How to Interview for a Sales Job

Updated on April 17, 2020
Jerry Cornelius profile image

In a long and varied career, I have spent a couple of decades in sales, sales training, sales management, and running my own businesses.

We are Hiring!
We are Hiring! | Source

It's Interview Time

If you are looking to break into a career in sales or reaching for the next rung on your career ladder, here are a few tips and strategies to help you with the all-important job interview. Preparation, as always is the key to being confident, so here are a few things to keep in mind as you progress through the interview.

Make a Great Impression

It’s a cliché but first impressions really do count.

On meeting the interviewer, smile, introduce yourself and give a firm handshake (don’t crush their hand by overdoing it). Only sit down when invited to do so, and certainly not before they do.

Most interviewers will kick off an interview with a few pleasantries, e.g., ‘how was the journey over?’ They will do this for two reasons, mainly to put you at ease, but also to give them an insight into the sort of person you are, so even though this appears to be casual banter—be aware and avoid going on about whatever the subject happens to be for too long (they will soon want to move on to the interview proper).

Avoid negativity, even if it’s only about the weather, subconsciously this could tell them you are a negative person generally and that in a sales role interview is not a good first impression. (Obviously being negative about the weather, traffic, etc. doesn’t mean you are a negative person generally, in fact, it’s very unlikely—but there are no second chances with first impressions, so why take the risk!)

Dress to Impress
Dress to Impress | Source

Bragging About Yourself (in a Good Way)

If you choose to bring along what is often known as a ‘brag file’ (this is usually a folder comprising of transparent sleeve inserts, where you can insert any formal qualifications, certificates, letters of referral, previous sales statistics, etc.), ensure that it is organised and tidy, so that should you need to refer to it you can find the relevant information quickly and efficiently—you’ll note I say refer to it—a brag file is an aid or tool you may use at the interview, but it won’t do the interview for you. Only use a brag file for reference, don’t ’walk’ the interviewer through it as they may soon become bored with this and some of it may be of little interest to them.

With regard to any statistics or sales figures that you incorporate into your brag file—make sure that you read through them and fully understand them in advance of your interview, as it may have been a while since you have looked at them—you do not want to be trying to work out what a particular figure signifies in the middle of your interview.

Win Them Over With Your Confidence, Enthusiasm and Potential

Answer questions during the interview openly and honestly as this will endear you to the interviewer, don’t put on an ’act’ or try to be someone you are not. Being yourself will help you relax.

Ensure that you have some good intelligent questions to ask, have these on written notes; this will again show that you are well prepared, and sprinkle these throughout the interview.

It is bad form to ask about the ‘benefits package’ from the off, and if they are interested in you, they will probably tell you without being asked.

Other questions to avoid in initial interviews are asking about holiday/car entitlement, etc., whilst these questions are obviously important and relevant to you, leave them until later, for now, your goal is to win them over with your confidence, enthusiasm and potential. The better you do this now, the more they will want you on board and the better the ‘package’ will be.

A firm handshake
A firm handshake | Source

Here are Some Things 'Not to Do' During an Interview

Don’t fidget (especially with pens) or mumble.

Don’t rush the interview (i.e., by speaking too quickly).

Don’t be too informal.

Don’t be tempted to lie.

Don’t swear.

Don’t be apologetic in your words or manner.

Don’t be too familiar.

Don’t ramble on and on.

Don’t get too emotional

Don’t be tempted to fill pauses with words, if you have asked a question, let them answer.

Don’t make things up!

Be Descriptive When Answering Questions

Ensure that you are descriptive when answering questions, by always giving examples of your previous work.

Prior to the interview think about the key skills required by successful salesperson, such as organisational skills, being a team player, goal-orientated, etc. and then note down some examples from your life when you used these successfully.

When the opportunity arises use some of these examples when answering questions, be specific in your answers: when, where and how are important. If you are vague or unspecific with your examples, your interviewer may think you are making them up or they may become bored.

Review your examples in advance and pick the best ones to match the key sales attributes. They might look something like those below:

  • Organisational Skills = Relate the time you had to reorganize the department, the challenges you overcame and the result you achieved.
  • Communication Skills = Relate how you resolved a conflict between two colleagues, what the problem was, how you helped resolve it.
  • Team Player = Again relate how you joined a project team, what your role in the team was, how you worked alongside your colleagues and what the ultimate result was.
  • Target/Goal Orientated = Relate a goal or target you have had to achieve, the preparations you made, what challenges you faced, and how you overcame them, and finally what the end result was.

Using real-life stories to ‘flesh’ out your answers will demonstrate to the interviewer that you can ‘walk your talk’ and this, again, is a key attribute of successful salespeople.

Interview | Source

. . . And Some Things to 'Do' During an Interview

Do pause, as required, before you answer a question (this will give you time to think of a good answer).

Do let your enthusiasm for the position show through your expression, gestures and the words you use.

Do be prepared for likely questions with good, logical answers incorporating true examples.

Do ask questions that you have prepared earlier and ones that arise logically from the conversation.

Closing the Interview

During the interview, you may pick up little ‘signs’ that indicate if you have done well (given all your preparation, you should have), if these signs appear positive, all good and well, but do not be tempted to ‘jump the gun’ with a comment like: ‘So when do I start?’ Assuming all the signs have been positive, you need to discuss the ‘next stage’ in the process. The interviewer may have already broached this (if they have then it’s a good indication that the interview is drawing to a close) by telling you when you are likely to hear if you are successful or if there will be a second interview—if the interview is drawing to close and these questions are still unanswered you need to ask them.

Finally, by the time the interview is over, you need to have left your prospective employers with two strong impressions, firstly that you are the right person for the position and secondly that you want the position; if you have prepared well and followed the tips above then you should have made these two key impressions, and so have the best chance of landing the role.

If you do obtain the position, then give yourself a mental pat on the back for a job well done. If the position is not destined to be yours, then treat the whole thing as a learning experience and move on to the next opportunity knowing that you can improve on this experience.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Jerry Cornelius


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