3 Keys to Identifying a Sales Achiever in a Hiring Interview
by Dr. Sandy Marcus
How can you identify the great salesperson in a job interview? Well, it's not easy.
First of all, true sales virtuosos are scarce, even though there are many good salespeople and sales is one of the most common and necessary types of jobs. Also, research shows that the job interview is notoriously unreliable as a predictor of job performance. And it's even worse if you are interviewing salespeople. Because if there is one thing that all salespeople – from the great ones to the average ones – have in common, it is the ability to interview exceptionally well.
So, how can you use an interview to increase your "hit rate" in hiring the best salespeople? Naturally, you want to look at their history, references, performance on pre-employment tests, and the like. You want to ask the usual interview questions (Tell me about yourself. Why did you leave your last job? What are your strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures? Etc.).
But salespeople are experts at getting past a typical interviewer. So here's your challenge: How can you turn the odds in your favor? How can you interview in a manner that will reveal whether the person sitting across the desk from you will be first string on your sales team or will be a sales underachiever?
As a psychologist who has spent decades interviewing and counseling salespeople, I have learned that there are certain patterns that keep coming up so frequently in interviews that they have become highly predictable. Using the power of communication, here are 3 powerful interview tools to add to your interview approach:
1. "How will our company be better off if we hire you?" This is the mother of all hiring questions. It speaks to whether the sales applicant is focusing on your bottom line. Most applicants are primarily worried about how to explain themselves and how they come across in an interview. But you want to see if their major focus is on helping your company become more successful. Especially in sales, you are looking for someone whose has a laser-beam focus on bottom-line sales productivity – making money for the company, expanding the company's customer base. You don't want to hear about what this applicant did for Imbecile Machines in 2004; you want to know what he or she can do for you NOW. What they did in another job is only an example of what they can (presumably) do for you, not an answer to "Why should we hire you?"
2. Think about what is the most challenging thing about the job you are offering. Then say, "This job requires a lot of cold calling [or whatever is hardest]. Looking at your background, I'm not sure you can do it. How do we know you can do it and can keep doing it?" What you are actually doing here is presenting an "objection." How does the applicant handle this objection? How they handle your objection will tell you a great deal about how they handle objections when actually selling your product or service.
3. Pick something from your desk (such as a pad of paper, a paperweight, or a pencil) and say, "OK, sell this to me." This requires the applicant to do more than say the right things about themselves and about sales. It requires more than their often well-prepared responses to your questions. It requires them to actually do what you are hiring them to do. And who better to evaluate how they do it than you?
There are three areas to watch for in following up:
A. Look for specific examples. If an applicant makes a strong claim but cannot think of a specific instance in their history that illustrates it, watch out.
B. Look for what is avoided or missing. For example, training can consist of reading, coaching, participating in workshops, being mentored, and of course experience. If any of those elements are missing when the applicant discusses training, this is another potential red flag.
C. Look for evidence not only that the applicant can perform the sales task, but also that he or she can do so on an ongoing basis. For example, if the job requires cold calling, and the applicant says they are good at cold calling, ask how much they cold call (how many hours a day or week, how many months on a consistent basis).
Adding all of the above ideas will increase the depth of your interview and give you more specific and better information to help you make a good sales hiring decision. And if you find that some variation works better for you in your particular situation, by all means use it.
Dr. Sandy Marcus may be contacted at http://www.center.iit.edu
Dr. Sander Marcus is a clinical psychologist with the Center for Research & Service at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago. Specializing in motivational, career, and business areas, he has co-authored two books on underachievement and a nationally used sales test (the SalesAP, Sales Achievement Predictor), as well as dozens of articles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 312-567-3358. The IIT Center website is www.center.iit.edu.