Let’s face it, interviewing is hard.
It’s a competitive process explicitly designed to separate the “wheat” from the “chaff” and narrow a large playing field down to just one (or a handful) of people.
There’s tons of advice on how to ace an interview. A lot of it is really good. Things like “Dress for Success”, formatting your resume a certain way, and such help.
But won’t necessarily help you stand out as a high-performing sales professional. Especially if you have an interviewer asking great questions.
So, how can you distinguish yourself, in an increasingly competitive jobs market?
Well, in our experience interviewing hundreds of candidates, there are a few things that stand out for us. Here they are.
Distinguishing Tip #1: Ask Great Questions
It’s always nerve-wracking to step into an interview. But when people come in and ask great questions, it’s a sign they’re calm, confident and level-headed. In the sales world, clients often assume a great salesperson knows everything and are the subject matter experts.
Great sales reps know better. They know that what’s more important than the answer, is the question.
Good questions beget clarity and, as we all know, the clearer we are about our prospects’ pain, problem, budget, motives, etc…the better a solution we can derive.
To ask good questions, you have to be good at reading ambiguity and identifying assumptions.
For example, let’s say an interviewer asks, “What drives you crazy?”
On the face value, it’s unclear what’s meant by that question – do they mean “crazy,” as in the kind of frustration you might experience at road rage? Or maybe ecstasy when you close a big deal?
But the best candidates recognize that the question isn’t clear and will ask a clarifying question like, “What kind of crazy do you mean? Upset? Ecstatic? Something else?” And then proceed from a clearer position.
Good questions show you are paying attention, thoughtful, and trying to align with the other person. All things great salespeople do.
Distinguishing Tip #2 Perform Due Diligence
There’s nothing more impressive than someone who has done their due diligence, especially when they don’t tell you they have.
When you’ve done your research on a company, the industry, the position, and those hiring you, that will come out in your interview. The questions we mentioned above will be well-informed and centered around the company and the specific position, and not merely surface level. When you can ask specific questions about why the position was created, or address challenges you might face within that position, you can show you’ve done your homework.
Careful research shows that you are conscientious and gives the impression you already care about the job.
Distinguishing Tip #3: Be Confident, But Curious
Confidence will be revealed when you ask the questions above, but also by the “level” of question you are asking.
For example, a confident candidate will ask more ‘exit strategy’ questions, rather than ‘startup questions.’
Startup questions might be surface level, focusing on product knowledge, training process and strategy. Exit questions look at the role itself and how that role could change the industry. For instance, questions like “How will this company compete within other big names in its industry in the next 5-10 years?” and “What is the founder’s vision for the future? How does it align with yours?” show you’re thinking about the company’s “end game” and not merely the tactical hiring decision in front of them.
These questions show that a candidate is confident they have the skills to land the role, but also a curiosity about how they can succeed in the role and contribute to the success of the company.
Distinguishing Tip #4: Demonstrate Equal Business Stature
Strong candidates know their worth and don’t shrink back from it.
They recognize they have something valuable to offer and are just as interested in making sure the “fit” is good for them as it is for the prospective employer. They are ‘job seekers’ looking for the right fit, rather than ‘job takers’ looking merely to be employed.
While much of this sentiment comes out in a candidate’s attitude and posture, it’s often demonstrated more by the quality of conversation. Good questions and repartee are a large part of the equation.
But so is recognizing that you’re tracking with the interviewer on strategy, rather than merely tactics.
For instance, just as doctors ask questions to dig deeper into your health, you can ask questions to dig deeper into the objectives of the organization and how you might advance them.
And, as doctors often demonstrate expertise by calling out “unobvious” insight, so too, can you.
Finally, just as we encourage interviewers to “go for no,” we encourage candidates with equal business stature to do the same.
Distinguishing Tip #5: Set Parameters for the Interview
Another way to stand out – and demonstrate equal business stature in the process – is to have and communicate – clear parameters for how the interview is going to go from your perspective, too.
Just as we encourage salespeople to frame conversations within the context of time, purpose, up-front contracts, stated ideal outcomes, and next steps, so too do we encourage candidates.
You should show that you know exactly what you want and what you don’t want, and setting up these parameters shows that. As someone interviewing for a sales position, this demonstrates you know how to lead a productive conversation.
Distinguishing Tip #6: Be Disarmingly Honest
It’s ok to not to have all the answers to every question.
If a question comes up that you don’t know, just say so. Make it clear that you are willing to find out, but don’t spend too much time saying that or trying to prove it. Instead, tell another story about a time you didn’t know something but figured it out.
It’s ok to not have all the answers.
Bonus Tip: You Don’t Have to Prove Yourself
The biggest thing that sets the seasoned professional apart from the workforce rookie is that the seasoned candidate knows not to try to prove their worth, but to allow it to be revealed. They leverage their strengths.
If you recognize that you are valuable, have value to add, and recognize that you’re trying to qualify the employer, just as much as they’re trying to qualify you, then any semblance of ‘desperation’ will dissipate.
You’ll stay calm. And ask good questions. You’ll work hard to research the firm and be engaged in the conversation. You’ll be upfront, honest, and clear.
And, you’ll find the process to be a lot more fun.