11 sales interview questions to ask candidates
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Building a five-star sales team isn’t as easy as posting a job ad and hiring the first candidate who charms your pants off. A charming personality is a plus for sales reps, of course, but alone it doesn’t mean much. You need to ask the right sales interview questions to ensure each person you hire is equipped to handle the realities of working in sales. To this end, many of the questions you ask should focus on confirming behavioral fit.
If you’re hiring BDRs and SDRs, be sure to ask the right behavioral interview questions to determine if candidates have all the personality traits that spell on-the-job success. Think extraversion, organization, risk tolerance, persistence, confidence, and ambition.
If you’re hiring a sales manager, ask additional behavioral interview questions to gauge whether candidates have the leadership skills required to inspire and motivate their team. In terms of behavioral traits, sales managers should be emotionally intelligent, motivational, positive, honest, adaptable, and inspiring.
Why does behavioral fit matter when hiring for sales roles?
Sales skills are teachable, especially for entry-level BDR and SDR roles. But behaviors are harder to change. Even if a person is willing and able to stretch and flex beyond their comfort zone, eventually that’ll get exhausting. But if a sales rep is wired for the job requirements, they’ll feel energized rather than drained—and they’ll be less likely to quit due to poor job fit.
Sure, you can go with the old “sell me this pen” question. Charming candidates will likely give an exceptional performance. But looking beyond their charm, do they possess the organizational skills needed to maintain accurate contact records? Are they wired to follow established sales processes? Are they undeterred by rejection? All of these traits are important.
Behavioral interview questions can also help you ensure candidate cultural fit. If there’s a disconnect between the sales rep and the organization, there will be trouble in paradise before too long.
Without further ado, here are 11 questions hiring managers can ask to determine candidate fit:
11 sales interview questions to ask when hiring for sales jobs
To help you identify your ideal candidate, ask the following sales interview questions:
1. Tell me about your biggest accomplishment in life.
This question is designed to give you a feel for the candidate’s dominance. High dominance candidates likes to put their thumbprint on things; they like being recognized individually for their successes. Low dominance candidates are more collaborative and prefer group recognition. The way people talk about their accomplishments shows where they fall in terms of dominance.
Most hiring managers look for high dominance when hiring for sales positions. That’s because high dominance people tend to be undaunted by failure.
2. Would you describe yourself as an extravert or introvert, and why?
Extraverts are wired to work with and through others, which is a natural fit for sales roles. However, if a sales rep is too extraverted, they might dominate the conversation; that’s no good. Sales roles require confidence and charm—but they also require active listening. A good rule of thumb is sales reps should talk for 40% of the call and listen for the other 60%.
While most hiring managers look for candidates who are highly extraverted, ambiverts—whose modus operandi is to oscillate between listening and talking—can be a good fit too.
3. How have you collaborated with others to find a solution in the past?
Sales reps need to work collaboratively with their teammates—especially if you structure your sales team in pods. It’s critical to make sure you’re hiring team players.
This question can also help determine candidate culture fit. If teamwork is a core value at your company, you must ensure whomever you bring on is a good fit in this way.
4. How would you describe your ideal workplace culture?
Speaking of culture, make sure the person identifies with your company’s mission, vision, core values, and rewarded behaviors.
Too many hiring managers confuse company culture with perks like happy hours and ping pong tables. But what really defines a company’s culture is its rewarded behaviors and its core values. Look for candidates who are on the same page.
5. How did you earn your first dollar?
You might be tempted to ask a question like, “What did you sell in your past positions?” But you could be giving some candidates a disadvantage by doing so. While an affluent candidate might have had the luxury of completing a fancy sales internship, candidates who had to work to put themselves through college might not have had the same opportunity. That doesn’t make them any less qualified.
What you’re looking for with this question is drive. Did they do an early morning paper route? Juggle school and a fast-food job? Sell pet rocks door-to-door? In other words, did they create their own opportunities? If so, they might have the scrappiness and drive required for sales success.
6. What do you hate most about cold calling?
Every prospect isn’t going to be an inbound lead (for some sales roles, there are no inbound leads). This is why candidates must be comfortable with the idea of picking up the phone and calling a stranger.
It’s okay if someone says they hate when no one answers—being sent to voicemail is frustrating when you’re eager to connect with human beings. But if the candidate tells you they can’t stand rejection or being hung up on during sales calls, that’s a warning sign; you’ll want to probe into this area some more.
7. If you could work for any company (excluding this one), which would you pick?
If they’re able to give an in-depth answer right off the bat, it shows they’re personally invested in the world of sales and have clear goals and aspirations.
Their answer to this question can also help you determine their patience. High patience employees crave familiarity and prefer to work at an unhurried pace. Low patience employees crave variety and prefer to work at a fast pace.
While most hiring managers look for candidates with low patience, how low you need to go depends on your company’s strategy and your industry. If you’re a scaling tech company looking to bring new products to market, you need your people to move really fast. But if you’re an established bank focused on quality, reps might be able to sell your product or service at a less hectic pace.
8. What did you accomplish within the first 90 days at your last job?
Every manager wants new hires who are eager to hit the ground running—and can learn new processes and technologies quickly. Getting details into what they’ve accomplished in their first 90 days will help you uncover how fast they might ramp up.
Cognitive assessments can also be used during the hiring process to determine learning speed.
9. Have you had a mentor? If so, what made them so crucial to your growth?
It’s always good to have a candidate that can reference a mentor or other leader that had a strong impact on their professional or personal development. It lets you know they value learning.
If the mentorship was informal, you might also find that the candidate sought the mentor out on their own. Again, this shows drive and ambition; both are essential for success in sales.
10. How have you become better?
If you’re looking to hire sales candidates who can eventually move up the ladder to fill management roles, ask questions that uncover whether someone has a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset.
Leaders should always be learning, and demonstrating to others what they’ve learned. When a good example is set at the top, those desired behaviors trickle down.
11. What methods do you use to ensure quality?
This sales interview question is designed to gauge formality. High formality employees are driven to conform to rules and structure. They love being precise; therefore they enjoy maintaining detailed prospect records and following the company’s sales process to a T.
If candidates don’t enjoy following established processes and procedures, they might struggle in a sales role where every step is carefully calculated—and paying close attention to detail is critical.
Asking the right sales interview questions makes all the difference.
By taking time to understand the behavioral and cognitive demands of the role—then making sure the candidate is a fit for the role, the team, and the company culture—you have a great chance that the sales reps you hire will be a great fit. The job interview questions you ask matter. Be sure to interview “the whole person.”