How to Prepare to Interview a Sales Candidate
Updated: Jan 13
By the time you’ve reached the executive level, you might consider yourself a pro at interviewing sales candidates. But I’ve found that many leaders can benefit from brushing up on their interview skills.
The aim of an interview, contrary to popular belief, is not to accumulate every crumb
of information that you will use to hire
the candidate. In fact, it is only one slice of the overall hiring process and should not be treated as the sole means of evaluating a candidate.
As research has shown, cognitive ability and personality play the most
important role in a candidate’s ability to perform the tasks and requirements of a
job. Make sure you’ve taken the necessary steps to acquire this information before
scheduling with a candidate.
The Day Before the Sales Interview
The day before the interview, you should already be preparing. Long before you meet
them, you should:
Look over the candidate’s application materials
Assess him or her using an objective, personality-based assessment
Coordinate with other hiring managers to ensure consistency and avoid overlap
Formulate a list of questions for the specific candidate(s).
When compiling questions for your applicant, make sure to include both fact-finding questions and behavioral questions (those that are intended to learn more about their personality). We’ll go over where each type of question should be positioned within the interview in another post. For now, let’s take a moment to go over the pre-interview process more fully.
You should already have looked over the application materials thoroughly enough that you don’t need to waste your time during the interview asking for information that can be found here. It’s often beneficial to build a file for the candidate with your questions, their resume and application, and any assessment or background screening results you already have.
Without information regarding your candidate’s cognitive ability and personality before entering the interview, you won’t be able to tailor your interview questions to draw pertinent answers from him or her, and your interview will lack the clarity necessary to make an informed hiring decision. Research which assessments are right for your company and incorporate them into your hiring process.
Before entering the interview, you should be on the same page with others involved in the hiring process. You should know what has been asked (and what has yet to be asked) and be able to formulate a plan for the interview using this information. Make sure you all have a clear understanding of what exactly it is you’re looking for.
At this point, you should have already taken time to formulate questions for the specific position. Without knowing what you will be asking, you won’t be able to garner useful information.
If you still haven’t thought of questions to ask the candidate, refer to our pre-made list, ensuring that you ask fact-finding questions (Do you have a reliable means of transportation?) and behavioral questions (What do you think makes a person successful?).
The Day of the Sales Interview
Just before you begin the interview, you should take time to prepare yourself once
more. Though the preparation you have already undergone is vital, it is not a substitute
for the readiness you must exemplify just before a candidate steps through your door.
Statistically, most hiring decisions are made in the first five minutes of an interview. Don’t
fall victim to this mentality! In the moments before interviewing, it’s important to take
into consideration several important factors that will affect the way you interact with your
candidate to ensure the highest quality interview experience for both yourself and the
1. Review assessment results.
At this point, if you haven’t already assessed the candidate, your interview is guaranteed to experience significant shortcomings. The focus of an interview is not to garner every bit of information you will need to make an informed hiring decision, but to clarify and explore the nuances of the candidate’s personality that would make the position challenging for them. Before you step into the interview, familiarize yourself with the results of his or her assessment and ponder the implications of those results.
If your candidate’s personality leans toward extroversion and they’ll be required to sit
alone and work quietly for extended periods of time, it’s important to address this with
the candidate and ensure that both of you are clear about the potential challenges their
personality factors may present.
2. Put yourself in their shoes.
We’ve all been on the other side of the desk. The clock crawls along in the quiet reception area as we rehearse our responses, waiting for the door to be opened, to shake hands, to sit, and to be interviewed.
The anxiety a candidate feels when stepping into an interview should be mirrored only by your own consciousness of the importance of this process. As everyone has heard before, it is equally important to give the candidate a good impression as it is for them to impress you. Be mindful of your body language in this regard as well. Crossing your arms, leaning back with your fingers laced, seeming bored or uninterested, and speaking over or more frequently than your candidate can give them the impression that you believe yourself to be superior to them. It can also be disconcerting to a candidate who has little or no experience with the company.
You can help the candidate feel more at ease by:
Asking if they need anything
Introducing yourself and smiling
Starting out with conversational chit-chat
Explaining how the interview will progress
Making it clear that you’re listening
3. Mentally prepare yourself.
When sitting down in an interview with a candidate, you must ensure that you are in the proper mental state to conduct an objective assessment of him or her. If you’ve been frustrated throughout the course of the day, it’s unfair to carry that frustration with you into the interview. This can cause you to inadvertently send signals to your candidate that you are annoyed, bored, or not engaged.
Tapping your fingers on the desk, neglecting eye contact, leaning back in your chair and touching the back of your neck or head are all subconscious non-verbal cues we send to candidates that imply your lack of engagement in the process. Conversely, carrying an overly positive or excited mood into the interview can cause you to negate or overlook potential red flags that the candidate communicates and can lead to hasty hiring decisions.
Set Yourself Up for Sales Interview Success
Preparing to interview a sales candidate is just as important as the interview itself. If you go in unprepared, you won’t get the most out of your time with the candidate — and neither will they. Your preparation will continue to pay off throughout the sales interview process.
Get a copy of our ebook, 3 Essential Resources for Interviewing Sales Candidates, to get the 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 all use the same hiring metrics.