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Sales interviews: 4 crucial questions to ask

5 min read


Here’s a scary statistic: 81% of applicants lie in their job interviews. While you may be aware that candidates can embellish or beef up their experience, studies have shown that some interviewees tell an average of 2.19 lies per 15-minute interview.

So, particularly when it comes to interviewing sales candidates, how can you tell who’s legitimate and who needs to be put in the “no” pile?

It all comes down to how you position your interview questions. Though some candidates may have checked off all the boxes in terms of requirements, you should do a little more digging to discover their true expertise.

Here are some crucial questions you need to get to the bottom of in a sales interview:

“What types of products do you have experience with?”

You can’t expect the candidate to come to the interview already knowing the ins and outs of your specific product, but ideally, they have experience selling a similar product into the same or similar market. For example, if you’re hiring for a biotech sales job, you want to find out how much knowledge and experience the candidate has selling biotech products into a health care market.

How to ask the question: Ask how the candidate went about learning the products they sold at their last company. Have them provide examples of how they answered their customers’ most frequently asked product questions. Then ask how they think their experience might help them sell products at your company. You could also ask what steps the candidate has already taken to research the products sold by your company. If they’ve already done some digging (always a good sign!), you can even ask for their first impressions.

“What kind of sales environment do you thrive in?”

Has the candidate formerly worked for a manufacturer or a distributor? Fortune 500 or startups? Different types of organizations can require different functions, skills or workloads, so it’s important for you to discover the range — or lack thereof — of organizations the candidate has worked for to determine who can handle the position the best.

How to ask the question: Of course you want to know what types of organizations the candidate has experience with, but most importantly, where have they found the most success and happiness? Past behavior is the best indicator of future performance; for example, if they blossomed in the rigid sales hierarchy of a larger manufacturer, they may not be as successful in a more autonomous environment, and vice versa.

“What’s your success rate on the road?”

Sales positions may be filled with hectic schedules or last-minute changes, and that mainly involves a life on the road. Candidates who have experience with traveling and those who are open to these types of schedules will typically last longer than those with little experience or who don’t enjoy frequent work trips. Evaluate how they have performed on the road versus in-house. The results can show you if they have what it takes to work well in varying environments.

How to ask the question: First, ask candidates about their history with traveling for work. For example, how often do they travel overnight? How long have they been away from their base? Essentially, how much travel can they handle? Then, ask for specifics on how they would meet sales goals on the road. Essentially, this illustrates their work ethic and how that would achieve success for the company.

“Tell me about a recent sales goal and how you achieved it?”

This is obviously one of the most important parts of the job. It shows that the applicant can actually do their job well and can also indicate if they just did the bare minimum or went above and beyond.

How to ask the question: You’ve already reviewed the rankings and quotas on their resume, but now is the time to ask questions that get at the hows and whys of those numbers. Ask them to account for how they attained their most impressive numbers, noting whether they were part of a larger team, whether they inherited a successful territory, whether they were selling a high-demand product, etc. You might also have them recount a success story they are particularly proud of. This demonstrates their interests on top of accomplishments.

For sales interviews, it’s critical to ask questions in a way that gets candidates to reveal more than their prepared answers and examples. Sales professionals are highly skilled at presenting themselves in the best light possible, so you must ask questions that allow you to realistically evaluate strengths and weaknesses. It’s a tough task, but if you keep in mind the suggestions above, you’ll be more prepared to identify your ideal candidate.

What do you think? What are some other questions to ask candidates in sales interviews?

Robyn Melhuish is the communications manager at, a job board which gives members access to the most-sought-after medical sales jobs and pharmaceutical sales jobs on the Web as well as features like the “2013 Biotech & Biopharma Sales Salary Report.” Connect with Melhuish and on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.