You wouldn’t hire an engineer without seeing their code, right? So why would you hire a salesperson without seeing them sell? Even if candidates don’t have formal sales experience, you can establish skill assessment tests that evaluate a candidate’s current skill set and true potential.

Below, I’ll break down what those tests and exercises should look like for candidates at each stage of the interview process.

Download Now: Free Sales Interview & Hiring Templates

Early interview stages

1. Evaluate written communication through initial emails

Most sales representatives use email for the majority of their communication. So, one of the first things you should test is a candidate’s ability to write clear, concise messages.

Starting with initial outreach, be aware of their communication style and possible red flags. Did they respond promptly or wait too long? Did they use proper punctuation, or do you see grammatical errors? Is their tone formal, or are they too casual?

You can expect a candidate is emailing you the same way they’d write to a prospect, so evaluate their skills from the viewpoint of a potential customer.

2. Use a phone screen to gauge verbal communication skills

While most communication happens via email, deals are ultimately closed on the phone. For sales reps to be successful, they’ll need to be comfortable and confident on the phone.

Treat your initial phone screen as if the candidate is giving you a demo of themself. Ask a few tough questions, and you might even throw in a few objections to see how they respond. If a candidate has a difficult time aligning their experience to the job requirements, imagine how tough it will be to sell a product they know little about.

Middle interview stages

Once you’ve moved a candidate to the middle or final stages of your interview process, evaluate the specific skills needed for the role.

Here are a few example exercises for late-stage sales candidates:

1. Take-Home Exercise

Depending on the role, it might make sense to start with an exercise they can do at home. For example, if you’re hiring a BDR who will spend most of their time prospecting and emailing, give them a written exercise to show their potential.

Here are a few examples that would work well when hiring an Enterprise BDR:

  • Develop an ICP for the product
  • Use LinkedIn to create a list of five companies that fit the ICP
  • Find a stakeholder at X company to reach out to
  • Write a prospecting email to that stakeholder

2. Role Play

For reps who will spend a lot of time on the phone -- especially reps in a closing position -- include role play in the interview process. A rapid succession of tough (or unique) objections tests how candidate will handle edge cases.

Here are a few suggestions for successful role play:

  • Role-play in a comfortable setting, potentially over the phone, or in a conference room
  • Give the candidate a scenario and agenda to review beforehand
  • Act like a typical prospect and offer reasonable objections
  • Pause in the middle, provide feedback and run the exercise again to see if they incorporated feedback
  • Watch how they compose themselves under pressure

When the role play is over, ask the candidate how it went before providing feedback. This shows how self-aware they’re likely to be with prospects -- and with you as their manager.

Keep in mind no candidate will be perfect. This exercise allows you to look for indicators of how coachable they are, and how quickly you’ll be able to train them on your product and sales process.

Final interview stages

3. Mock Pitch

Test a candidate’s presentation and closing ability by having them present a mock pitch to a team of stakeholders in your office.

This can be a fun activity to do with candidates you’re interviewing for a closing role. Experienced sales reps should even enjoy the challenge of presenting in front of the hiring team.

To make things fair, ask them to pitch something other than your product. The subject of their pitch could be imaginary or a well-known brand. And, make sure to schedule it in advance so your candidate has a few days to review the product and the prospect (i.e., you and your team).

This mock pitch demonstrates the candidates in-person presentation skills, their ability to present in a room full of people, and how passionate they are about joining your company, since this exercise will take time to prepare for.

4. Field Day

When possible, ask candidates to spend a few hours shadowing one of your reps. Create controlled environments for them speak to real prospects, giving you a window into their estimated ramp time.

This doubles as an opportunity to judge culture fit as well. Having a “day in the field” gives your team a chance to meet the candidate and get a feel for how they’d contribute to the team.

Not all candidates will agree to this, as some might be currently employed or uncomfortable being thrown into a prospect conversation, so this type of interview should be reserved for candidates you perceive to be high risk.

Final thoughts

For each of these exercises, I recommend using a grading rubric for objective decision-making.

As you structure your interviews, remember competition for top sales talent is fierce. It’s important to balance interview diligence with moving candidates through the process efficiently. Use these skill assessment exercises, and you’re sure to streamline your hiring process and attract top talent.

 New Call-to-action

Originally published Mar 29, 2018 7:30:00 AM, updated October 01 2019


Sales Interviewing