Woman sitting in a chair speaking with a man sitting on a couch
Graphic that shows three different types of interview questions you should be asking.

Use these questions to identify a candidate’s technical knowledge and abilities

Use these questions to determine how a candidate handled situations in the past

Use these questions to assess a candidate’s personal traits and cognitive skills

Why this matters:

Depending on the role’s requirements, your candidate may not have a lot of sales-specific experience, but they might have worked in customer-facing roles in the past. Understanding how they view and approach customer service can help you assess whether they’ll present your company well to prospects and existing customers.

What to listen for:

  • A clear understanding of the fundamentals of customer service, like respect, empathy, and responsiveness
  • A great answer will demonstrate how the candidate’s customer service skills translate to a strong sales approach

Why this matters:

To effectively sell your products and services, your salespeople need to possess a deep and nuanced understanding of them. If your new hire is able to quickly learn the ins and outs of each new offering your company adds to its repertoire, they’ll be well-positioned to guide customers toward the right solutions for their needs.

What to listen for:

  • Tried-and-true techniques that show the candidate’s ability to quickly learn and retain information
  • Signs that they will independently seek out answers to any questions they may have about an offering, rather than leaving gaps in their knowledge

Why this matters:

This question allows your candidate to tangibly show off their sales skills. Seeing them in action will give you a better sense of their suitability for the job, even if they have little to no professional sales experience. Their response will also provide insights into how they will interact with real customers.

What to listen for:

  • A great answer will highlight the candidate’s creativity and ability to think on their feet
  • Highly skilled candidates may take the time to question you about challenges you’re facing before selling you on a potential solution

Why this matters:

Salespeople regularly need to anticipate conflicts and smooth them over when they arise. When they’re faced with unhappy customers, it’s important to know that they will handle the situation in a way that reflects well on your brand—and strive to find a solution that ensures both parties are satisfied.

What to listen for:

  • Evidence of a calm, collected, and professional demeanor when dealing with a conflict
  • Ideally, the candidate will demonstrate that they resolved the conflict in a way that retained the customer’s business

Why this matters:

Helping people buy something they’re already interested in is the easy part. What makes a salesperson truly great is the ability to upsell prospects and existing customers on products and services they might not have even known about before. This requires a keen eye for identifying the right opportunities and a knack for presenting them in a way that leaves the customer satisfied.

What to listen for:

  • Top answers will demonstrate an instinct for spotting upselling opportunities and a proven track record of navigating them successfully
  • Strong candidates may emphasize the importance of building trust before attempting to upsell

Why this matters:

While salespeople may work closer with customers than coworkers, team culture is a contributing factor in employees’ success. Knowing that your new hire cares about fostering a positive culture where all perspectives are valued and disagreements are dealt with thoughtfully can help you build a strong and supportive team. This question can also tell you a lot about the candidate’s communication and listening skills.

What to listen for:

  • Signs that the candidate acted respectfully, listened to the other person’s perspective, and took steps to defuse the conflict, rather than escalating it
  • Evidence of creative problem-solving skills are a plus

Why this matters:

How the candidate responds to this question can provide a great insight into both their values and what they consider to be their own greatest strength. Alternatively, they may discuss a skill that they’re working to develop or refine, demonstrating a commitment to professional growth and development.

What to listen for:

  • Signs that the candidate understands their own strengths and leans into them
  • Strong answers may touch on what the candidate is doing to improve, such as dedicating time to reviewing customer feedback or product specifications

Why this matters:

While your candidate’s answer to this question shouldn’t be a dealbreaker, getting a sense of the personalities and team dynamics that they respond well to can help you evaluate whether they’ll thrive on your team. What traits do they value in coworkers and managers? Do they enjoy working with people they can learn from, or are they more independent? And what will they bring to your culture to make it even stronger?

What to listen for:

  • A thoughtful answer discussing the working environments they find most productive and the role they see themselves playing on the team
  • Preferably, candidates will focus on positive traits that they value in others, rather than negative traits that they find off-putting

Why this matters:

Passion can be the difference between a good salesperson and an exceptional one. It’s okay if your candidate is drawn to the stability and healthy paycheck that the role brings, but ideally, they’ll also possess an intrinsic passion for sales that inspires them to reach new heights. This can also be a sign that the candidate will want to stay with your organization for a long time.

What to listen for:

  • Evidence that the candidate is passionate about their chosen career path, such as personal stories about how they found their calling
  • A desire to improve their skills and advance to leadership positions within the sales function is a plus