You only have 30 to 60 minutes to make a first impression in an interview. Do you feel ready? Sales job candidates should be intentional about the perception they create with hiring managers — and that’s not always easy to do.
How do you make sure you leave the best impression possible? It’s essential that you anticipate and prepare for the questions that might be asked of you. In this article, you’ll learn how to absolutely crush your sales interview as we cover these topics:
- Sales Interview Questions and Answers
- How to Prepare for a Sales Interview
- Sales Interview Tips
So let’s dive in. Here are some of the most common sales job interview questions and tips on how to answer them.
Sales Interview Questions and Answers
- “What do you know about our company?”
- “Tell me a bit more about yourself.”
- “Give me an overview of your career to date.”
- “What are your short- to mid-term career goals?”
- “How do you generate, develop, and close sales opportunities?”
- “What do you consider your most significant sales achievement to date?”
- “Tell me about a time that you failed to achieve goals you set. What went wrong and how could the outcome have been different?”
- “Why are you interested in this company? Why are you interested in this role?”
- “Consider a time when you haven’t gotten along with someone on your team. What would that person say about you?”
- “How do you keep up with the latest industry trends in sales?”
- “Tell me about the toughest sale you’ve ever made.”
- “Have you ever had to break up with a client or prospect? How did you approach that?”
1. “What do you know about our company?”
This demonstrates your level of preparation and level of interest. Start by reading the organization’s website and the Wikipedia entry if applicable, then search the company name on Google to read what others are saying about them.
Concisely summarize what you learned about the organization’s solutions, who they serve, who they compete with, and what industry analysts, employees, and other interested parties say about them. Finally, repeat these steps with the company’s top three competitors.
2. “Tell me a bit more about yourself.”
This job interview question demonstrates your ability to communicate and balance appropriate personal and professional information. Start with an interesting personal tidbit and then talk about why you are pursuing a sales career in general and at this particular company.
3. “Give me an overview of your career to date.”
A career retrospective highlights your ability to communicate in addition to bearing testament to the logic and rationale of your career choices. Start with your first professional job (note: not your very first job ever) and talk briefly about what you learned from each successive role.
Don’t forget to touch on what attracted you to each new opportunity, culminating in the one you are currently interviewing for. Frame each job change in terms of striving for something greater, not in terms of running away from a crummy manager or company.
4. “What are your short- to mid-term career goals?”
Job candidates who set goals are perceived to be clear thinkers and motivated workers. Before your interview, talk to a few people who are where you would like to be and ask if your stated goals strike a healthy balance between realistic and achievable.
Then, when you talk to the hiring manager, briefly describe your goals and hone in on why you want to achieve them — your driving motivations and where you think achieving these goals could take you in the next few years.
5. “How do you generate, develop, and close sales opportunities?”
Core sales skills remain the same regardless of industry or company. This job interview question seeks to uncover the maturity and suitability of your sales process. With this in mind, talk very specifically about how you execute your sales role from start to finish.
Address planning, preparation, targeting, engaging, discovering needs, providing solutions, resolving objections, and gaining agreement. Lay out how you tackle each of these tasks step by step.
6. “What do you consider your most significant sales achievement to date?”
Here’s your opportunity to make a big impression. Take it.
People remember richly detailed stories of success. When fleshing out your crowning achievement, talk about the time, the specific situation or problem, the people involved, the steps you took to achieve the end result, and what happened afterwards. Everyone loves a good sales story, so the more you can amp up the drama, the better.
7. “Tell me about a time that you failed to achieve goals you set. What went wrong and how could the outcome have been different?”
Salespeople need to be able to deal with failure by critically analyzing failed attempts and learning from them. Knowing how you handle failure is as important as understanding how you succeed, and in fact, the two are interdependent.
Be honest here, and clearly spell out one of your failures. Start with the goal you were pursuing, and then elaborate on why it was important to you, what did you do to achieve it, why you failed, who was involved, what you learned, and what you would have done differently. Far from damaging your reputation, the hiring manager will appreciate your candor.
8. “Why are you interested in this company? Why are you interested in this role?”
This is a common question and ice breaker in interviews. And if you don’t have a good answer for it — why are you even here? While you’re researching the company and role, make a list of what excites you about both.
Do you believe in the work the company does? Explain why. Are you interested in expanding your skillset to include the enterprise-level business they conduct? Tell them that. Does the role play to your strengths? Explain which strengths and how.
Even if your interviewer doesn’t ask you this question, it’s a strong way to begin or end your meeting.
9. “Consider a time when you haven’t gotten along with someone on your team. What would that person say about you?”
Salespeople are passionate people. It’s a high-stress job and employers want to know you have self-awareness and the ability to work as part of a team.
Be honest with this answer, and give specific examples like, “In my last role, I worked closely with a BDR with a very different communication style than my own. We clashed early on because I’m an external thought processor and he was an internal processor. We were able to work together to find a way to communicate — but we would probably still say I’m a little loud and impulsive.“
10. “How do you keep up with the latest industry trends in sales?”
If you’re not reading the latest industry books, listening to sales podcasts, or following the hottest blogs, how are you keeping your skills sharp? Always come armed with a few ways you’re learning about and bettering your craft.
11. “Tell me about the toughest sale you’ve ever made.”
Every salesperson has that one sale that took a year to close, went through 37 levels of bureaucracy, or required them to win over a whole team that wanted a different product. Tell that story — and get specific. Talk about how much time you devoted to the sale and how you justified that time.
You want to demonstrate how you thought strategically about your time and your company’s resources — not how much time you wasted closing a small deal. So, make sure that deal had a big payout.
12. “Have you ever had to break up with a client or prospect? How did you approach that?”
This gives your interviewer another chance to see your strategic sales thinking in action. Breaking up with prospects is not for the faint of heart — but it’s a necessary part of sales. It shows you’re confident in your ability to work other deals, cognizant of what’s best for your customer, and fierce about protecting your company’s resources.
In addition to anticipating some of the most common sales job interview questions, you should be preparing for your sales interview in other ways. Below, you’ll find our top tips.
1. Research the company and the products they sell.
The key to being prepared for a sales interview is understanding the specifics of the job and demonstrating fit. This begins with learning all you can about the opportunity.
Just as you would research a prospect to build rapport, you should research the company and build rapport with the interviewer. Doing so solidifies how competent and knowledgeable you appear.
2. From there, identify who their target buyer likely is.
Based on their product or service’s functionality, the copy on their website, their competition, and other clues, determine who their buyer is.
Being able to converse about the buyer and their pains demonstrates your empathy and skill as a salesperson… as well as your value to your prospective employer.
3. Take stock of your sales achievements.
Reflecting on your successes can help you build confidence in yourself and get you in the mindset of communicating in detail why you’re the right person for the job.
If you are just breaking into sales and don’t have sales experience, draw on related skills and achievements.
For example, being in customer service may have sharpened your communication and problem-solving skills. Coming from an academic background may have prepared you for the research aspect of prospecting.
Always play to your strengths.
4. Consider how to convey them in a concrete, measurable way.
One way to communicate your achievements is by attaching numbers to them. By using concrete details, you’re up-leveling the quality of your communication, backing up your assertions with “proof,” appealing to the logic of the interviewer, and challenging them to imagine themselves in the numbers.
Instead of saying, “ I have experience in cold calling,” you’d say, “At my last company, I’d make X cold calls per hour and successfully convert around X% of them into warm leads.“
Instead of saying, “I’m skilled at fundraising,” you’d say, “I fundraised X dollars last year for the [Program Name].“
5. Be able to talk about yourself the way you would a product or buyer.
An interview is just like a sales meeting. However, instead of persuading a buyer as you sell a product or service, you’ll be assessed on how well you sell yourself. Consider the company’s pains and what value you can bring to the organization. Doing this will help them imagine how well you’d do it for their products and services.
You should also be able to articulate your goals, motivators, and working style. How well you know yourself and can advocate for yourself will help them imagine you doing the same for their buyers.
6. Practice the STAR interviewing method.
STAR is an effective way to answer interview questions, and it stands for:
This helps you structure your answer in a way that has a narrative or storytelling component while including only the necessary details and outcomes, the result being more comprehensive and understandable communication.
In effect, it allows you to get to the point quicker.
7. Compile a list of open-ended questions for your prospective employer.
You definitely want to get a sense of the organization in the interview, but that’s not the only reason you should do this as you prepare.
Think of your interview as a sales meeting. Open-ended questions are an important aspect of the “discovery” or “information gathering” aspect of the meeting. You can exercise your active listening skills to pick up on information that can help you in the interview.
At the very least, it gives the interviewer a chance to evacuate your skill at asking questions and imagine you with their prospects.
Sales Interview Tips
- Concisely summarize what you’ve learned about the organization’s solutions, who they serve, who they compete with, and what industry experts say about them.
- Explain why you’re interested in this company and role.
- Talk very specifically about how you execute your sales role from start to finish.
- Always mention data to back up claims about your past performance.
- Everyone loves a good sales story, so the more you can amp up the drama, the better.
- Be honest about failures, and clearly spell out an example of when you’ve been challenged and how you moved forward.
- Above all, be prepared and be yourself.
1. Concisely summarize what you’ve learned about the organization’s solutions, who they serve, who they compete with, and what industry experts say about them.
Demonstrating a healthy understanding of their business and industry shows you’ve done your homework.
Your interviewers don’t expect you to have followed every move they’ve made over the past five years, but learning about their largest competitors, what sets them apart in the market, and the accolades they’ve received will impress them and will distinguish you from other candidates.
2. Explain why you’re interested in this company and role.
We touched on this above, but it bears repeating. Take time to really think through this question, and deliver an answer that goes beyond, “You have such a great culture,” or “I think it will be a really great fit.“
Discuss why their product/service resonates with you, what it is about their business model that speaks to a specific skill you’ve honed, or how you think their sales team can help you grow in a certain area.
3. Talk very specifically about how you execute your sales role from start to finish.
When it comes to discussing your sales performance — go hard on the numbers. Have them ready and explain how you achieved them. Did you exceed your quota three quarters in a row last year? By how much? And how did you do it?
If you can’t explain how or why you succeeded in your role, it doesn’t really matter what you achieved.
4. Always mention data to back up claims about your past performance.
Similarly, don’t just tell interviewers you closed the biggest deal in company history. Tell them how much bigger that deal was, how much time it took to close, and why it was worth it for your company and your quota.
5. Everyone loves a good sales story, so the more you can amp up the drama, the better.
Did you close a deal in the middle of a lake while on vacation — in between waterski turns? Tell that story like you’ve probably told it a million times. You’re a salesperson, and part of the job is being an outstanding storyteller. Demonstrate these skills to your interviewers by telling your all-time greatest sales stories.
6. Be honest about failures, and clearly spell out an example of when you’ve been challenged and how you moved forward.
Now’s not the time to drag out the old, “I’m a perfectionist, and it frustrated a prospect once,” narrative. Dig deep and show your interviewers you have healthy self-awareness and the ability to learn and proactively move on from your mistakes.
Talk about a time you lost a client because you were so focused on closing a bigger fish, and mention how you’ve taken those lessons and avoided making the same mistake again.
7. Above all, be prepared and be yourself.
Be unapologetically you in an interview. If you’re not the loudest voice on the sales floor — don’t pretend to be. If you have a weakness, be honest about it. And if you’re especially kick-ass at closing or demos, be honest about that too.
Imposter syndrome is one of the worst traits to carry into an interview. So, just like you’d be comfortable letting a bad-fit prospect go, enter every interview with the confidence to let this job go if it’s not the right fit for you.
While it is impossible to anticipate every sales job interview question that could be asked, these examples should prepare you for the most important ones and any derivatives that come from them.
Above all, be prepared and be yourself. Your best interviews and outcomes are ahead of you.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in October 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.