Preparing for a Sales Interview

As you move through the interview process for a Sales position, remember that the companies are looking for the next generation of professionals to grow their business. They need superior talent and are willing to search long and hard to find the right "fit." During an interview, you must convince an interviewer that you have a record of performance and success, outstanding drive and motivation, the ability to work independently with very little direction, and that you are goal focused, a problem solver, intelligent and creative, possess strong presentation skills, and very competitive. If you can prove that you possess these attributes, you will be successful.

How to Prepare

Before you enter a sales interview, you must do four things:

  • Research the company
  • Research yourself
  • Develop a plan for your interview
  • Create a brag book

Research the Company

Researching a company prior to your interview is critical. Most of the information you need for interview preparation can be found on the corporate website and in professional journals and business websites. At a minimum, companies expect you to have visited the website and have basic knowledge about the company.

When possible, meet with a local sales representative and ask questions about the position and industry that will help you in an interview.

Make sure you are familiar with the following information:

  • Corporate Structure (headquarters location, size, divisions, international or domestic, public or private)
  • Product lines and services
  • Record of corporate growth as related to products and expansion (don't talk specific financials)
  • Products under research & development
  • Top competitors
  • Trends pertinent to the company and industry

Research Yourself

Self analysis is a critical component of sales interview preparation. Your resume and military evaluation reports are good resources for this portion of your preparation. You must know your resume and be able to talk about your entire career from college to the present. It is critical that you have specific examples that add depth to your answers. Ensure you are ready to talk about the following topics (all are key attributes companies are looking for in a successful salesperson), and prepare examples that support each:

  • Selling and influencing a situation. This is the key because you may not have previous sales experience. You need to have examples of times you did 'sell.'
  • Leadership
  • Performance oriented mindset
  • Demonstrated, quantifiable successes
  • Drive and motivation
  • Autonomous decision making
  • Goal focused problem solving
  • Intelligence and the ability to learn
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Rapport building skills, and the desire to work with people
  • Aggressiveness and competitiveness
  • The desire to win
  • Integrity and ethics
  • Persistence and dedication
  • Time management

Self-Analysis Exercise

An easy way to perform a self-analysis is to start with your resume and a piece of paper. Divide the piece of paper into four sections, labeled: Accomplishments and Strengths, Failures and Weaknesses, Selling Change, and Hobbies and Drivers.

Accomplishments and Strengths.

In section one, look at each job on your resume, and list as many successful accomplishments as you can for every position. For each accomplishment, list the personal attributes (strengths) that made you successful. A single word or short sentence is sufficient. This will help you identify all of your accomplishments and strengths.

Failures and Weaknesses.

In section two, look at your resume and identify where you have failed. It is probably not listed there in black and white, but we all have failed somewhere in our careers. A failure does not have to be catastrophic. It just needs to be a time when you did not achieve 100% success. It should have been significant and led to professional growth. List the failure and the personal attribute or shortcoming (weakness) that was the root cause. Also identify the professional lesson you learned as a result of that failure.

Selling Change.

In section three, look at your resume and identify any positions where you had to implement change and present (sell) your idea. Next to that, list any objections that were raised during your presentation and how you overcame those objections. Identifying specific examples where you presented something and then overcame objections/resistance is critical to success in a sales interview.

Hobbies and Drivers.

In section four, list what you like to do in your spare time. What are your hobbies? Then list things you want to do in the future (trips, investments, family goals, etc.) and why you want to do them. This list will help you identify what you enjoy doing, the drivers in your career search, and personal goals.

Develop a Plan

Once you have researched the company and conducted some self analysis, you must develop a plan for your interview. Using your company research, identify three key attributes that you must convey to an interviewer to land the job. Think of these attributes as the theme for your interview. Using your personal research, match your strengths with those key attributes and identify specific examples to support your answers. Do not go into a sales interview without a good plan.

Create a Brag Book

Most sales companies will require you to sell to clients using some sort of literature. A brag book shows an interviewer that you will be able to sell using their required literature. A brag book should be a professionally bound portfolio and should contain the following:

  • Resume
  • Evaluation reports
  • Awards
  • Sales figures (if you have previous sales experience)

Each section should be neatly tabbed and one or two significant pieces of information on each page should be highlighted for quick reference. You should provide a copy of your brag book to your interviewer while using your own copy for reference.

The Interview Process

Interviewing for sales is typically a multi-step process involving anywhere between two and six interviews. Some companies require a sales candidate to conduct a field ride as part of the interview process. A field ride is an interview that allows you to shadow a sales representative during a typical day.

Arrive to the interview location early. Being late to an interview simply says you will be late to sales calls. The setting is usually professional, but comfortable. The interviewer is interested in setting a scene where he can get to know you. This may take place in a formal setting such as onsite at the company, or in an informal setting such as an airport business center or hotel lobby. Do not let the setting influence you. Remember, sales is a social career. Flexibility and adaptability are as important as the close.

Relax prior to the interview and be prepared to answer tough questions. Have a plan. Look sharp and make a good impression; sales is about your presentation skills, and your appearance is a key component. The tone of the interview is often conversational with the most successful candidates being the individuals who can professionally and smoothly engage the interviewer in a dialogue about themselves and the company. Building rapport is key. Keep in mind that you are being evaluated the entire time, from the time you knock at the door until you exit.

Sales Interview Questions

Success in professional sales interviews hinges on your ability to communicate effectively using specific examples. Questions typically focus on three areas: your personal attributes, your professional experience, and your knowledge of the company and sales. The list of questions below is by no means comprehensive, but is a good starting point as you prepare for a sales interview. Practice these questions until you are comfortable verbalizing them. If you are asked something you weren't prepared for, be flexible and think on your feet!

Questions About Your Personal Attributes

  • Describe a situation in life where your request or demand was rejected. How did it feel? What did you do?
  • Describe an experience in which you felt you gained something because you persisted long enough to see it through to success.
  • To what or whom do you compare yourself?
  • What is the one thing that really motivates you?
  • I am... (Fill in the blank with traits)
  • How do you feel when you lose?
  • What are your three greatest weaknesses?
  • What are your three greatest strengths?
  • What has been your greatest disappointment?
  • Word Association Scenarios #1 (Complete the sentence)
      • I want
      • I need
      • I dislike
      • Winning
      • Losing
      • I wish
      • I should
      • I like
  • In 60 seconds, list as many descriptors of yourself as possible.
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • Define stress. How do you relieve stress?
  • Define pressure. How do you relieve pressure? Is pressure different from stress?
  • How do you impact your family, your friends, and your associates?
  • Word Association Scenarios #2 (How do you feel about each of these?)
      • Weekends
      • Mornings
      • Work
      • Rankings
      • Responsibility
      • Team
      • Goals
      • Competition
  • Do you prefer to work alone or with others? Why?
  • Would you prefer to follow the rules or make the rules? Why?
  • What has been the toughest decision you ever had to make?
  • Have you ever been aggressive to the point where you pushed someone too far?

Questions About Your Professional Experience

  • What is the most difficult aspect of your current position?
  • Why have you been successful in the past?
  • Under what conditions do you work best?
  • What do you consider to be your most significant achievement?
  • What is the most stressful situation you have encountered in your current position? How did you handle it?
  • How are you measured where you work?
  • How do you work with your peers?
  • Explain how your boss would describe you.
  • What are the two toughest decisions you have had to make? Which was the best decision? Which was the worst?
  • What are some of the additional responsibilities you have taken on recently that are not in your job description?
  • What is the most striking fact about your present company?
  • Do you see yourself in your current job 6 months from now?
  • What has been the biggest disappointment in your professional career to date?
  • What was the most important thing you learned from your last job?

Questions About Your Knowledge of Sales

  • Why do you want to work in Sales?
  • Why should I hire you over an individual with sales experience?
  • Do you like to control the conversation in selling?
  • When was the last time you faced resistance, and how did you handle it?
  • What have you done to prepare yourself for selling within this industry?
  • What are the top two attributes you bring to the company?
  • If your sales were published to the sales force, how often would you like them published: Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, or Annually?
  • What are your goals for the month of _____?
  • When do you decide what you will do each day? How do you track it? Show me what tomorrow looks like.
  • Tell me the last self improvement book you read or tape you listened to.
  • Tell me the last sales book you read or tape you listened to.
  • Tell me about my company and this industry. (You should cover: Company, Product Line, Typical Sales Day, R&D efforts)
  • How do you continue to improve your skill level? In what continuing education or personal activities do you participate?
  • How do you go about quickly learning and understanding technical information? What methods do you use?
  • How long did it take you to become familiar with the technical information needed to sell your current product or services? What methods did you use? How might you improve your learning?
  • What methods do you use to keep informed of what is going on in your area of responsibility? What are their benefits? Why do these methods work for you?
  • What ongoing systems or habits have you established to get information on a regular basis? Describe some results of these systems or habits.
  • What sources of information do you use to keep up with what is going on in the organization? How do you use this information?

Reading in Preparation of a Sales Interview

It is particularly important that you read as much as possible prior to interviewing for a Sales position. Most transitioning military professionals do not have any prior sales experience, so you must make up for your lack of experience with knowledge of the industry. Interviewers can easily distinguish a well prepared candidate from a poorly prepared one. Select two or more of the books from our Suggested Reading List as a good starting point for your career in sales.

Continue to the next topic: Management Interview Preparation

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