The thing that not many people tell you about recruiting sales representatives? Almost any candidate can look good on paper.
Nobody puts anything negative on their resume. LinkedIn profiles are designed to put the best possible version of that candidate out on public display. And the version of the candidate that you meet and interact with in an interview? That is probably the best version of that candidate that you will see. Especially if they know how to stand out in a sales interview.
It’s understandable. Who doesn’t want to put their best foot forward and make a good impression? But from a recruiter’s perspective, it’s hard to know whether that sales rep will be a top performer in your organization based on a resume, or an interview performance. You’ll need to know who the candidate really is, and what motivates them.
This is why it’s important to ask the right questions.
Don’t Ask About The Job
If you really want to determine whether a candidate is the right type of person to perform well in your organization, avoid asking questions that directly relate to the job they’re interviewing for. Those tend to be ‘fill in the box’ kind of questions, and they tend to be less insightful than open-ended questions about who the candidate really is. A good sales recruiter always looks for ways to disqualify candidates first, so that the qualified candidates are easier to spot.
Ask about life stuff. Any competitive situation they’ve been in outside of the office environment. Personal challenges they’ve overcome.
Let the candidate lead the way, and watch where they go. They’re going to be telling you about things that they are confident in about themselves, what personal accomplishments and strengths they find important and relevant to the position they’re applying for.
Ask questions that highlight who the sales representative is, not whether they can accomplish a list of specific job duties.
SEARCH for the right stuff
Focus your questions on the elements that make a top sales performer. Learn what attributes lead to success in your team and look for answers that point to those traits.
Here’s a useful tool for targeting questions around the attributes of top salespeople: the SEARCH method. When asking questions, look for answers that illustrate the candidate’s
Habits & Hobbies
So let’s go into each of those and talk about the types of questions that are revealing for each attribute.
How To Ask About Skills
When we’re talking about skills, we’re not talking about smarts. (We’ll get into that when we talk about Cognitive Skills.) Rather, we’re talking about the learned behaviors and methods for accomplishing goals that a candidate is proficient in. What is the sales process the candidate follows? What steps would they take to develop a specific territory? Problem solving skills? Phone calling and other prospecting skills?
Ask questions that are designed to reveal mastery in the skills that are most relevant to the position. For example, if you’re looking for a candidate with strong resilience, this may be a helpful question:
Tell me about a non-business related problem you faced that didn’t have a defined starting point and most people would have given up. Walk me through the plan you put in place. What was the outcome?
A question like this will give you an on the ground insight into their commitment level, self-awareness, and ability to solve problems… not just whether they can, but how they go about doing it.
PRO TIP: Asking for specifically non-business examples helps safeguard against a prepared “canned” answer. Asking a candidate to provide a more unexpected answer to a question can be more revealing.
How To Ask About Experience:
Experience isn’t just job history. It’s life history. How has the candidate learned from previous roles? What have they learned? How have they applied it to their professional life? Their personal life?
A common HR mistake is to ask questions about experience with answers that you can just read on their resume. But that isn’t as revealing as a question like this:
What could you tell me about yourself that would help you be successful in this role… that I won’t find on your resume?
Let the candidate lead you somewhere unexpected. They’re going to be talking about themselves in a way that is illustrating all of their previous professional experience… without just listing that experience verbatim from their resume.
How To Ask About Attitude:
Everybody has a great attitude in a job interview. So how can you know whether the positive go-getter across the table from you actually is one?
Ask a question like this:
How did your team do during the last economic downturn? How was your performance?
You can get any number of answers to a question like this, and most of them are good indicators of attitude.
For example, an answer like “When the economy tanked, our goals were impossible to hit. But I got the closest to hitting them on my team” shows a very different attitude than “At least I wasn’t the worst performer” which shows a different attitude than “The economy is irrelevant, there are always successful people during bad economic times and I know that I can be one of them by making whatever appropriate adjustments needed.”
Which attitude would you want on your sales team?
How To Ask About Results:
Everybody wants to talk about their success. But if you really want to know about a candidate’s results, ask about their failures.
Nobody wants to admit to failure, but that’s where sales reps grow. That’s where lessons are learned that impact future results. The players that know how to take the L and learn from it are the ones more likely to rack up more Ws in the future.
So ask about failure and see how they respond. Something like this:
Tell me about a time where you had a goal, put a plan in place to hit the goal, and for whatever reason you fell short of executing. it?
If they have a lot of examples of failures, of how they learned from them, how it impacted future interactions, those are signs that the sales representative in question is constantly looking to improve. They know where they’ve fallen short and they know that they want to succeed in the future, and that’s the type of person that tends to get results.
If, on the other hand, they can’t think of a time that they failed, that’s a huge red flag. Either they’re lying to make a good impression, they lack any self awareness of their own failings, or they legitimately have never been in a position challenging enough to fail. It’s almost an automatic disqualification if a candidate says they’ve never experienced failure.
How To Ask About Cognitive Skills:
If you ask somebody whether or not they’re smart, you can be pretty confident that they’ll say yes. (Recruiter’s little secret: Everyone says they are a fast learner.) And education may tell you about scholastic ability, but what about the ability to be people smart and work on the fly? How do you determine ability without actually seeing a candidate perform the job at hand?
Ask a question where the answer is less important than the process they take to reach it. Something like this tends to work well:
Based on your previous experiences, how long do you think it would take for you to get up to speed and hit the ground running on your own? Walk me through that timeline from a high level.
Their answer may be correct and line up with your onboarding timeline, (though it probably won’t). What is important is watching their thought process as they answer it. Are they taking all of the factors into account that they should? Are they being realistic? See how their brain works when tackling this problem and it will give you an insight as to how their brain might work for other problems.
How To Ask About Habits/Hobbies
Asking someone about their hobbies is pretty straightforward. Make sure that they’re a self-actualized human being with goals and interests and that the position dovetails with those. Easy peasey.
However, when you ask about habits and hobbies, you’re not just asking about what the candidate is into. You’re asking about who they are. What makes them tick. How they operate.
Aside from the usual hobby questions, try to get a sense of how they work by asking questions like “What does an ideal work week look like to you” or “How do you stay organized” in order to get a better idea of the habits that they keep for themselves. And if you really want to understand what they think is important in terms of work habits, try asking something like:
Imagine you are in my shoes, hiring someone for this position. What would you want new hires to habitually do without you teaching them?
Putting the sales rep in your shoes helps them think creatively about what habits they view as essential to the position. Do those habits sound like winning habits for your team?