Silence is Golden

Most sales people like to talk. So do a lot of hiring managers, which is unfortunate when it comes to hiring sales people because assessing the abilities of a potential hire is difficult if they aren’t the ones doing the talking.

Get Them to Speak

While there is a tendency for many hiring managers to do a lot of talking, particularly sales people, people who like to sell, and business owners that want to promote the career opportunity and or describe their company, interviewing sales people is a lot like peeling an onion to get to the lower layers – where the truth lies – so it is paramount that the sales person being interviewed is given the majority of the speaking time and the biggest opportunity to share information about themselves.

Asking the right questions is a big part of obtaining the right information, but many job seekers have well practiced responses to the most common sales interview questions, so it takes another tactic to effectively gather the truth from the interviewee. That tactic is using silence.

Silence is one of the most powerful techniques or gaining insight on a person in a sales interview because most people, even sales people, feel compelled to fill dead air with words.

Often in sales interviews I will ask a question to a candidate and then wait for the answer. When the candidate provides what they think is an appropriate answer, I remain silent. I don’t offer any reaction. I simply remain quiet, which usually prompts the interviewee to think that I am expecting a longer answer and 9 times out of 10 they start talking again. In some cases, they repeat themselves, but in many cases, they give additional details and new information. I will remain silent until I feel like there is no new information to be garnered and then advance with my other questions.

Remarkably the additional answers often contradict earlier statements – a sign that the candidate provided their stock answer at first and then became more candid once they went “off-script.”

Using silence in an interview might take a bit of practice, because it may well require no words and a poker face for more than 5 seconds which will feel like an eternity. It will likely feel awkward, but the discomfort is mitigated if one knows this will be the case and can brace themselves accordingly.

It does work and the additional insight it provides is invaluable in assessing whether a sales candidate has or doesn’t have the ability to perform in a sales role.

To your success!

Image courtesy of nongpimmy |


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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