Whether you are an old hat at interviews or this is your first time, it can still be a very daunting experience and bring fear to even the most confident of people. So what makes a good candidate and why do people throw some applications straight in the bin.
Unless your father owns the company or you a re born into money, at some point in our lives we all have to deal with interviews. And it is amazing how interview skills can leave much to be desired from both sides of the desk. In most scenarios, neither the interv i e w e r s nor the interviewees pre p a re enough. It is incredible how many people will go along to an interview without first doing research into the company and the interviewers who have not even read through the CV.
T h e re is not one right way to conduct a job interview. All parties need to tailor their approach specifically. In the present climate however, giving your best interview performance is vital. An experienced sales manager share s their knowledge of interview technique.
•HAVE A WELL WRITTEN CV. E n s u re you CV is well written and concise. The long-winded CV is a real no-no. Employers have hundreds of C V ’s to wade through and a short attention span, so no one wants to read through pages of information. If you can’t convey your key messages and skills in a couple of pages, you are unlikely to get an interview.
Moreover, we are looking for our salespeople to be good communicators, so you should demonstrate this on the CV. Most people concentrate too much on their job description but the most important things are what you actually did, changed or updated. What were your major successes, achievements, things that got you noticed? Achievements on a CV a re critical and many people put none. And don’t forget, gaps on CV’s still raise questions.
•PREPARE This sounds like such an obvious one, I know, but we still get candidates turn i n g up for an interview with only the faintest knowledge of the company. If someone is serious about working with us, I would expect them as an absolute minimum to have re a d the information on our website, to have gained at least a basic understanding of our firm , products and market positioning. Then make sure you know whom you are seeing and their role within the company. Find out the structure of the company and where your position would fit in. Then use all this information that you have collated to formulate questions for the interview.
•TURN UP ON TIME FOR THE INTERVIEW. Again, this might seem obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had candidates call me to say they are going to be delayed, perhaps because they missed the train, they ’ re stuck in traffic, or the cat’s been sick. Or the number of people who phone up and ask if they can reschedule for another day. The mistake they make I think is treating the interview as though it is just another business meeting, which of course it’s not.
•EMPLOY A STRUCTURED QUESTIONING TECHNIQUE . I would expect experienced salespeople to take a methodical approach to questioning, and to demonstrate this to me in the interview. They should certainly not be shooting from the hip. That’s because the interview for a sales person is in truth a dummy sales call, certainly from the perspective of an employer looking to see if you cut the mustard. Throughout an interview for a sales position, the pertinent questions I am asking myself are “How would this person handle my most important customer?” And, “Could I t rust this person in that situation?”
•DON’T RAMBLE. One of the worst things you can do in an interview is to ramble on and on. Sales professionals need to be excellent communicators, so all the time I am talking to them I am expecting them to provide concise, considered answers to my questions rather than going off the track. Sometimes candidates go off track to prove a point, but it’s really not necessary – or desirable.
•LISTEN . If a candidate doesn’t listen, this is a very bad sign for me, as listening is a key skill for a sales person. In a customer- facing situation, salespeople need to be able to do more than just ask the right questions. They also need to listen to the answers, and respond accordingly.
•SHOW ENTHUSIASM FOR THE PRODUCT AND MARKETPLACE . If a candidate starts asking questions about our pay rate and commission plan early on in the interview then again alarm bells are ringing. They have already signaled to me their lack of interest in the product and, without enthusiasm for a product, and a sound knowledge of its benefits, how can they expect to sell it?
•DON’T BE TOO GENTLE. The ideal sales candidate should not be too technical or too laid back at interview, and they should seize upon the opportunities I give them during the session to take control. In fact, at certain points they should be interviewing me, since I need them to demonstrate they are capable of leading customers at the right moments.
•PREPARE FOR AWKWARD QUESTIONS. O n e of my favorite interview questions is “What’s the biggest sale you ever made?” But then I closely follow that up with “What was the biggest sale you lost?” I look for candidates that have tendered and lost as well as t e n d e red and won and, crucially, people who have learned from their mistakes. I ask them how they would have done things differently next time .
•PREPARE TO ELABORATE ON YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS The ideal candidate should have a strong track record of achievement that should be apparent from the C V. At interview y o u should expect to be asked to elaborate on any number of achievements, as the i n t e rviewer attempts to establish to what extent those achievements were down to the candidate alone.
•QUALIFY THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS. While for certain positions it might be considered cheeky to ask about the next stage, I would certainly expect sales professionals to qualify the decision making process at the end of the interview by asking such questions as: “What sort of person are you looking for, what is the next step in the process, and how many candidates a re you seeing?” And so on.
•DON’T FORGET TO CLOSE. I f you want to land a sales position, you must certainly demonstrate an ability to close. The interview is your only chance to do that, so you need to close with questions such as: “Do you have any concerns about my ability to do the job? Would you hire me? Questions like this are your best chance to re assure employers you are the person to do the job. If you are interested in landing the job, I would expect you to close me down on it.
Finally another route to the interview may have been through a recruitment agency. In this case you will have gone through one interview already with the agency and they will make the arrangements for the interview with the prospective employer. We asked Darre n Spevick from Michael Page Sales Healthcare how you should handle this situation. He had this to say, “You should treat the interv i e w with the recruitment agency just as seriously as an interview with a company, you still have to impress the agency and want them ultimately to register you on their books and actively seek a suitable position for you, so do your homework before this interv i e w. Have a CV pre p a red, consider the type of position you are looking for, the type of company you want to work for and the remuneration package you are looking for. Also consider your stre n g t h s and achievements so you can discuss these with the agency. The more they know about you the more likely they are to be able to find you the right job”.
But what difference can an agency make to the interview with the company? Darren continues, “A good agency will provide you with a job description and details of who will be interviewing you. They will also provide you with some background information on the company and the type of person they are looking for. A good consultant, with whom you have developed a sound relationship, will be able to offer you some practical interview tips and will help you through the process. Finally the agency should provide you with some feedback, they will inform you if you were successful or not. If you did not secure the job they will give useful feedback as to why this happened and this can help you at your next interview ” .