Actively interviewing for a sales role isn’t too different from trying to close a deal with a prospect. Yet you can still stand out in a sea of sales candidates with solid preparation before the interview.
Many candidates first head to Google to prepare for difficult interview questions; however, this isn’t always the best tactic. Hiring managers and recruiters are well versed in classic interview questions (especially the classic “sell me this pen” scenario) and can spot a canned answer a mile away. You’ll waste your time memorizing inauthentic responses and, worst of all, you won’t differentiate yourself from anyone else.
Conduct as Much Research as Possible
Instead, approach your potential employer like a prospect you’re trying to close. First, size them up by doing your research. If you’re working with a recruiter, he or she is a great source of inside information on the company culture, management style, and even perks and benefits – but you’ll want to dig deeper. Learn about the company’s products and services and how they’re different from competitors. Discover some of their challenges and potential opportunities. Essentially, think about how your skill set can add value to the company.
Do research on the key players – especially those with whom you may be interviewing. You’ll gain great insight into the type of talent working for the company, and glean a few potential ice-breakers for your first meeting.
This mental information bank will pay off when interviewers ask if you have any questions. You’ll demonstrate your interest and underscore why you may be a great fit. Keep a running list of things you’d like to learn or understand better about the role, manager, or firm. It’s best to keep questions about compensation or benefits for later stages within the interview process (or for your recruiter) unless the interviewer brings them up first.
Review Your Own Skills, Accomplishments, and Lessons Learned
While you’re busy doing research on the company, don’t forget to do homework on yourself. Sales is a numbers-driven business, so brush up on your sales history, including quotas, goals, revenue generated, and any awards you’ve won. If you have a brag book, bring it with you. Be prepared to discuss how you’d prospect customers and close sales within your first 90 days of employment. Be specific and realistic.
Interviewers will dig deep into your successes, but they’ll ask you about failures too. This is where preparation pays off. Where did you drop the ball and what did you take away from that experience? What would you do differently the next time? Remember not to lay blame on your past managers. Bad-mouthing previous employers will only reflect poorly on you.
Related to questions about past failures is the classic strengths-and-weaknesses question. This isn’t necessarily a “gotcha” question, but a thought exercise. The best way to answer this question is to focus on the job: what makes you uniquely qualified for the opportunity? What are your hurdles? Address how your strengths can bolster weaknesses, and what role they’d best suit.
Ask about Next Steps
When the interview is wrapping up, don’t forget to close the deal. Ask for next steps in the recruiting processes without being obnoxious. For some interviewers, questions like, “When can I start?” might seem presumptuous, while questions like, “What are the next steps in the process?” might be too vague and closed-ended.
Read the interviewer’s personality to gauge how you’d phrase your closer, as any great salesperson would. Reiterate your interest in the company and position – as well as why you’d be a great fit. When asking for next steps, find out when they expect to fill the role and how you can follow up. Whatever you ask, you’ll want to clearly communicate your interest in the position. If you’re working with a recruiting firm, reach out to your recruiter on those next steps as well, especially if it seems as though the company might make an offer.
The interview doesn’t end when you walk out the door. Follow up with your interviewer by sending a thank you note within 24 hours. As easy as it is to send a quick email, few candidates do. You’ll set yourself apart and leave a positive impression on your interviewer – even if you don’t get the position. This is also a good opportunity to connect with hiring managers on LinkedIn. Whether or not you accept the position, the network you build today will pay dividends as your career progresses.
Oh, and don’t forget to sell your interviewer that pen.
Sabrina Balmick is marketing manager at ACA Talent. To learn more about recruiting and retaining sales talent, visit www.acatalent.com.