I am frequently asked about questions that may be asked at a sales rep job interview. Everyone wants to know “How can I ace my job interview?
In this article we are going to look at tips on how to present yourself in the first interview, how to answer interview questions, how to prepare for your interview, how to behave during the interview, questions you can ask the interviewer and how you can maximize the chances of getting the job you really want.
The best way of approaching a sales interview is to think of it like a normal sales meeting with a customer. But instead of selling goods or services, in a sales interview, the product is YOU.
By thinking of the interview as an ordinary sales call, you will find it easy to structure the call and prepare for it. For example, when you are selling, your first approach will often include a brochure or other sales literature setting out your offering. When you are selling yourself, this is the function of your resume or CV. It is essential that you present an employer a carefully constructed document which highlights the features and benefits you have to offer. This will usually be in the form of achievements, qualifications and training. Similarly, a well crafted cover letter will help your application to stand out.
Professional salespeople never visit a customer without having done some research first. At the very least they will have Googled their customer to find out the latest developments and announcements. They should also have checked recent files and had a look to see what is going on in the customer’s marketplace.
In the same way, the interviewee should carry out some pre-interview research. This will not only boost confidence but is fine preparation for some standard interview questions like “What do you know about our company?” or “What do you think the biggest challenges we face in the market today?” It should also prompt you to think about questions you can ask at the end of the interview when you are invited to do so.
Nowadays, it is more and more common for employers to filter job applications by conducting a telephone interview. Although many people are concerned about this, in fact it is usually an easy opportunity to score well and make an early impression.
The first thing to remember is that you are in charge. When the phone rings, the interviewer has absolutely no idea what you are doing and will nearly always ask if it is convenient to talk. Unless you are fully prepared then your answer should always be “no”. Set a time when you know you will have had time to do your research and create an atmosphere conducive to giving the right impression. Make a list of the key points you want to get across and have any reference materials easily to hand. The objective of this session is for you to sound relaxed, confident and full of potential. The main goal of the discussion is for you to get a face to face interview. As the call draws to a close, it is essential that you try to set a date (remember to have your calendar to hand).
The main operating environment for a salesperson is when she is talking to her customer. When applying for a job, the potential employer is the customer, so the interview should use the same ground plan as you would for a customer sales call. Remember to arrive punctually, suitably dressed and with anything you might need (like a spare resume or a certificate of achievement) easily to hand in your bag. Remember that the interview starts the moment you arrive and your behaviour with garage attendants and receptionists may be assessed as part of the process.
There is no set pattern for a sales job interview. Some companies have a highly structured approach; others will be more amorphous in character. Regardless of structure, there are usually two questions that you can expect. You may be asked a something like “Tell me about yourself”. The answer should be a very brief recap of your career lasting no more than three minutes, which highlights key achievements and finishes with the question “…what would you like to know about in particular?” Do not fall into the trap of rehearsing details of your childhood and upbringing thereby wasting valuable time on information that will not support the product on sale – you.
The second question you can expect is a derivation of “Why do you want this job?” Again, you must align the answers with the skills you are offering. An answer like “I read in your accounts that you are planning to expand into the South West. I have built up a considerable network in that region, am very familiar with the political issues and feel that with the new products you announced last week I can make a significant contribution…” will play very well and serves both to demonstrate the skills you bring and the fact that you have done your homework.
Inexperienced interviewers will often take off their watch and say “sell this to me! Don’t be tricked into doing a “feature push” sale. Step back and remember your basic sales training. Respond by asking questions about what he wants in a watch before constructing a sales presentation aligned to his needs.
Good interviewers nearly always provide the opportunity to ask some questions. Do not let the opportunity slip by. This is your chance to showcase your research and ask about the company’s markets, plans and processes. Even if some of these items have been covered during the interview, you should be able to find a way to open up another angle especially if it will highlight one of your key strengths.
Although sales job interviews are very similar to other job interviews, they do differ in one important respect. At the end of the interview, the candidate is expected to attempt a close of some sort; if only to show that he is capable of asking for the business. This doesn’t need to be an in your face “am I hired?” question. Indeed depending on the circumstances, this could be counterproductive. However a gentle question seeking feedback or confirmation that the interviewer will be taking your application forward can rarely do any harm.
In some situations the interviewer may start to ask you questions about package. Be on your guard. This is am opportunity to close. Do not just jump in with your number. Remember that this is a sales interview and the question could be a ‘buying signal’. Therefore respond with a trial close: – “As we have started to discuss remuneration, can I take that as a sign that as long as the package is right your will be making me an offer?” If the answer is “yes”, you have a deal and you can then start talking about the salary and benefits package you need, usually best expressed in terms of a range rather than outright figures. If the salary is lower than your target, you can push for an improved car or better health or holiday benefits.
Occasionally a sales interview will end with a firm offer being made. More often than not though, there will be further stages before an offer can be issued. In this event is is good practice to follow up the interview with a “thank you” letter or email. This should be short, summarize the key strengths that you have to offer, clear up any uncertainties and if appropriate add some further information or collateral which the interviewer might find interesting or supportive of your application.
And finally you should approach every sales job interview with the thought that good sales people are really hard to find and keep. If you can demonstrate that you know how to sell and are confident, well researched and have the energy and drive to perform well them you will be well on the way to meeting your objective of passing the interview.