May 8, 2014
Because I run a recruitment company, KAS Placement, I’m often asked by business development professionals my thoughts on interviewing for sales jobs, sales management jobs and account management jobs. I often get variations of three of the same questions, the answers to which I hope will provide you with some insight on how to approach interviewing sales professionals from a fresh and original perspective.
Question 1: How many questions should I ask, which ones should I ask, and when do I ask them?
In sales, more so than in any other profession, it’s not about what you say during an interview, it’s about how you come across when you say it.
When I’m interviewing potential applicants, sometimes they ask intelligent questions, but their body language and tone of voice tell me that they’re skeptical, unfocused, disinterested or simply not engaged. In other instances their questions are so unoriginal that it almost seems like they cut and pasted them from an article.
It sounds harsh, but the result is that I don’t pass them on to my clients, and they don’t get to interview. Companies pay my recruiting firm a lot of money, partly to weed out job seekers who do not come across as genuine and appropriately confident.
Asking questions you’ve put at least some thought into in a manner that is engaged and open-minded will steer you clear of speed bumps 9 times out of 10. A strong interviewer asks questions throughout the interview, as they become pertinent to the conversation. This shows that they’re diligent listeners, understand complex situations and are engaged in the job we’re hired to recruit for.
Good interviewers make it pleasurable to speak with them. It sounds like a common sense interview tip, but don’t bore me by asking questions simply because it’s customary to ask questions. Top talent bases questions on extensive research that they’ve done about the company and the industry.
Question 2: Candidates ask me, ‘Who’s interviewing me? Why should I work for them?’
Candidates want to know about the company they could potentially be working for, and employers want me, as a recruiting firm, to represent their employer brand effectively.
Here are two specific questions I ask, along with how I judge the validity of their answers:
1. If I were to meet one of your friends or colleagues at an event and they didn’t know you were interviewing at my company, what do you think they would say about you?
If their answer is, “Bob would say I’m a great guy, a great employee and I’m great at what I do,” it’s a red flag. In the real world, people simply don’t speak that way. Instead, I look for thoughtful answers such as, “It depends who you ask. If it were my former boss whom I made a lot of money for, it would be positive. If you asked a client I’d sure hope that they would describe me as hardworking and as someone with integrity.”
2. Describe a time that you failed.
I like to hear heartfelt stories that are honest. Rarely do I judge an interviewer based on their mistake. Everyone fails in business at some point. Not everyone is secure enough to admit it. I particularly like the people who had the wind knocked out of them, proved they were resilient, got back on their game and are ready to be hired.
Question 3: What should I look for in a candidate’s elevator pitch?
I look for people who don’t oversell themselves but don’t undersell their abilities. Something they say has to be original and interesting enough for me to want to speak to them further. In general, gravitate toward the genuine and the positive.
My three sales interview tips are how to ask questions “right,” how to decode what the hiring company’s really looking for, and how to make the most of the time you have in the interview. As with much of life, there are no hard and fast rules that will work every time.
The most effective sales people can see things from other people’s viewpoints. Personally, I look for passionate, hardworking, reliable and autonomous individuals. Employers want someone who can execute so the team can focus on their respective jobs. I recommend that hiring managers ask candidates a version of, “What do you think I want in an employee?” The closer the candidate is, the more I respect their talent.
Ken Sundheim is the CEO of KAS Placement Recruiters a sales and marketing executive search firm based out of New York City.