Interviewing Sales People

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Sales people are naturally engaging (at least the good ones are), so interviews with sales people are usually cordial and friendly. If the candidate being interviewed is currently working (and the good ones usually are), then the interviewer is likely to bend over backwards to make a good impression, which makes it even more likely that the interviewee will have a comfortable atmosphere. This is all fine and good for developing a relationship, but it can make it somewhat difficult to ask the tough questions that properly assess the candidate. It also makes it really difficult to throw challenges at the candidate that allow for the interviewer to get great insight into the traits of the sales person. This is the most significant issue when interviewing passive (employed) sales candidates. This article will therefore present techniques for interviewing passive sales candidates, so that you, the interviewer, can truly assess which candidates will have the best impact on your organization.

Separating the Candidates. 

Not all passive candidates fit the job a hiring manager is trying to fill. Therefore, one of the major challenges a hiring manager faces when he or she interviews passive candidates for a sales position involves the balance between establishing rapport to get the candidate to give you time while performing an objective evaluation.

It is human nature to be subjective when evaluating people and this pressure may be most extreme if the hiring manager has a lack of candidate flow and is under pressure to make a hire. There is a tendency to want to settle, but the mark of a good hiring manager is the discipline to stay objective, and frankly, it can mean the difference between building a reliable, long-lasting, peak performance sales team, and just doing “average” – forever.

Don’t Get Sold

Just because a sales person is charismatic, and sells themselves to the interviewer, doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to sell the company’s products with as much efficiency. Seek proof that the sales person has been successful in relevant sales environments in the past.


Many sales reps are selected based on gut feelings and hunches or what their resume says (with no follow-up from the employer), and as a result many businesses suffer from poor sales results. Identifying a set of criteria which will be used to rank candidates can help bring objectivity to the hiring process. Similarly, developing an interviewing process  that includes a way to rank candidates based on interview performance will help bring stability to your hiring objectives. Furthermore, including several different ways to evaluate candidates such as traditional and behavioral interviews, psychometric assessments, role plays, mock presentations and assignments as well as cross referencing ensures you are “covering all of the bases”. Script meetings and have set agendas that are applied to every candidate; Do whatever you can to remove all subjectivity from the process.

Manage Expectations

One of the best ways that allows you to make an honest assessment of a candidate is to let them know in advance that you have a structured process and that you will be testing them. Also, let them know that you take sales hiring seriously and that the process you will be putting them through is critical to building a high performance team. Great sales people know that in order to be successful they need to be surrounded by a strong team, so they will be happy to hear that an employer doesn’t just hire anyone off the street.

Be Consistent 

While it is tempting to be extra friendly to the one candidate that seems to be a great fit on paper, it is critical to treat each candidate equally and put each through the same structured interview process. Unless a candidate is really not a fit, make sure to give them all equal time to minimize the impact of first and false impressions.

Test the Candidate

You don’t have to make it easy for the candidate. A hiring manager should make a special effort to avoid leading questions, and not be afraid to throw a curve ball like cancelling an interview at the last minute to see how the candidate handles the stresses that they will undoubtedly face in selling to the employers customers.

Watch What Happens Outside the Interview 

I like to see how people follow up after an interview. First of all, I want to know that they will follow up and develop our relationship or confirm action items. I also want to see if they take control and set next steps. Finally, I want to see how they communicate. All of these indicators provide insight into how they might qualify and engage prospects once employed.

Friendly is Fine, But Be Firm

It’s human nature to want people to like and respect you, and the hiring process can easily become more about making new friends in some cases than investing in your team’s future. By strategizing in a way that will allow you to hire based on objective data, and staying disciplined, you can save yourself, your company, and your team a great deal of heart ache and headaches in the future. This shouldn’t turn away great candidates; if anything it will make them more attracted to you. You’ll also take advantage of the chance to bring on long-lasting, top sales performers.

To your success…

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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.

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