5 Interview Tactics You Should Use to Close the Best Sales People

January 3, 2014

When you want to hire a new salesperson, don’t just sit the person down and have a traditional chat, advises Emily Wagner, sales recruiting manager at LinkedIn. “Get into actual ‘role play’ sessions where the candidate has to perform on the spot, so that you can uncover whether they have the skill set that’s needed.”

It’s often necessary to go the extra mile when it comes to hiring sales people, because you need to get beneath the sometimes smooth talking exterior of a candidate to determine if they’re a good fit.

Here are five tips from the LinkedIn recruiting team on how to best screen sales team candidates:

1. Understand candidate’s previous sales culture

Beyond looking at the success of a candidate’s prior history, such as membership in the President’s club four years in a row, or their winning sales statistics, “It’s really important to understand the corporate culture of where a candidate was selling previously,” explains Larry Gould, Senior Enterprise Relationship Manager at LinkedIn.

It’s critical to put a candidate’s background into the proper context, in order to understand if they will work out at a new organization. “If you’re a top performer at an organization like salesforce.com, or Oracle for example, where you know the people are super hungry, that is different than being a top performer in a less aggressive environment,” Gould shares.

2. Find out what kind of sales methodology they’ve practiced

Different companies use differing methodologies to sell such as solutions sales, where the salesperson sells by uncovering a problem or complaint his customer is having, and looks to solve the problem using his company’s product or service.

“You don't want to hire an employee who has only had success using ’price-based selling’ as a means to sell, when the company the candidate will be working for uses ’solution sales’,” explains Wagner. “So that’s one of the first things we look at; how has the candidate has done deals or won sales in the past?”

3. Let them demonstrate their skills in action

When Gould was interviewing for a sales job at LinkedIn, he was handed the skeleton outline of a mock presentation, and told to run a sales meeting on the fly for the hiring managers.

Asking a candidate to actually demonstrate their sales skills is critical, says Gould. “In an interview, you can spin your story to be extremely personable, but when you have to actually run a meeting, and think quickly on your feet, that will reveal whether you can adapt to a situation, and demonstrate your true skills.”

“Running interviews with role-play sessions can be helpful in weeding out sales candidates who aren’t really up to the task,” he says.

4. Ask behavioral questions that demonstrate leadership skills

“At LinkedIn we don’t just consider candidates’ ‘results,’ but we look for people who have shown that they have the skills to lead others as well,” says Wagner.

Leadership skills don't necessarily have to be from their prior employment, Wagner adds. They could come from a role at a volunteer organization.”

“By asking questions such as ‘When have you led a project or initiative, or worked in a leadership capacity?’, we can find out, not only if a person can perform well for themselves, but whether they’re capable of upping the overall performance of the team they’re working on.”

5. Reach out to unspecified references on LinkedIn

In the modern-hiring era, it’s pretty much a given that any reference a candidate gives is going to offer up a stellar recommendation of the person in question.

Instead of relying on those sorts of references where you might be unknowingly talking to a sale person’s best friend, Gould recommends using LinkedIn connections, to discover people who have worked with a candidate in a previous company, who might be willing to discuss their qualifications and skills from a more objective point of view.

“It’s becoming a common practice,” explains Gould, “to send an email to a connection saying: ‘I see you’ve worked with this person. Do you know this person well enough to comment on their skills, and can you tell me whether they’re any good?’ And in most cases, the person will come back and tell you either, ‘Yes, I know them well enough to comment,’ or simply, ‘Not really, I just had a drink with them once’.”