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35 sales interview questions for hiring the best salespeople

January 25, 2019
Chris Orlob

Chris Orlob

Sales Management
[quicklinks links=”magic,learning,experience,motivation,leadership,miscellaneous” labels=”Magic Bullet Questions, Learning Questions, Experience Questions, Motivation Questions, Leadership Questions, Miscellaneous”] You may want to bookmark this page for future interviews. Making a great hire comes down to the sales interview questions you ask your potential sales reps. And so many sales leaders get them wrong. They stick with generic, run-of-the-mill questions such as “Why should I hire you?” Or they ask “creative questions” they’ve heard some tech company uses (cough…Google…cough): “If you were the size of a nickel and trapped in a blender, how would you get out?” These interview questions are useless in qualifying a candidate’s sales potential. Lucky for you, we’ve sourced the top 35 sales interview questions from sales leaders who know what’s what. This comprehensive list of sales interview questions is unique. You won’t find it elsewhere. These interview questions will help you size up a candidate’s sales potential. Here they are. Use the quick links on the left to jump to different sections of questions. P.S: Download these questions for your next interview. They’ll test the high-value skills you need on your team and attract the right candidates. 35 questions for sdr and ae hiring [newsletter title=”Grow Your Skills” call=”Get insanely effective sales tips sent to your inbox.”]

Sales Interview Questions

  1. When I ask your former boss about your strengths and weaknesses, what am I going to hear?
  2. Thanks for joining us today. Over to you.
  3. Would you be willing to do a mock sales call with me right now?
  4. How did you prepare for this interview?
  5. You’re really nice, but you’re not an absolute top producer, and I only have room for top producers.
  6. How do you think this interview is going right now?
  7. What do you know about me?
  8. What was the last sales book, blog, or podcast you were in.
  9. Tell me something you’ve taught yourself recently.
  10. What’s the most meaningful failure you’ve had and what did you learn from it? +25 more!

Magic Bullet Sales Interview Questions

Let’s start with the toughest category of all: interview questions that aren’t for the faint of heart. They’re intense job interview questions that sort the wheat from the chaff. These “magic bullet” questions help you predict a candidate’s potential with a high degree of accuracy. They’re very hard to fake and will quickly reveal your candidate’s strengths and flaws.

1. When I ask [your former boss] about your strengths and weaknesses, what am I going to hear?

This is the single most powerful sales interview question you can ask, in my opinion. To tee it up well, let the candidate know that your hiring process includes talking to former bosses. That small reminder will make them answer differently … more honestly. No BS allowed. It will become obvious if they have poor relationships with former bosses (usually a red flag), and many will self-qualify themselves out of the hiring process after the interview. The great ones won’t get flustered. Poor performers squirm under this question.

2. Thanks for joining us today. Over to you.

If your candidate is up to par, they’ll take control and show you that they can run a meeting. If they flat, you’ve got someone who:
  • Didn’t prepare, and
  • Can’t control a conversation
The best of the best will relish this question, setting a purpose or agenda for the meeting, asking questions, and scheduling the next step at the end.

3. Would you be willing to do a mock sales call with me right now?

Similar to the first interview questions, this will reveal their ability to run a great sales process. (Tip: Watch their body language when they respond to this one.) In a mock sales call, you’ll learn something about your candidate’s approach and sales process, but the real point is to see how they respond under pressure. Making them perform a live cold call takes this one step further.
4. How did you prepare for this interview? It will be immediately obvious if they didn’t do much prep for their interview, which is a huge red flag. The perfect candidates will do the proactive research you’d expect and then some. They’ll show up ready to impress and inspire.

5. You’re really nice, but you’re not an absolute top producer, and I only have room for top producers.

This isn’t a sales interview question. It’s an interview test. I learned this move from the late Chet Holmes (an absolute legend). When you pose this statement toward the end of a sales interview, you’ll learn a lot. The best candidates will maintain their composure and even start using objection handling techniques.

“Why do you say that?” they will calmly ask.

Then you know you’ve got a superstar. As for people who aren’t cut out for the ongoing rejection of a sales career, they’ll crumble and politely thank you..

6. How do you think this interview is going right now?

The answer to this sales interview question can range from a one-word “great!” to something longer. There is no right or wrong answer to this question. But their answer almost always does tell you something about them, whatever it is. People with deep confidence will have more to say, and this is someone you want to add to your sales team.

7. What do you know about me?

The best sales reps will know a lot about you, the hiring manager. They did their research beforehand. People who aren’t cut out for running deals to closure will fumble on this. A huge part of sales is research. Failure to research is a glaring red flag. Selling is about knowing your audience, and a solid candidate will have done their homework. They should know more than stats about your company. They should know who they’re dealing with before they walk into the interview. It will also tell you what kind of information they think is important, and where they gather their information from. [newsletter title=”Grow Your Skills” call=”Get insanely effective sales tips sent to your inbox.”]

Learning-orientation Sales Interview Questions

A great sales hiring strategy is this: hire learning machines. People who have stopped learning aren’t cut out for a career in sales, which is an endless learning curve. Here are the sales interview questions that light the way.

8. What was the last sales book, blog, or podcast you took in?

There’s nothing quite as relieving as discovering that you have a self-motivated learner on your sales team. They’ll keep everyone (including you) up on the latest ‘best thing’. Candidates have a hard time faking answers to this one. You can’t speak coherently to a video you haven’t watched or a book you haven’t read.

9. Tell me something you’ve taught yourself recently.

Learners. We can’t get enough of them. But which kind of learner do you have on your hands? Some do their yearly professional development and are satisfied with that. Others couldn’t stop soaking up information if they tried. They’re the ones you’re looking for. Deep learners. They try to teach themselves more than just sales skills. 

10. What’s the most meaningful failure you’ve had and what did you learn from it?

You’ll get lots of cheesy one-liners in response, but every now and again you’ll get a stellar candidate with a solid story. Admitting to failure is a sign of maturity. Learning from failure is icing on the cake. A good rep will know you’re not trying to embarrass them, you’re looking for signs that they can evolve. If they can’t understand their mistake, cop to it, and learn from it, they’re not coachable. And you need coachable sales reps for good sales coaching. In their response, look for a story. You’re not evaluating their storytelling technique, but those that tell stories about failure are the ones who have learned the most.

11. Talk me through 2-3 deals you lost in the last 6 months.

This is similar to the last one, but it’s not about whether they can cop to failure. It’s about whether they can look back at a process and assess why it went off the rails. Critical thinking. That’s what you’re on the lookout for here, and it could potentially be one of their greatest strengths. If they have pointed analyses that rely on clear-headed assessments, keep going. You’ve got a good one on the line.

12. What’s the most difficult feedback you’ve received and how did it change you?

It doesn’t matter whether the candidate tells a personal or work-related story here. What’s relevant is how the candidate responded to difficult feedback. The answer could go in a thousand directions, and there’s no right one. The point is to understand how the candidate responds to criticism. This is another question that shows you if they are coachable.  (It’s also interesting to see whose opinion matters to them. We tend to register ‘difficult feedback’ as feedback from people whose opinions we care about.)

13. If you had a mentor, what kind of things would they help you with?

This interview question is straightforward. It tells you whether a candidate has been proactive and thought through their own areas for improvement. Having clarity around weak spots is a good thing. You want people who can articulate where they need help so they can grow. Otherwise, you run the risk of weaknesses hiding and becoming a problem.

14. Tell me what you’re excited to learn about next and how it will make you more successful.

Yes, this tells you where your candidate may need help. It also tells you whether or not they’re actively learning things (rather than the passive “I just like to learn from experience.”)

15. Why would you fail here?

The best sales reps identify risk. Mostly in terms of deals they’re working, but also in career opportunities. They’re a little bit paranoid. Reps who can’t answer this question well are probably prone to “happy ears.” [newsletter title=”Grow Your Skills” call=”Get insanely effective sales tips sent to your inbox.”]

Experience Sales Interview Questions

The best predictor of future performance is past performance. It’s much better than using hypothetical scenarios. Past behavior is based on the truth of what’s already happened, and by extension, what is likely to continue to happen.

16. Walk me through one of your most strategic sales cycles, from contact to contract.

This is the easiest way to separate the wheat from the chaff. You’ll learn really quickly whether your candidate understands the components of a successful sales cycle. You’ll also learn which sales methodology they subscribe to if any. A superstar will surprise you with a unique take on the process, or an insightful reason for using a certain tactic.

17. What’s your process?

This is a lot like the sales cycle question, but goes beyond one deal and dives into the mind of your rep, unpacking how they strategize to hit their number. The best sales reps have a systematic, step-by-step process that they’ve engineered, and it will be obvious if they don’t. You should be able to stop them at any point to dig into a good conversation. Then carry on, knowing whether they’re top-notch.

18. Your whole team uses the same sales process, so what sets you apart to consistently hit the quota you said you hit?

Far too often sales leaders hear “I hit my quota the last three years” and say, “Good enough for me!” Not digging in can lead to a series of terrible hires. You can’t fake your way through this question, and an ideal candidate won’t have to. If your candidate doesn’t know what makes them successful, it will become obvious.

19. How have you turned around a losing streak?

You’re not trying to trip them up here … everyone’s had one. (And you can say that in the interview.) What matters is what steps they took to turn it around. Did they diagnose the cause of the problem? Try out a new process? Do they understand what led to the losing streak in the first place?

20. What skill have you had to develop and how has it helped you do your job well?

This will tell you what has been their greatest weakness in their sales skills without asking them that question directly. Smart reps work on their weakest attributes. They know there’s no shame in self-improvement. They’ll be able to tell you exactly how that skill upped their game. And good on them. Anyone who brags about their natural talents isn’t paying attention to the question. [newsletter title=”Grow Your Skills” call=”Get insanely effective sales tips sent to your inbox.”]

Motivation Sales Interview Questions

Sales success primary comes down to gut-wrenching motivation. You don’t succeed automatically with it, but without it, you’re doomed. So hiring driven people is critical. What drives your candidate and makes them want to work harder?

21. Why is your mentor your mentor?

Your candidate reveals a lot about what they value when they tell you why they chose their mentor. Pay attention to the weight they give to competencies, personality, reputation, and achievements. And if they don’t have a mentor of any kind, watch out. The superstars always do. Even if those mentors are “remote” (through sales books, online courses, etc.).

22. How do you give back to your community outside of work?

Ideal candidates are those who can tell you how they’ve given back to their community are more likely to be team players, leader, and mentors. Rockstar candidates (usually) have impressive lives outside of the office.

23. What advice would you give a salesperson just starting their career?

If you truly understand something, you can teach it. The ability to deliver a lesson indicates true understanding of a concept. This interview question can also tell you whether your candidate is rosy, negative, or a good balance of the two. And it can give you a good sense of whether they might be a good mentor.

24. What are you not interested in doing professionally?

Interviewers rarely ask this question, but it’s good to know their ultimate career aspiration. Instead, they stick to positive questions, like “What’s your favorite part of your job?” But this small reframe can elicit some very telling answers, like which tasks will be tough to motivate your candidate through. And that’s worth knowing.

25. What’s the best way for a manager to motivate their team?

Great people will tell you how they like to be managed, and you’ll learn really quickly how they’d manage others if promoted through the ranks. Their answers can help indicate whether they have junior, moderately evolved, or superstar-level knowledge of how healthy teams succeed.

26. Which sales metrics do you pay attention to?

Everyone will say quota, obviously. But next-level reps will have something to add. They can back into their number by knowing the leading indicators:
    • Average deal size
    • Close rates
    • Number of opportunities received by marketing per month
    • Sales cycle length
  • etc.
The best reps view their job as a machine that can be tweaked. [newsletter title=”Grow Your Skills” call=”Get insanely effective sales tips sent to your inbox.”]

Leadership Sales Interview Questions

These sales interview questions help you identify leadership potential. (You already know why this matters in sales.) Everyone’s drawn to leaders, especially buyers. Leaders are comfortable in their own skin and know how to put the people around them at ease. These sales interview questions are the leaders’ opportunity to shine.

27. Tell me why you’re a superstar.

Say this with almost an impatient, skeptical tone. (You know, the way buyers often speak in real selling situations!) Top-notch salespeople won’t balk. They’ll start listing specific achievements. You’ll usually hear a bit of ego behind their answers. Candidate’s who aren’t up to the task? Their answers will be wishy-washy. The real point of this question: Assess how they respond to a semi-rude, abrupt demand (akin to a tough objection they’ll receive in the field).

28. What’s the most common misconception about you?

Great salespeople and leaders are self-aware. They’ll be very aware of how they’re perceived, and that will include misconceptions. If they don’t know how the world sees them, that’s a warning flag that their EQ isn’t as sharp as it needs to be. There’s a connection between knowing how you’re seen, and being able to adjust your behavior appropriately for any given sales situation.

29. Give me an example of a time when you were forced to comply with a policy you didn’t agree with. How did you handle it?

There is no right answer to this sales interview question, but leaders (and hotheads!) know where they stand. They know what they like and what they dislike. The difference is that hotheads fight over everything, are impulsive, and leave a lot of damage in their wake. Leaders know how to tactfully navigate these situations. The policy your candidate disliked and their reaction to it should both be informative.

30. Tell me something you believe is true that others might disagree with.

This is a blatant steal from Peter Thiel in his book Zero to One. The best leaders have developed a unique way of thinking. Most people won’t give satisfying answers to this question. They’ll give you things they think other people disagree with, but few people actually do (such as “our education system is broken”), and this can be a very fine line. You’re not looking for wild conspiracy theories here. Just good old fashioned individuality. It’s an indicator of someone who thinks about novel solutions and sees the world with an insightful perspective.

31. What would your new team members learn from you?

Does your candidate know what they bring to the table? Unless you’re looking for one very specific contribution to your team, there’s an infinite number of answers that could be right. The point is to understand how your candidate interacts with people, and the role they see themselves playing on a sales team.

32. Describe and rate the personalities of two previous coworkers and a former boss.

As people, we tend to see the good and bad in others that we see in ourselves. This is called “projecting yourself onto others.” Pay attention to whether your candidate responds by citing positive or negative attributes. Leaders are more likely than their peers to cite what impressed them about people. They’re focused on lifting people up, not putting them down. This is the type of person that will add to a great work environment.  [newsletter title=”Grow Your Skills” call=”Get insanely effective sales tips sent to your inbox.”]

Miscellaneous Sales Interview Questions

These people are reliable team members who like to be ready when it counts. They do their research. They prep. They learn. They have solid information at their fingertips every time.

33.  Why do you want THIS job? Why us?

Your goal is to find out whether the candidate has a real reason to take this job over others. Some reps will have watched your sector for a while and will know exactly why you’re the right organization for them and hold the same core values. Others will see that you could make use of a skill set that’s important to them. And those are great indicators. You want to know your candidate is curious and driven enough to assess you at the same time that you’re assessing them.

34. What’s one question you wish I asked?

This is a good closer. It lets the candidate show you that they prepared well, and position themselves in their own words. Both can highlight their natural strengths. Exceptional candidates will bring the conversation back to how their skills will serve your team.

35. What’s one small habit you have at work that has a huge impact?

Habits matter and superstars know that. (They’ve probably read a book or two about it.) This is one of the more important behavioral sales interview questions. You have to know your own habits to truly excel. “At the end of each day, I prioritize the next day’s activities.” “I read one industry-related blog post every day to keep my skills sharp.” Small? Yes. Impactful? Also yes. Keep that person. They’re paying attention and it will help them win.

Here’s what to do next

Your next priority is sales onboarding The faster you ramp new hires, the faster they’ll hit quota and generate revenue. We’ve created a webinar to help you do that in 7 clear steps: Here’s what you’ll learn:
  • How to decrease time-to-first-deal
  • Why “call shadowing” is the worst onboarding strategy (and what to do instead)
  • How to get new hires to crush product demos, discovery calls, and objections
Click here to decrease your ramp time today:

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