• Mike Poledna

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Interviewing Sales Candidates (Plus 5 Lame Questions to Stop Asking)

Updated: Jan 13

When you aren’t prepared for an interview with a sales candidate, it’s easy to fall back on overused interview questions that don’t help you gather the information you need to properly evaluate a candidate.

It’s a waste of your time (and the candidate’s) not to enter the interview armed with the right questions.

Besides being unprepared, there are other cliché mistakes you might be making during your interview:

  1. Failing to follow your outline

  2. Talking too much, listening too little

  3. Making gut decisions

  4. Relying on memory instead of notes

  5. Accepting general answers

Preparation, and the right tools, will help you avoid these mistakes and make sure you have the right questions ready to go for your interview.

Questions You Should Stop Asking in Sales Interviews

Some of us find ourselves in interviews so often it’s easy to become complacent. When formulating interview questions, you must avoid clichés, as your candidate has likely already memorized responses for them.

That is not to say these questions do not have value. They became cliché for a reason, after all. But these questions are so commonly used that candidates can see them coming from a mile away and will give you a rehearsed answer, one that they have likely given to many potential employers


“What’s your story?” or “Tell me about yourself.”

This question seeks to learn more about the candidate in general terms. It allows the

freedom for the candidate to choose what he or she feels is important enough to tell the

interviewer and gives the interviewer a brief window into their world.

This question often triggers a canned response from the candidate. Try these alternatives:

  • “In your opinion, which of your best qualities will I be unable to find in any other candidates?”

  • “Tell me a short story about something interesting that you’ve done in the past.”

  • “How would you summarize your life story?”

“Why should we hire you?”

Although incredibly valuable as a question, candidates who come across it likely have a rehearsed response they’re prepared to give when asked.

At its surface, asking why a candidate should be hired will elicit qualities and habits that the candidate thinks are appropriate for the position. But as we see, the response usually entails something along the lines of “I’m a hard worker.” Try these instead:

  • “What makes you the most qualified applicant?”

  • “How do you set yourself apart from other candidates?”

  • “What unique skills or talents do you have that you feel would lend well to the position?”

“What is your greatest weakness?”

We’ve all been asked this question at some point. And we’ve all felt the familiar nervousness as we struggle to answer the question. Should you admit you’re a procrastinator? Or do you phrase a strength as a weakness?

Both answers are equally uncomfortable to give and cause the candidate unnecessary anxiety. Stressing your candidate out during the interview will cause them to back away from the question, often stalling while coming up with a decent response. Avoid this question entirely, and ask these alternatives instead:

  • “What is the most useful piece of advice you have ever received?”

  • “How have you helped yourself overcome obstacles in the workplace?”

  • “What is the trait you’d most like to improve over the course of the next year?”

“Why are you leaving your current job?”

A quality candidate will not want to create a bad impression about their previous

employer. As such, this question is difficult for many candidates to answer. As important

as the information is, a candidate who experienced a lot of workplace conflict or was not

making enough money to be able to support him or herself will not want to admit this

to a potential employer.

Instead, they will likely give you a response along the lines of “I’m looking for a better opportunity.” This is not insightful, as every candidate who walks through your door is seeking a better opportunity. Try these alternatives to glean more useful information from your candidate:

  • “What do you believe a company owes its employees?”

  • “Is there anything about your previous position that you would change if you could?”

  • “What were your greatest challenges in your last position?”

“Where do you see yourself in ___ years?”

Planning your life is about as certain as planning the weather. Anything and everything

could happen to you in the course of those few years. And most likely, the candidate was

not expecting to have to re-enter the hiring pool.

Some of the people who are coming to you are doing so because the plans they had for their lives did not pan out. Granted, many applicants come to you because the position fits neatly into their plan. But to assume that the candidate has a detailed, long-term plan for their life is presumptuous (especially if hiring someone new to the workforce) and can cause a candidate to freeze during an interview. Instead of asking for a detailed rundown of their

life plan, try asking these questions:

  • “What goals have you set for yourself?”

  • “Is there anything you hope to accomplish by working here?”

  • “When you think about your future, what do you feel is important that you accomplish?”

Avoid Clichés to Get More Revealing Candidate Answers

Asking candidates questions that you haven’t carefully prepared can get you answers that don’t bring you the information you need to make the best decision. A bad sales hire can have a major impact on your company’s revenue, so make sure you get the interview process right before you even begin.

Read next: Are You Making These Two Big Mistakes after You Interview Sales Candidates?

To learn more about structuring a productive sales interview, get a copy of our ebook, 3 Essential Resources for Interviewing Sales Candidates. You’ll get an outline for the perfect interview, a list of questions to ask (and ones to avoid), and a candidate evaluation form to make sure you and your team have a unified scoring method for candidates.

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