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Preparing for Your Next Sales Interview? Read This and Ace It


sales interviewThis article covers the top 10 things you need to do to prepare for your next sales interview. Specifically, it explains why you should:

  • Come equipped with your selling numbers
  • Be prepared to speak about specific wins
  • Articulate ‘why’ and ‘how’ you win business

Like most aspects of business, the interviewing and hiring strategies companies use have evolved – they are now more rigorous and hyper personalized than ever, especially in sales. Because the best sales interview processes are structured to ensure consistency and objectivity in the hiring process, it is now that much more imperative for candidates to be prepared.

For example, at Peak, interview questions used to assess a potential sales representative are more in depth and role specific than simply ticking down a list of standard interview questions such as “tell me about your work experience” or “what interests you about this position?” World-class companies have eliminated these questions and evolved their interviewing and hiring practices to reflect the need to conduct structured interviews that eliminate subjectivity from the hiring process and expose average and below-average sellers.

As a top performer, you actually want to be faced with exacting and challenging questions, because it speaks to the standards and expectations your potential employer has aligned themselves with. If you do find yourself in a generic interview that doesn’t spark any thoughtful discussion or press into your ability to achieve your quotas, consider it a red flag; this is potentially in line with how the rest of the business is run.

Here is a list of the 10 most revealing questions interviewers ask salespeople, with insights into what these questions attempt to uncover about you:

1. Discuss your sales skills. What do you view as an area for improvement, and what are you doing to address the deficiency?

This question is asking about your:

  •        Level of self awareness
  •        Desire to achieve goals
  •        Commitment to improve

Someone who is achievement oriented understands exactly what sales skills they need to improve, and have a strategy in place to achieve the next level of competency in their work.

Think through a specific area of your work (cold call to close ratios, up-selling and cross-selling of existing accounts, requesting referrals) and explain why and how you plan on improving this skill. Employers want salespeople who possess a natural desire to achieve; explaining the skill(s) you want to improve displays both a need for achievement and a self-awareness of your selling strengths and weaknesses.

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2. In your current/last role, where did you rank on the team?

This question is asking about your:

  •         Previous work patterns (these will predict future work patterns)
  •         Level of competitiveness

Great salespeople always know where they stand relative to their colleagues. Because they are competitive, they have a constant need to know where they rank in comparison to other reps. While you may not necessarily be the top sales rep every quarter, being able to accurately state where you ranked is an indication that you are cognizant of your standing and are working to improve your performance.

Eliot Burdett, CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, explains that the most effective predictor of future behavior is to understand past behaviour.

Often, employees’ reasons for leaving a company each time are similar, so the best way to navigate this type of question is to be straightforward and proactive when explaining your work history.

Being evasive or indirect about reasons for leaving past roles comes across as suspicious to employers, and the more they know about your history, the more comfortable they’ll feel about hiring you. Even if your last job exit was due to family or personal needs, explain this in a fact-based way. Proactively addressing any gaps in your work history before they are brought up demonstrates that you have nothing to hide.  


3. Tell me about a time you failed or faced adversity.

This question is about:

  • Understanding how you view and respond to failure
  • Gaining insight to your self awareness

Often touted as one of the toughest questions to be faced with in an interview, understanding the nature of why this question is asked can help alleviate the anxiety that comes with formulating a response to it. Interviewers want to understand how you define success, failure, and everything in between. This question allows you to open up about your selling activities and behaviors, which illuminates for the interviewer how you measure and take risk.

This question is often used to calibrate whether or not you are risk averse and determines if you learned from the experience (hint: top performing salespeople take risks, they have experienced failure, and they have grown from it).

For example, perhaps you worked for a company that had a poor name in the market and you built relationships and established trust to restore the reputation of your company. Explaining how you repaired the reputation gives the interviewer a concrete example of your willingness to commit to an employer by establishing and building relationships – even when it’s not easy.

4. Why are you a great salesperson / why do you win business?

This question is about:

  •      Gauging your self-awareness
  •      Understanding your selling process

Great salespeople know why people buy from them and what triggers the response.  Brent Thompson, CSO of Peak Sales Recruiting, views this question as one of the most useful ways to test a salesperson’s selling ability. He explains, “if you provide a generic response (i.e. ‘people just like me’) it indicates you don’t really know what you are doing and lack a methodology to your selling process.” The best salespeople understand the why of people’s buying behavior and how their selling process influences and guides that behaviour.

5.  What have you done in the last thirty days to make yourself a better salesperson?

This question is about:

  •         Gauging how you own your professional development
  •         Understanding your learning style

This is a favoured question from sales management strategist Lee B. Salz, best-selling author of Hire Right Higher Profits. It is designed to provide the interviewer insight into how seriously you take your own professional development and how you go about making your career ambitions a reality.  

Whether you’ve read a great sales book recently or engage a sales mentor, competence and desire to learn are essential traits employers are looking for with this question.

To go above and beyond with your answer, describe the book or the mentor meeting. Explain what you implemented into your selling behavior afterward and how it’s made a positive impact. You show not only that you’re tactical, but that you can execute strategy as well.


6. Where do you see yourself in 3 and 5 years?

This question is about:

  •         Understanding your career ambitions
  •         Determining company fit

While this question may seem broad and/or vague, the interviewer is looking to see if you have a plan.  Great salespeople always have a plan. Everything is calculated, and if not, you can develop a plan very quickly. This is also a way for companies to determine if your career goals align with the company’s vision for you on a longer term basis.  It’s about being an appropriate fit with a company as much as it is about determining your specific career goals. Employers want to see that you have a clear path set out for yourself, and that you are willing to commit to an organization to make those goals a reality.


7.  How will you sell our offering?

This question is about:

  • Your selling approach
  • Your preparedness

Asking the “how” of getting the offering to the consumer illuminates your communication style and certain components of your drive. Examples of this include:

  • How many times do you follow up with qualified leads?
  • What percentage of your business is hunted versus referral based?
  • What is your preferred selling methodology?

It also examines how well you did your research on the company prior to the interview. Being able to speak to the offering the company sells, key markets, purchasing stakeholders, and buyer groups demonstrates that you are prepared for the interaction and understand what it takes to instill confidence into a sell.

An inability to answer this question tells the employer that you may go into a pitch or a prospect call with the same lack of preparation about the company you are selling to – a major red flag and not something that top performers do.

8. What is your least favorite aspect of the process of sales?

This question is about:

  • Your personality
  • Your behavioral competencies

This type of question is telling to the employer because it alludes to your selling personality. If you point to cold calling as your least favorite aspect of the sales process, you likely don’t possess the drive, determination, and resilience required to excel in a true hunter role. If cold calling is one of your preferred activities, it speaks to the fact that you possess high levels of aggression and enjoy the persistence required to close a lead.

9. Who do you enjoy selling to the most and why?

This question is about:

  •  Your selling comfort zone
  • The length of sales cycle you are most successful with

Your answer will likely include a description of your ideal prospect, and employers will be listening for the type of buyer you are most attracted to: is it a company looking for a complex, enterprise solution that has a long sales cycle and involves multiple stakeholders? Or, is the client you describe a transactional buyer, with minimal lead up to the sale? Depending on the company you are interviewing with, more transactional selling preferences will be a red flag because you don’t have experience with the consultative nature of complex selling.


10. Tell me about yourself.

This question is about your:

  •         Ability to speak confidently and convincingly
  •         Demeanor and how you will culturally fit with the company

Most often, this question is the first one asked by the interviewer: it’s meant to break the ice, get the conversation going, and allow them to have a general picture of who they are speaking to. If you are able to easily and comfortably speak about yourself, both personally and professionally, it indicates that you are comfortable in your skin and will have the same demeanor with clients that you have not necessarily established a rapport with.

In your sales interview, remember to:

Be prepared to answer open-ended questions. The best candidate devotes time thinking about specific instances in response to the questions outlined above and are ready to provide precise figures where necessary. For example, being prepared with a response that includes exact numbers of how much you sold over quota and what percentage of that was net new business versus recurring will distinguish you as someone who is both organized and achievement oriented.

Often, you will be asked proof questions such as “what did you do in the past” instead of theoretical questions such as “what would you do in the future.” Arming yourself with the best of your past numbers and quotas will alleviate the stress of coming up with information on the spot.

Ultimately, employers want to learn the intangibles of your work history, so come ready to provide that to them and the rest will speak for itself. While the evolution of interviewing and hiring practices can make preparing for a sales interview feel daunting, coming equipped with numbers, having specific examples prepared, and understanding the “why’s” of your selling methodology will ultimately be your keys to hiring success.

For a comprehensive checklist of everything you need to know before a sales interview, fill out the form below:

Interested in more industry insights and the most up-to-date sales career resources and tools? Visit the Peak Sales Blog.


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Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting

Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless. Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner. He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.