Posted April 17, 2014 by

Top Interviewing Tips to Make a Killer Sales Hire

Ken Sundheim

Ken Sundheim, Chief Executive Officer at KAS Placement Recruiting

Running a recruitment company, KAS Placement, I’m often asked by business development professionals as to my thoughts on interviewing for a sales, sales management, or account management job.

Frequently, I get variations on three of the same inquiries, the answers to which collectively provide crucial insight into how to approach interviewing from a fresh and original perspective.

Sales Interview Tips

Question #1: ”How many questions should I ask, which ones should I ask and when do I ask them?” Essentially, employers want to make sure they are asking the right questions.

Answer: In sales, moreso than in any other profession, it’s not about what you ask during an interview, rather it’s about how you come across when you ask it.

When I’m interviewing potential applicants, sometimes they ask intelligent questions, but their body language and tone of voice tell me that they are 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 internet 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 job seekers who do not come across as genuine in their interest and appropriately confident in their capability for the position at hand.

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 are diligent listeners, understand complex situations and are engaged in the job we’re hired to recruit for.

They 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 their questions on extensive research that they’ve done about the company and the industry.

Question #2: Candidate ask me, “Who’s interviewing me? Why should I work for them?” Essentially candidates want to know what company they would be getting into, and employers want me, as a recruiting firm, to represent their employer brand effectively.

Answer: Here are two specific questions I ask the employer’s hiring team, and 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?”

Let’s put it this way, 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 hard working 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 hire.

Question #3: “What should I look for in a candidate’s elevator pitch?”

Answer: 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 get you through each interview with flying colors.

The most effective sales people can see things from other people’s viewpoints. Personally, I look for passionate, hard working, reliable and autonomous individuals. Essentially, employers want someone who can execute so the team can focus on their respective jobs. In closing, 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 Recruiting  an executive search firm specializing in sales and marketing recruitment.  Ken is also a writer for Forbes, Chicago Tribune, Business Insider, Globe and Mail, Entrepreneur.com and many others.

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