How to Crack the Sales Job Interview
“Sell me a pen,” said the interviewer to Mohan. After few seconds Mohan said, “Sir, this is a very nice pen”. But he blanked out after and could say no more.
After the interview was over, Mohan walked out of the room knowing that he had lost his chance. Even though he had attended several job interviews before, he was not prepared for these tricky interview questions.
Sales job interviews can often be deceptively simple, which is why it is important for candidates to stay prepared with answers to any questions that might comes their way.
If you’re looking for a sales job, here are some questions and our suggested answers to them that can help you.
Common Sales Job Interview Questions
1. Where did you hear about this position?
Wrong approach: Many candidates make the mistake of saying that they know someone in the organisation.
Right approach: Keep your answer brief and simple by suggesting a source such as a newspaper ad, referral through a friend, social media, etc.
2. Are you a fresher or do you have experience?
Wrong approach: Never lie about your experience in the hope that it will impress the interviewer.
Right approach: Be honest about how much experience you have or state that you are a fresher, if that is the case.
3. Tell me about yourself.
Wrong approach: Don’t repeat the details that are already there on your CV.
Right approach: Focus more on personal qualities such as strengths and skills, rather than on the details of qualifications and work experience.
Talk about things that are likely to hold the interviewer’s attention. Here is an example:
If you are a fresher, you can start by saying something like this, “I’m really energetic and I like to take on challenging tasks. I also believe that I am a good communicator. I was active in theatre during school and college, and that’s what gives me the passion to talk and connect with my audience”.
An experienced salesperson could say something like this: “Working as a sales executive for two years has helped me build confidence and has taught me the importance of customer loyalty. I’ve also got a track record of success.”
Related: How to discover your passion
4. What do you think is your greatest weakness?
Wrong approach: Many candidates make the mistake of simply smiling upon this question, or shrugging their shoulders, or having nothing to say. Don’t say things like “I am short tempered” or “I speak too fast”, either.
Right approach: Take this question as a great opportunity to make your strengths appear like your weaknesses. Say something like, “My biggest weakness is that I never give up on closing a sale” or “I am far too patient with my colleagues” or “My tendency to multitask distracts me sometimes”. You can give specific examples as to how you’re making an effort to strengthen these weaknesses.
5. How do you spend your free time?
Wrong approach: Don’t mention hobbies that you may not really be interested in. This question may have several purposes.
The interviewer may be just curious about your personal life without wanting to get into questions that might offend the candidate. S/he may also want to know how you strike a balance between your personal and professional life.
Right approach: You could talk about some common hobbies or activities such as sports, reading, music, gardening, cooking, etc.
6. Where do you want to be in five years?
Wrong approach: Most candidates start giving specific time frames or job titles. Candidates often say, “After 10 years, I would like to start my own business of garments”. This shows a lack of interest in the present job they are applying for. You shouldn’t discuss your goals in a fields or industry unrelated to the job you’re applying for.
Right approach: You should talk about what you enjoy, skills that are natural to you, realistic problems or opportunities you’d expect in your chosen field or industry, and what you hope to learn from those experiences.
7. Why should we hire you?
Wrong approach: Never say, “I’m the best candidate for the role”. This statement often betrays overconfidence, which is not what the interviewer is looking for.
Right approach: Cite an example that highlights your qualifications and strengths that set you apart.
Related: More on ‘Why should we hire you?’
Questions for Freshers
1. Why did you apply for this sales job?
Wrong approach: A majority of candidates reply by saying something like, “Because I like doing sales,” or “Because the money is good”. But is this answer good enough to convince the interviewer or to set you apart from the many other candidates applying for the same job?
Right approach: Take a few seconds to think where your passion for sales first began– school or college- or you always had the knack for it. To make it interesting, you can give some real life examples showing how you achieved success in it. End the story by telling the interviewer that you still share the same passion and the long standing drive for sales.
2. Sell me this pen.
Wrong approach: Don’t start by listing down features of the pen such as “It’s handy, has a fine nib, is easy to grip, writes smoothly, etc.”. That’s amateur sales and anyone can list out the features of the product. It is not persuasive and doesn’t wow anyone.
Right approach: Sell the interviewer a solution. Focus on what the client’s needs are, and how the pen meets those needs. You can also add a fun element in selling to break the serious environment. Here is an example:
“Easily portable, Link Pens come with a yearlong supply of ink and are able to write any amount of words throughout the day, seven days a week. But that’s not all. Have you ever caught a coworker sleeping on the job? You can use the .7mm tip to poke and wake them up. The tip of these pen are guaranteed to never go dull.”
Related: How to dress for a job interview
3. What do you think are the most important skills for sales success?
Wrong approach: Most candidates do not know what to say here, which is why they list generic skills, such as communication skills. Otherwise, they start talking about the process and forget the question.
Right approach: Talk about the ability to adjust to different people and situations, the ability to ask the right questions and listen carefully, the ability to plan and prepare, etc.
4. How comfortable are you making calls?
Wrong approach: A majority of candidates quickly jump and agree to saying “I have no problem in making calls”, without understanding the intent of the interviewer’s question asked.
Right approach: Speak your mind with clarity. Speaking on the telephone is a specialized skill where you cannot see the person’s face or gestures, but can only act and react to the voices.
Questions for Experienced Sales professionals
1. Why did you leave your last job?
Wrong approach: Many candidates start by justifying the reasons for leaving the previous or current job. The common reasons cited are that it wasn’t a good fit or because they didn’t like the work culture, the salary, or the management. These reasons can possibly carry a negative meaning and may communicate the wrong impression about your personality to the interviewer.
Right approach: Begin by sharing good and positive moments about your last job, the learnings, the people you worked with, etc. From there you can shift the focus to what you are expecting from this job that your previous job didn’t give you. This might be more responsibility, relocation, or a different company culture.
2. What do you think of your previous boss/manager?
Wrong approach: “He was completely incompetent, and a nightmare to work with, which is why I’ve moved on.”
Right approach: Instead of trashing your former employer, stay positive, and focus on what you learned from him/her. For example, “My boss taught me the importance of time management – he was extremely deadline-driven but his encouragement kept us going”.
Please remember the person interviewing you may be your boss, if you get selected. The last thing they want is to hire someone who they know is going to badmouth them some day.
3. What motivates you to sell?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question but it can be hard to elaborate on exactly what motivates you.
Wrong approach: Don’t give a generic or vague response.
Right approach: You must be able to convey enthusiasm and a desire to succeed. Start with a specific example, such as, “I am motivated by challenges,” and then share an example of when you saw an opportunity and went the extra mile to make a sale.
4. How do you keep up-to-date on your target market?
Wrong approach: Many candidates give vague and imaginary answers or try to match their answer to the present job scenarios.
Right approach: Mention the relevant and genuine sources like trade publications, friend references, social groups, etc.
5. What’s your least favorite part of the sales process?
Wrong approach: Don’t answer this question by mentioning what you don’t like. “I often find myself lost when I ask customers questions about their choices”. What if this is the most important process in the company, and your answer leads to negative points?
Right approach: “My least favourite part is when customer asks for a product that is not in stock and I have to say no to them”. An answer of that sort will work better in your favour.
Related: How to start doing what you love
Identify your strengths in the sales process as these will translate into what you like and your favourite parts. For example, if your strength is negotiating, describe how you enjoy this aspect of sales and your satisfaction at coming up with win-win solutions. Highlight how this has resulted in both satisfied customers and increased sales, which is what this position is looking for.
6. Who are you most comfortable selling to and why?
Wrong approach: Don’t share experiences from your previous job where customers were being difficult.
Right approach: Talk about how you handled a tough customer and yet made a sale.
7. Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an irate customer. How did you handle the situation?
Wrong approach: Don’t talk about a time when you lost your temper. It is not easy to control one’s temper especially when a customer is shouting and abusing, but how you react in such times is very important especially when you are working in the service industry.
Right approach: Your answer should illustrate your maturity, diplomacy, and awareness of the needs and feelings of others. Give an example of when you have successfully handled an irate customer.
8. If you are hired for this position, what will you do in your first month?
Wrong approach: Do not overpromise. The answer to this question doesn’t have to be complicated or in terms of figures.
Right approach: You should have some sort of action plan. You should state one or two goals that you would like to achieve while on the job.
There can be many other ways to approach the critical questions listed above, but the important part is for you to retain your focus and stay calm and composed when you face the interviewer.
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