Ep. 256: The 4 Best Sales-Applicant Interview Questions

The 4 Best Salesperson Interview Questions

Who should listen: Any hiring manager who wants to better their odds of hiring the right person to fill their open sales or other position(s).

Key idea: As important as it is to find sales candidates with the right skills, it’s just as important to find sales candidates with a genuine passion for the job.

Action item: When interviewing your next potential salesperson, ask what their former boss would say is their greatest weakness.

In this week’s Silver Dollar episode of Stay Paid, we’ve got what are, hands down, the four best salesperson interview questions. They’re so good that if you only ask four questions, then make it these.

While we talk specifically about interviewing salespeople, these are great questions to ask ­an interviewee regardless of the position you are trying to fill. Why? They reveal considerably more than common interview questions, which easily allow candidates to exaggerate or falsify their qualifications.

  1. If a friend were to ask you, “What is <company name>, what does it do, and how does it help clients,” what would you say?
  2. Walk me through the story of your life/career. Why did you take each job, what was your biggest accomplishment with each job, and why did you choose to move on?
  3. If I ask your former boss what your biggest weakness is, what would they tell me?
  4. What thought leader do you look up to/follow, and what was the last self-development book you read?”


What to look for when hiring a salesperson (and how you can find it)

It makes sense that when hiring a person, you’re looking for someone with the skills necessary for the job. But when trying to assess whether someone has the skills necessary to succeed in sales, the process can get a little tricky.

According to SkillScan, a company that produces skill-assessment tools, skills can be classified into three main types:

  • Transferable/functional: These are skills that require action to perform a task, and, as the name implies, they are transferable to different work functions and industries. Grounded in ability and aptitude, they are skills most often expressed as verbs, including organize, write, and analyze.
  • Knowledge-based: These skills are based on what we’ve learned through education, training, and on-the-job experience. They represent what we know about specific subjects, procedures, and information needed to perform particular tasks. Nouns like accounting, laboratory decontamination, and contract management are used to references knowledge-based skills.
  • Personal traits/attitudes: These are traits or features of one’s personality that contribute to performing work. Personality traits and attitudes are developed as we grow, mature, and react to life experiences. These types of skills are expressed as adjectives such as independent, reliable, and diplomatic.

Team leaders, managers, and others who hire salespeople know that a successful salesperson needs skills in all three categories. But trying to establish whether a candidate has the necessary skills in all three is not equally easy. Even more, while you can easily make out whether someone knows how to analyze a sales report (transferable/functional) and can use a rapid, predictive dial system (knowledge-based), you can’t always easily discern if someone is reliable (personal traits/attitudes).

And that could be a problem because, while you can coach and train someone to acquire the necessary transferable and knowledge-based skills, it’s next to impossible to teach someone how to have a strong work ethic. They’ve either developed it by the time they’ve come to you, or they haven’t.

So, when it comes to knowing whether someone possesses the needed personal traits or attitudes, you have two choices:

  • Choice #1: You can ask directly (which, as we all know, doesn’t always produce an honest response), or
  • Choice #2: You can ask a question that will give you an answer from which you can surmise whether they have the required trait/attitude.

We consider our four questions to ask when interviewing salespeople to be the best questions because, when you know what to listen for in the answers, they can tell you a great deal about whether the interviewees have the personal traits and attitudes to be a high-producing salesperson. Such as:

  • Curious: Are they willing to learn and grow?
  • Personable: Are they good at building relationships?
  • Passionate: Are they able to exude excitement and stay upbeat?
  • Confident/Resilient: Are they secure and able to withstand rejection?
  • Street Smart: Are they able to think on their feet and adapt to the unexpected?
  • Calm: Are they composed when dealing with difficult people?
  • Persistent: Are they able to endure and hang tough even through objections?

We’re not going to tell you the whole story. (We do, after all, want you to listen to the episode 😜.) But when you do click the play button, you’ll discover how these questions can get you honest responses and a more accurate representation of the person sitting across from you—and hopefully save you from the risk of making a poor (and potentially expensive) hire.


Connect | Resources

Episode 233: How to Scale Your Business by Treating Sales Like an Operation (with Michael McFall).

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