How to succeed in a sales job interview

Jun 16, 2020

4 mins

How to succeed in a sales job interview
Lara Bullens


The big day is approaching and you’re feeling nervous. You’ve read everything you could find on how to ace an interview, but nothing seems to be precise enough about your potential new job in sales. Sales interviews are tricky because the way that you “sell” yourself to your interviewee will reflect your capabilities as a salesperson. So what is the best approach? We spoke to Magda Cheang, senior sales recruiter at Zoom, to find out more.

Share a sales story

Before arriving at any interview, it’s important to practice recounting your career path. In a sales interview, it’s essential.

Interviewers typically ask candidates to cite a sale deal or client they managed to close. Think back to your past experience in the field and recount a sales moment that you feel proud of. If you have little experience in sales, try finding another situation in which you had to be convincing. For example, if you led a charity fundraiser, explain how you managed to raise money and find donors. If you understand and communicate the lessons you learned from your sales experience, it shows your interviewer that you’re a problem solver, you’re resourceful and you’re resilient—personality traits that are in high demand in sales jobs.

For Magda Cheang, senior sales recruiter at Zoom, candidates who have strong sales stories are more convincing for two reasons. “First, the candidate shows an example of a deal they’ve closed in the past—proof of their experience. Second, when a candidate recounts a sales story they’re proud of, the recruiter can begin to understand their sales approach,” she said.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the challenges you faced, and how you overcame them, advises Cheang. The key here is to show the interviewer that you’ve helped a customer understand a product, pulled internal resources together, and worked with others in your team. “[Recount] anything that shows you can convince people and persuade people,” said Cheang. She says these are essential qualities for a successful salesperson and will help prepare you if there is a role-playing exercise later on in the hiring process.

Be proactive and do your research

You might be applying to several companies, but Cheang stresses that “every company wants you to make them feel they are your first choice.” Take your time to research the company as well as the product, and be proactive.

If you have the chance to find out who your interviewers are, great. This means that just like in a sales pitch, you know who you’re targeting. Try asking the recruiter what kinds of topics will be covered in your interview. “If you know someone in the company, reach out to them for inside information. Just be really proactive,” said Cheang.

Cheang suggests treating the recruitment process like a sales deal, of sorts. “Once the interview is over, send a follow-up email to express how interested you are. It makes a difference,” she said. Even if it feels awkward, ask questions in your email like, “If you were to choose me as your ideal candidate, when could we arrange our first meeting?” Even if you don’t know whether you got the job, show that you are willing and eager to close the deal. Nothing says flattery like enthusiasm. Without being too overbearing, of course.

Be passionate about the product

If your sales anecdote and proactive nature haven’t already charmed your interviewer, it’s time to show your genuine belief in the product. For Cheang, interviewees are most likely to falter by “not showing enough interest, or showing a very superficial interest”.

It’s important to ask yourself, “Why do I want to work for this particular company, and sell this specific product?” Not everyone is keen on selling petrol, for example, but perhaps you are interested in innovative communications platforms. Find a company whose product brings solutions to problems you are passionate about. Is its strategy in line with your core values? Do you feel the solutions they offer are sustainable? Will you enjoy selling this product long-term?

If you feel a genuine connection with what you’re selling, not only will you be more convincing, but it will be clear that you are interested. If not, how can your interviewer believe that you’ll be able to convince a customer to buy that product?

Interviewers can sense authenticity. Plus, you’ll get more of a kick out of selling something you would actually buy!

Ask about training, targets, and tools

Sales jobs, unlike many creative sector roles, are clear-cut. They are all about performance, and how you attain that performance across specific targets. If you’re a good salesperson, you’re either hitting your target or overachieving.

When it comes to the end of your interview and you get the chance to ask questions, try creating a realistic picture of what this sales position will entail, suggests Cheang. Your interviewer will not only see your level of experience in your questions but will get a sense of your market expertise. Here’s what to put on your question list:

  • What would my targets be?
    “This allows you to understand what the company expects of its sales team, and it will show your interviewer you are in the right sales mindset,” said Cheang. If the company hits 70% of its targets, for example, you will know that you will have a relatively easy time hitting your targets as well. A better understanding of your potential targets will give you a feel for the work that is laid out in front of you.

  • What sales tools are available?
    What kind of sales tools does the company have, in terms of software, to help manage the sales process? Again, says Cheang, this will show your interviewer that you have an established sales process and that you are knowledgeable in the field. This will also help you to understand whether you have tools to facilitate your work and it could even leave room for suggestions should you get the job.

  • What training do you offer?
    “Ask about training, especially if you don’t have years of experience under your belt,” said Cheang. Is there a good sales or new hire program? Or are they just going to drop you into the company and expect you to hit your quota? Without actually voicing that second question, it’s important to show your curiosity as well as your expectations during the interview. The recruiter will also get a better sense of where you stand.

In the end, a successful interview is a perfect match, for both parties.“In sales,” Cheang said, “[an interview] is an opportunity to showcase that you’re persuasive and passionate, and you will get things done.”

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