Interviewing Salespeople? Here Are 3 Tips

We all know that salespeople are some of the best interviewers in business.  They know how to sell themselves.  Yet, have you ever found that after selling themselves to you, they fail to sell your company’s products or services effectively?  When you are interviewing salespeople, here are 3 techniques to use that will give you an advantage:

1 – Behavioral examples

Ask the candidate for specific examples of a time when….  If you get a vague or non-specific response, ask the candidate to be specific and to give you more details. What happened?  What did the candidate do in response?  What specific actions did they take?  What were the results?  Listen and demand they describe specific actions and behaviors.  You will know quickly if they are making up stories or pulling from experience.

2 – Creating scenarios

If you are wondering how a salesperson might navigate a challenging part of the sales process, create scenarios and then keep creating obstacles and ask, ‘What would you do next?’  For example, you may want to know if the salesperson is able to gain access to decision makers, a common challenge in today’s market.  You would say, ‘The gatekeeper tells you the leader is not taking appointments.  What would you do next?’  Keep presenting obstacles each time the candidate offers an idea and see how creative, flexible and tenacious they are.

3 – Role-playing

Instead of asking how effectively the candidate closes a deal, set up a role-play.  For example, say “I’ll role play your potential buyer.  You have completed your presentation and I’m fully qualified to be your customer.  I have asked all of my questions and we’ve met multiple times.  Let’s pick up the role-play there.  ‘This is all very interesting and we’re definitely impressed.  Thank you for coming in today.  We’ll call you in a few weeks.’”  Then, allow the salesperson to pick up the role play and demonstrate in real time with you how they would attempt to gain your commitment to make a purchase.  Keep the candidate in the role play.  Don’t allow them to talk about what they would do.  Have them demonstrate it in the role-play.  Don’t agree to buy too soon, let the sales rep show you how they would work with a reluctant, non-committed prospect.

By asking for specific examples, creating scenarios ‘in the moment’, and by role playing live in the interview, you will observe the skills of the salesperson rather than merely talk about them.  Move the conversation from a conceptual discussion to live demonstration.

As always, it is always wise to add objective pre-hire sales specific objective assessment data that reveals information about candidates not available through interviewing.  This is your final advantage when selecting the best candidates to add to your sales team.  Here’s to hiring the best possible talent for your sales organization!


Dr. John Musser is a sales expert who has been providing consulting in leadership development, performance development, sales consulting, training, pre-hire and current employee assessments, sales organizational evaluations, and building great sales cultures for over 24 years.  He can be contacted at 404.863.7992 or at