Do’s and Don’ts For Interviewing Sales Candidates
Updated: Jun 15
When you’re interviewing for an open sales position, it’s just as important to know what you shouldn’t do as it is to know what you should.
Interviewing is a complex, important process when hiring any potential sales candidate. When you’re not aware of the things you shouldn’t be doing, you will be unable to significantly improve the quality of your interview. Preparation is a vital step in the interview process.
Use the same interview for every candidate.
The moment you measure each candidate using a different yardstick, you have forfeited the integrity of your measurements. Interview questions are only insightful if each candidate is asked the same ones. Follow-up questions might be different, as these are intended to glean additional information from a response to one of your preconceived questions.
Spend the same amount of time on each candidate. Even if you decide within the first five minutes not to hire someone, you have to fight the urge to end the interview without gathering the same information as the other applicants.
Be aware of phrasing.
It’s easy to lead a candidate to a certain answer when you’re excited about his or her qualifications. It’s equally simple to trap a candidate into an answer that may hurt his or her chances of being hired.
You should always follow your questions up with a “question after the question” to clarify and validate the candidate’s responses, but these can often be leading or trap questions.
A leading question might be: “Tell me about problems you’ve had with your coworkers.” This question assumes that the candidate has had issues with coworkers in the past and leads them to answer you accordingly. Instead, try asking, “Have you ever experienced conflict in the workplace? If so, tell me about it.” This gives the candidate the option to negate or disagree with you.
A trap question might be: “Tell me what you did to handle a bossy coworker.” This requires the candidate to “tattle” on a former colleague by singling that person out and admitting they have an authoritative personality. Try the question, “Tell me about a situation in which you and a coworker didn’t get along.” It’s phrased in a way that alleviates the pressure to “tell on” the candidate’s coworker by shifting the focus to the relationship rather than the individual.
Let them do the talking.
When you’re interviewing, it’s easy to fall into the trap of over-explaining. In our quest to divulge the most attractive, exciting aspects of the job and company, we often find ourselves venturing down various rabbit trails without gaining any useful information from the candidate. He or she should provide 90% of the input. It’s the job of the interviewer to listen and interpret, not to dominate the conversation.
Focus on previous behavior.
Researchers agree that one of the most effective means of confirming whether a candidate would be able to succeed is to gain an understanding of past behaviors.
While asking a candidate what they would hypothetically do may seem like the best way to coax valuable information from him or her, asking questions with a future orientation (i.e. “What would you do if…”) tends to elicit answers from the candidate that they believe you want to hear.
If your candidate’s response contains terms such as “would” or “should” or if they use vague terms such as “usually” or “sometimes,” you might be asking for a non-behavioral response. Behavioral questions contain the background of the situation, the action that the candidate took, and the result of that action.
Carry biases into the interview.
If you feel yourself begin to disqualify a candidate early in the interview, it might be time to evaluate the reasoning behind your opinions. Perhaps you are sensitive to grammatical errors, and the candidate did not spell a few words correctly on his or her resume. A typical response would be to pass over the applicant. This could cause a star candidate to be dismissed on the basis of irrelevant information.
Leave the candidate guessing.
He or she is already nervous, and knowing the agenda can help soothe his or her apprehensions. Don’t make your candidate guess what the interview will consist of and how long you expect it to take. When your applicant knows what to expect, his or her full focus can be devoted to answering your questions.
In the same vein, be clear about your intentions. Sending mixed signals to the candidate can throw off their equilibrium by making them pander to emotions they cannot understand.
Make promises you can’t keep.
When selling their companies to a candidate, many hiring managers fall into the habit of
describing exciting new projects, enhanced benefit programs, opportunities for promotion
due to potential expansion, and many other hopeful things that might happen for the
candidate in the future.
This in itself is not a bad thing, but the problems begin occurring when the candidate translates “might” into “will.” Suddenly, you’ve created expectations that you might not be able to meet. Never describe possibilities. If you can’t promise, don’t bring it up.
Ignore other interactions.
Job candidates give you their best during the interview. When they’re selling themselves,
they are on their game and engaged. But how do they act when they’re not trying to
What a candidate does in the lobby before meeting with you can tell you a lot about them. If your receptionist tells you he or she was excessively rude, impatient or demanding, you know that this behavior will persist since it was executed before they raised their guard for the interview. A jerk in the lobby is always a jerk on the job.
Know when it’s an appropriate time to bring the interview to a close. Don’t try to over-evaluate the candidate during the interview. You’ll have sufficient time after the interview to make a thorough evaluation. Keeping the interview succinct will also alleviate the wear on the candidate, given that a long interview requires a high level of thinking from him or her.
Nail Your Interview Process to Bring in Better Sales Hires
Getting your end of the interview right is the first step to bringing in the best talent for your sales team. Knowing what you should and shouldn’t do will not only make the job of evaluating candidates easier but will create a better experience for the candidate as well.
To get the most out of your interview process, grab a copy of our ebook, 3 Essential Resources for Interviewing Sales Candidates. In it, you’ll find everything you need to run effective sales interviews: an outline of the entire process, a list of questions to ask (and not ask), and a candidate evaluation form to keep your whole hiring team on the same page.