What are the best interview questions for sales jobs?

by Steli Efti

If you’re about to hire sales reps, how should you conduct a job interview to figure out whether a candidate is a great fit or not? What interview questions should you ask to determine if they’re a great salesperson?

The real answer is: interview questions are rarely reliable indicators of future sales performance. (Although sometimes, they make great stories.)*

How can you find out if someone is a great basketball player? Do you

  • Interview him and ask a lot of well-thought out questions, or
  • Watch him play?

Watching him perform is a much more reliable indicator of skill and talent.

Some people are great at interviews, and suck at sales

I learned this one day when interviewing a candidate for ElasticSales. This guy came highly recommended by one of our best-performing sales reps.

I like to think that my judgment of people is pretty good, especially when it comes to assessing their sales mojo.

When I interviewed this guy, I was sure he’d be a great salesperson! He was charismatic, sold himself well and just seemed to “have it”.

And then we put him in front of a phone.

Meltdown.

He dialed the first number and when he started talking, it was as if he’d become a different person. He had a massive meltdown, started sweating, stuttering. It was horrible.

He kept trying for a while, but he just disintegrated minute by minute in front of our eyes.

At the end of it, he looked at me and said, “All right, this is not for me.”

He was great at presenting himself but when it came to performing, he fell short.

Doing cold calls and exposing yourself to potential rejection can create a lot of psychological pressure, and it just deflated that guy.

This was a guy who appeared to have the chops, but he didn't. He was the anti-Mark Cranney (bad at interviews, lacking a winning personality, but a top sales producer). Read Chapter 5 of Ben Horowitz' The Hard Thing About Hard Things if you haven't done so yet.

And then there's another kind of person ...

Some people could be great salespeople, but won't

We had other candidates who were great on their first call … but ultimately didn’t turn into great salespeople.

Why? They had the skills, they could handle the pressure… but they lacked consistency. They couldn’t perform day in and day out.

How to find out if someone is a great salesperson?

Give people a chance to perform.

Reserve your judgment not for how great they are when you first meet them, or the first day, week or month. Judge them on how great and consistent their performance is day in and day out.

* Like when Dick Harrison interviewed Mark Cranney and ask him: “Do you think you could kick my ass?”