12 Interview Questions to Ask Every Sales Candidate

September 18, 2017

65% of hiring managers in sales agree that a lack of soft skills among candidates limits their company’s productivity. Of course, soft skills are notoriously difficult to screen for…and they’re also central to the act of selling. A great salesperson is emotionally intelligent, quick on their feet, and eager to improve.

But you can’t just ask candidates if they have those soft skills: they’ll all say yes, obviously. Unless you can get a hold of Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth, direct questions will be a dead end.

That’s why many turn to behavioral interview questions (those “Tell me about a time when…” type of questions). While they shouldn’t be your only tool and there are other ways to screen for soft skills, they can still be super useful: according to the hundreds of sales hiring managers surveyed by LinkedIn, behavioral questions are the single most effective way to assess a candidate's soft skills.

For those hiring in sales, the most important behavioral qualities are:

  • Adaptability
  • Culture fit
  • Potential for growth

Read on for the three best interview questions to assess each soft skill in candidates — according to sales managers — plus a few bonus questions from a seasoned sales recruiter.

3 interview questions to screen for adaptability in sales

Sales professionals need to think on their feet: that means adapting to the unexpected, whether it’s a prospect’s changing needs, a radically new sales process, or all the features of your brand new offering.

These questions reveal how well the candidate can roll with the punches, improvise on the spot, and pivot like a champ.

Question #1: Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you had never done before. How did you react? What did you learn?

Question #2: Can you describe a situation in which you embraced a new system, process, technology, or idea at work, even though the change was a major departure from the old way of doing things?

Question #3: Recall a time when you were assigned a task that you considered outside your job description? How did you handle the situation? What was the outcome?

3 interview questions to screen for culture fit in sales

Sales is about tactics and strategy, but it’s also about personality and drive. New recruits shouldn’t just “fit” into your culture — they should elevate it, making others around them even better. And while salespeople are famously competitive against each other, they also contribute to a spirit of camaraderie.

These questions reveal a candidate’s personality and their passion for your company.

Question #4: What are the 3 things that are most important to you in a job?

Question #5: What’s the most interesting thing about you that’s not on your resume?

Question #6: What would make you choose our company over others?

3 interview questions to screen for growth potential in sales

Sales teams can suffer from notoriously high turnover rates — a recent estimate puts it at twice the turnover in the overall labor force in the U.S. That’s why it’s so important for recruiters and hiring managers in sales to find candidates with growth potential — ones who won’t burn out after a year or two.

These questions reveal a candidate’s initiative and potential for leadership.

Question #7: Recall a time from your work experience when your manager or supervisor was unavailable when a problem arose. How did you handle that situation? With whom did you consult?

Question #8: Can you describe a time that you volunteered to expand your knowledge at work, as opposed to being directed to do so?

Question #9: What would motivate you to make a move from your current role?

3 interview questions to screen for instincts, motivations, and hunger

John Dano’s company has hired over 50 salespeople in the last few years, and he’s developed a great nose for finding sales talent. “I do that by looking for five traits: confidence, diligence, honesty, thoughtfulness, and a positive attitude,” Dano writes in a recent post. Here are the three questions he likes to ask sales candidates.

These questions reveal a candidate’s instincts, motivations, and hunger.

Question #10: Can you tell me about a sale you recently made that you believed followed the perfect process?

Question #11: Can you describe a time that you volunteered to expand your knowledge at work, as opposed to being directed to do so?

Question #12: What would motivate you to make a move from your current role?

John Dano likes to spend about 10 minutes on each of those three questions, but feel free to mix and match from this list and linger where you see fit. Just like sales, recruiting often comes down to intuition and instinct — and these 12 interview questions should help you see who has the most sales potential. 

If you need more inspiration, check out our interview guide for sales professionals. The guide includes top questions for testing core sales knowledge, behavior, and soft skills—so whatever traits you value most in a salesperson, you’ll find questions to help you spot them.

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