Not Demonstrating Any Evidence of a Growth Mindset
She says, "I always ask people what was the last thing they learned that wasn't required for work or school. I also ask what skill they want to improve and what their plan is to do so. Both are going for the same thing — is this person a lifelong learner? Someone who strives to be better?
“If not, they won't be successful in our industry. Things constantly change and we have to continuously be learning to remain competitive. No evidence of a growth mindset is a definite red flag for me.”
2. Lacking Self Awareness
He says, "I have a few questions to gauge self-awareness. My favorite is, ‘What would your current manager say is the biggest risk in us hiring you for this role?’ If the candidate can‘t think of anything substantial, it either means they’re perfect (unlikely) or have some pretty big blind spots."
3. Being Too Risk Averse
He says, “I always ask how they buy big-ticket items, like a car or a house. If they're decisive with a bias for action that's a plus, and they're comfortable expecting the same behavior from customers. If they take forever and are extremely risk-averse, that's a red flag.”
4. Being More Arrogant Than Self-Assured
She says, “I'd probably say someone who comes across as arrogant rather than having a good level of confidence and being self-assured. Arrogance suggests a lack of coachability and someone who would probably find it difficult to drop old habits.”
5. Not Being Able to Cite Times You Tried and Succeeded to Get Something You Wanted
She says, "A red flag for me is a salesperson who doesn‘t have examples of where they’ve had to be tenacious to get something they wanted and were ultimately successful in doing that.
“It's one thing to check a box and say you did what you were supposed to do, but that's often not enough to win the deal. Being successful in sales requires having a lot more grit and perseverance than the average person.”
6. Only Being Motivated by Money and Status — Not Solving for the Customer
According to him, "The most detrimental thing about new sales reps would be if they claim or seem to be motivated by money or status. Today, only helping customers can win and should be an intrinsic motivation for all salespeople.
“Inbound sales would not be possible without a service mentality among sales reps. Candidates should have demonstrated this capability at some point in their lives. That doesn't necessarily have to be in a previous sales role — it can even stem from an experience in a service role.”
7. Treating a Sales Role Like a Stepping Stone to Another Field
She says, “I'd be wary of someone who is really looking for a 'different' job and is using a sales role as a stepping stone to another field. They often don't plan to work their butts off as a sales rep, and your investment in training can be wasted.”
8. Not Being Able to Shift Gears in a High-Pressure Conversation
Trygve Olsen, Business Development Director at BizzyWeb, sees value in a rep‘s ability to have dynamic conversations — that’s why he thinks candidates who can't shift gears mid-discussion when speaking to interviewers might not be the best pick.
He says, “I always ask a sales candidate to tell me a joke. If they can't be in a high-pressure situation like an interview and then completely turn on a dime and go in a different direction in a meeting they aren't a good fit.”
So there you have it — eight crucial red flags you need to be mindful of when interviewing for a sales role. Obviously, this list isn't exhaustive, and there are a number of other ways you can rub an interviewer the wrong way.
Still, be sure to stay on top of the “no-no” actions and tendencies covered here — and put yourself in as solid a position as possible to nail your next sales interview.