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How to Prepare for a Sales Job Interview

In a long and varied career, I have spent a few decades in coaching, sales, sales management, IT, and running my own businesses.

Never underestimate the basics at a job interview.

Never underestimate the basics at a job interview.

Preparation for Your Sales Job Interview

As you delve further into the world of sales, you will see that much of sales is good old-fashioned common sense—so while some of these fundamental tips might seem basic, it doesn't mean they're any less important. Getting the basics right the first time and every time ensures whatever you do in your sales career gets off to the very best of starts. Never underestimate the basics—an awful lot of people do; you need to be ahead of the crowd, and knowing the basics will ensure you gain pole position.

In Advance of the Interview: Do Your Homework

Let’s take the most obvious things first; as soon as it has been confirmed you have an interview, you should take a ‘deep dive’ into everything you can find out about the company you are applying to (you should have already done some preliminary work on this already). By all means possible, find out everything about the company you are going to be interviewed by.

Aim to have a surface-level understanding of the markets company is in, the products they sell, who owns them (are they a subsidiary) or who they own, their main rivals (see below), and if you can, get a ‘feeling’ for their corporate culture (access their website to check if they have a mission statement posted there as this will help).

A SWOT analysis will help you prepare for your interview.

A SWOT analysis will help you prepare for your interview.

Do a SWOT Analysis

When checking out the company itself and its main rival(s)—it may be useful to put together a SWOT analysis to insert into your brag file and potentially use it as a reference during the interview—this will demonstrate that you have done your homework.

What Is a SWOT Analysis?

A SWOT analysis details the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of any particular thing, whether that be a company, product, idea, etc. In preparation for the interview, it would be a good idea to do one for the company you are seeing and their main rival.

You can use the simple example I've put together below as a basis for your own. You'll want to do something similar with the information you gather:

SWOT analysis

SWOT analysis

The above example shows how a rival company might see itself if they were to do an honest SWOT analysis. Their ‘Threats’ would be your company’s ‘Opportunities’.

Put Yourself in the Interviewer's Shoes

Imagine you are the sales manager leading the interview (go with me on this): What would you be looking for in a candidate? What type of skills, what type of experience, what type of questions might you ask?

Now scribble down the potential questions you have come up with, and write down your potential answers—remember to answer fully (not just yes/no) by answering the question fully and relating a short example to back up your answer from your previous experience. This exercise will help you get into the right mindset for the interview.

Here’s an example to get you started:

Q: Tell me about a time when you had to work with a team to complete a project?

(The skills they are looking for are: teamwork, organisation)

A: When working for ABC Websites, we had a client who needed a particularly complex project completed in less than a month from start to finish. The usual time for this type of project was around three months. I was tasked with putting a small team together and organising and leading the project along with liaising with the client. By getting the best team members around me and communicating clear time-led goals, we were able to complete the project within the client’s time frame and on budget.

(This answer demonstrates teamwork, organisation and leadership skills—although they would probably ask follow-up questions relating to this answer.)

What to Expect at the Interview?

Be prepared. Try to get some idea of the format of the interview in advance; will more than one person be conducting the interview? Will there be any tests? In larger corporations, you may have a combined interview with aptitude tests—which are often timed with a stopwatch, presentations or psychometric testing, etc. This type of candidate assessment is often referred to as an assessment centre. An assessment centre can take up a big chunk of your day—bear it in mind!

If you want to practice taking a psychometric test online (good idea!), search for a ‘free psychometric test’ in Google, and a few websites will pop up where you can get some practice.

Finding Your Way to the Interview

Now for some practicalities. Ensure you know where the interview will take place. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But what if everyone knows where Company X is located in town, so you turn up on the doorstep to find that it is exactly where Company X is located, but only the manufacturing facility—the sales and marketing departments have expanded over the last few years, and now they are located across town!

The moral of this story: know exactly where you are going. Ensure you leave enough time to get there, leaving a margin of error for traffic/train/bus delays, etc. If you still turn up for the interview late, then apologise, very briefly explain why (don’t make excuses or blame other people) then get on with the interview (they won’t thank you for going into a long explanation full of excuses for ten minutes when they are already behind schedule).

Your first impression is important!

Your first impression is important!

Dress for Success

Follow your common-sense instincts. If you have a nagging doubt that the novelty tie your Grandma bought you on your last birthday does not quite match your best suit, follow your instincts and ditch it for something more business-like. Look smart. Look sharp.

Arrive in Time

You need to arrive at least 15 minutes before the interview is scheduled (don’t cut it fine); this should give you enough time to compose yourself in readiness for the interview. If there is a toilet/bathroom, then use it, not simply because nature calls, but to use the mirror: Is the tie straight? Is your hair tidy?

Good. Now smile. Feel confident? Good, you should! You have done your homework, and you are ready.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Jerry Cornelius