Career of a sales representative (or a sales manager) belongs to the best jobs you can have in a corporate world. I have experienced the following situation numerous times: The best salesmen in the company earned more money than the CEOs. Basic salary, sales commissions, tangible and intangible benefits–all of them make sales a truly rewarding field of employment. But you have to be good at what you do. And at a first place, you have to get the job…


How to succeed in an interview for a sales position?

You will have to demonstrate a few things while answering our questions. First and foremost, your sales skills. We may test them directly with a role play. Secondly, your understanding of the business niche, the customers, their needs and desires. We will test your knowledge of these things with a few targeted questions.

And lastly but not least, your understanding of the product or service we want you to sell, and some enthusiasm for our product (one can never excel in selling something, unless they like the product,unless they honestly believe in the value the product can bring to the customers).


Do you have a salesman in you?

Interviews for sales jobs belong to the most difficult interviews, for one simple reason: it is hard to convince the recruiters of your sales skills, unless you really have them. If you apply for a supervisory job, a manual labor, or perhaps for a role in IT sector, you can sometimes convince the interviewers to hire you, even if you do not know much about the field.

Good communication skills, a little practice before the interview, and being lucky with the HR generalist or inexperienced recruiter who leads the interview with you, will often do the trick…

In sales interviews, however, when the role play is one of the most important parts of the hiring process, it is impossible to pretend to be good in selling something. Either you have the skills and demonstrate them in a role play, or we won’t hire you for the position…


List of most common questions for the sales interview

Role play is not the only challenge that awaits you on a big day. We will ask you many other questions, trying to understand your communication skills, motivation, attitude to work, and other things. Let’s have a look at some of the questions.


What features and benefits of our product will you present to the customers when pitching them?

Research about their product portfolio before the start of your interview. Read customer reviews. Buy their principal product if you can, and try it. Study it in detail. Find the good things, find the bad things (if there are any).

Personal experience with a product is your best bet to understand why the customers should have it. Needless to say, you will impress the interviewers telling them that you tried their product/service before the interview, just to understand it better, just to get ready to start selling it.

Illustration of a job interview. We can see a man and a woman on the picture, talking in a nice office. The man holds some papers in his hands, and the woman has a glass of water.

Your task is to locate hundred potential customers on a new market. How will you proceed?

There are many ways of looking for new customers. For example you can say you will start with your personal network of connections. You can also leverage the power of social media, online and offline directories, basically anything.

The key is to show the interviewers that you understand the right way of doing things: 1. Understanding who your customer is (gender, income level, occupation, interests, etc.), 2. Locating such customers on a new market, with the help of all available tools, both free and paid.


Special Tip: Download a full list of sales interview questions in a one page long .PDF document, and practice your interview answers anytime later:

What are the most common objections you face as a sales person?

Objections. We hate them, and we love them, because objections help us to become better salesmen. Customers will have all kinds of objections. About the price, the usability, the guarantees, and of course the most popular objections that have a sole purpose–to avoid purchasing a product, without touching a sales person.

To such objections belong: I have no money, I must consult my husband before making this purchase, I can not tell you now, but I will call you two weeks later, etc.

Show the interviewers that you understand the main objections, and that you are ready to face them. Think about each objection for a couple of minutes and imagine how you would react to it, trying to not lose the customer, trying to eventually convince them to make a purchase.


How do you move forward after a series of rejections?

Every NO we hear in sales moves us one step closer to the next deal we will close. I know it is just a phrase, but it is true. Sales is a game of numbers, and unless you are totally terrible in selling, or you sell a product which is a complete crap, you will eventually close some deals.

Try to demonstrate your optimistic attitude in an interview. Tell us that you embrace rejections, because you understand they belong to professional selling, and because certain number of rejections is a necessary part of closing the deal with one customer. We can not avoid rejections in sales. But we can improve our attitude to rejection.

* Special Tip: Check also the Sales Engineer Interview Questions.


How do you feel about cold calling? Do you have any experience with cold calls?

Cold calling is not as popular as it has been fifteen years ago, and some salesmen actually question the effectiveness of this method. On the other hand, sometimes we have no other option to making a call to a person we do not know, and in some industries cold calling is till the nr. 1 selling technique.

Nobody likes to call someone they do not know, trying to sell them something. I do not know a single sales person who enjoys cold calling… But I know a few salesmen who are really good at it, and make a lot of money sitting on the phone.

Tell us that you are not afraid to call a person you’ve never talked to before. Tell us that you do not want to banish a single sales technique, that you are ready to give a shot to all of them, including cold calling.

Do you prefer to be paid on a commission basis, or to get a fixed salary each month?

A tricky question indeed. An excellent salesman will always choose to be paid on commission basis, because they trust their abilities, and know that they will make more money this way.

But it is worth risking this answer in your interview? Fixed salary means a steady income, and a feeling of security when it comes to paying monthly bills. And we all have to pay them.

Perhaps you can say that you prefer the combination of the two–a basic salary, not a huge one, just some sort of a plateau that will hold you above the water during a difficult month (for example the one when you experience a series of rejections), and the commissions from the sales that exceed the level of your basic salary.


What do you consider the best deal you have ever closed in your life?

You have many options here. You can talk about the deal you made the most money from (buying something for cheap and selling it with a huge profit margin).

But you can also look at the question from a different perspective, and narrate a deal that took all your effort an energy to close. A case when you faced many objections, when you nearly gave up on the customer, but eventually managed to convince them to make a purchase. This is a kind of a deal we learn the most from…

One way or another, you should talk with enthusiasm in your voice, and do your best to convince us about your passion for professional selling.


Can you tell me how your ability to sell things and ideas helped you in your personal life?

We are selling something all our life. We sell our thoughts and opinions, we sell our ideas. We sell to our friends, colleagues, peers, parents, children, partners.

It feels almost harsh to say it, but your ability to sell your ideas (or your skills, opinions, thoughts, strengths) determines a level of success you will achieve in your life.

Now it doesn’t mean that you have to be an aggressive salesman, someone who always tries to convince the other party of the truth. There are many other, subtler ways of selling our ideas… Think humility, compassion, understanding, recognition of another person’s opinion, etc.

But back to the question: Narrate any situation when your sales skills helped you. It can be finding a new girlfriend, getting accepted to a college of your choice, or even getting a job. It can be convincing your children to do the right thing, or your friends to follow you on an important journey…


How would you ensure to meet your sales targets every month?

Targets, targets, targets–everyone keeps talking about them. Our economy is based on reaching targets, and these targets have a strong tendency to grow infinitely. Sad but true.

Show us that you can plan your work, that you know that success in selling lies primarily in doing the activity–meeting customers, trying to sell the product.

An interesting approach is to learn (after some time in the business) how many meetings you need, in average, to close one deal. It can be three, five, ten, a hundred. A number of rejections that precedes a deal differs from product to product, from salesman to salesman, from one sales technique to another. Only experience will tell.

After few months in business, however, you will know–at least approximately. Knowing how many meetings (phone calls) you need to make one sale, and counting how many sales you need to reach the target for a given month, you will be able to plan the number of meetings for each day in work… And you will reach the target (unless your employer set a totally unrealistic target, which happens sometimes).


Try to sell me this mobile phone/pen (any other object they have on their table).

A role play–the trickiest part of an interview. Most job seekers are afraid of it, but some can’t wait for it to come … because they are so good at it.

You should remember that the HR managers do not expect to hear a perfect sales pitch from you in an interview. They just expect you to accept the exercise, to give it your best shot, to ask questions, to address their objections.

A detail explanation on how to ace a role play in an interview exceeds the purpose of this article, but I hope that you got the basic idea, after everything you have read on this page…


Behavioral questions in a sales interview

Apart from the questions we just described, most interviewers will ask you also some behavioral questions. Your answers to these questions help us to understand your attitude to various situations that happen in the workplace.

To common behavioral questions belong:

  • Describe a situation when you reached a goal and tell us how you achieved it.
  • Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important. How did you eventually overcome that?
  • Describe the biggest failure of your professional career.
  • Describe a conflict you had with your colleague.

Read our article to see more behavioral questions, and to learn how to address them.


Every detail matters

The way you walk, talk, the way you shake hands with us, and the way you conduct yourself in an interview–it all tells us something about your personality.

Nonetheless, the last question (the role play, when we ask you to try to sell us some simple item) is the most important question in most sales interviews. But every answer matters, every detail counts, especially if you compete with many other people for the job (which will always be the case in the best companies).

Will you be the one who succeeds? Will you outclass your competitors in an interview? The answer depends mostly on you, and on the time you devote to prepare for your interview, and to improve your sales skills…


Continue your interview preparation with other articles on Interview Penguin

  • Behavioral interview questions – Short analysis of nine common behavioral questions you may face in your sales interview. Learn why the interviewers ask each question, and how you will make a good impression on them.
  • Body language in an interview – What do your gestures and movements say about you? Can we control our non-verbal communication?
  • Interview Success Package – Running out of time? Interviewing for a job tomorrow morning? Check fantastic answers to thirty most common interview questions, including both personal and behavioral questions.
Matthew Chulaw
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