Job seekers can prepare for typical interview questions in advance. What are your weaknesses? Where do you see yourself in five years time? No surprises at this front for a job seeker in the 21st century. And that’s exactly the main reason while behavioral questions, assessment tests, and role plays replaced the standard interview questions about your motivation, goals, and weaknesses in big corporations.

Sell me this pen” is the most famous role play in the interviews, and not only because it appeared in the The Wolf of Wall Street movie. Everyone has some pen in their office. It’s a simple object–no elaborate functionality, nothing technical.

Job seekers can hardly reason out of the role play, claiming that they cannot sell something they do not know. What’s more, a typical pen does not have some super strong features, something you can easily base your sales pitch upon. Selling a pen is definitely tougher then selling a MacBook. Just because it is harder to find something special about a pen.

Summarized and underlined, this is an excellent role play for any sales job interview, or for any job in which you’ll have to pitch the customers at some point. Let’s have a look at how you can ace this role play, or at least pass it.


Refusal means no job contract, because without courage there are no sales

Answering interview questions with silence is never good. You can sometimes get away with it though, for example when you answer one out of fifteen questions with silence. Happened in many interviews I led, and sometimes the candidate still got the job.

Role play is not your typical question, however. It’s the most important part of sales interviews. If you refuse to do it, claiming that you were not prepared, or that you need more time to learn about the product (pen in this question), or citing any other reason, they will not hire you.

Mark my words: they do not expect to hear a flawless sales pitch from you, like in a movie. They will train you how to do it perfectly… But they want to see some courage in you. And courage means accepting the challenge, though you may feel unprepared. Bad sales pitch is better than none. Because even with a terrible sales pitch you may close one out of fifty deals. When you do not even try to sell something to the customer, however, you won’t generate any sales volume. First rule to remember: Accept the role play, regardless of how you feel about it.


Best salesmen listen more than talk

For sure you know these salesmen (or people in general) who just keep talking. Nonstop. It’s super annoying spending half an hour with them, either on the phone, or in the room. And they never really generate a decent sales volume, regardless of what they try to sell. Because the best sales talk is always a dialogue. Even when you are selling such a simple thing as a pen–or especially then.

Just imagine it. A simple blue pen, with a logo of some company, lies on the table. And you are supposed to sell it to the interviewer. How will you start? What feature or characteristic of the pen will you point out in your talk, when there are no special features?

That’s really hard to say, unless you know your customer, and what they exactly want to do with that pen. Knowing their purpose, it’s much easier to close the deal. That’s why it is pivotal to ask questions in your role play. And you can start the entire thing with one. Check the following two openings:

I see you are checking out some pens Sir. Can I ask you what do you need the pen for, so I can advise you the most fitting one?

What are you looking for in a perfect pen?

Asking questions, you try to find out more information, which will allow you to lead the sales talk in a meaningful way. On the contrary, if you were just guessing, and started talking about the durability or inexpensiveness of the pen in question (and example), you might miss the target altogether. Perhaps the customer is looking for a classy pen, something to show off in meetings with their business partners. In such a case durability does not matter for them, and inexpensiveness is actually a weakness of the product. Keep it on your mind. The second rule to remember: Ask questions. The best salesmen listen more than talk.

Do not let the interviewer to get into your head

The interviewer may react in different ways to your sales pitch. They may have objections–on purpose, they may try to make you uncomfortable, with yet another question, or yet another objection.

You should not take this personally, or go emotional, or burst out–it will mark the end of your chances to succeed and get the job. At the end of the day you’ll experience a lot of rejection and bad words in your sales job later on. Unless you can sustain it in an interview, you’ll hardly handle the real deal.

Just keep on going. They may ask some ridiculous questions, such as how you’d call the shade of blue of the ink, or how many pages exactly can one write with the pen until it runs out of ink.

Just answer such questions to the best of your knowledge, or give estimations, or simply say “definitely enough pages to justify the price”. It is crucial to keep your composure, regardless of how bizarre the entire role play may seem to you. Rule no. 3: Patiently answer all their questions and objections, do not let them to get into your head, do not get emotional.


Great salesmen are always closing

The best sales guys are always looking for an opportunity to close the deal. It can be after ten seconds with the customer, but also after twenty minutes. Try to watch out for the buying signals from your “customer”.

When they say I like it, or This seems like a good deal, or anything similar, indicating that you convinced them, there’s no need to keep talking for another twenty minutes. Just close the deal. Confirm their opinion “you are right, it is a great deal”, and invite them to proceed to the checkout.

Not every interviewer will make your life super difficult in the role play. Some may show buying signals after a few sentences you say, two questions you ask them. If that’s the case, you should recognize the opportunity and end your pitch with a triumphant closing of the deal. Because that’s exactly what they expect from the very best job candidates. Rule no. 4 to remember: Close the deal when they give you an opportunity to do so.


Do not miss an opportunity to up-sell or cross-sell the customer

I used role plays in interviews quite commonly back in the day, when I was still helping corporations instead of job seekers. “Sell me this pen” wasn’t my favorite, but I used several variations, for example “sell me your mobile phone“, or “sell me this notepad“.

The icing on the cake, something I truly loved, was when the candidate actually tried to up-sell me on something, or cross-sell me some item. And you can use the same technique with sell me this pen question. Is there any notepad on the table, or perhaps a pencil, or another pen?

Once your interviewer stops grilling you with their objections (or questions, or silence), and says they want the pen, why not trying to sell them something more, some other object on the table? For example:

Look at this notepad we have here. The color matches beautifully with the pen, and if you buy it, you will get a ten percent discount, because you bought the entire set. At the end of the day, you need some notepad for your work with the job candidates, to make notes about their answers. Don’t you?

Regardless of whether they buy it or not (as a part of the role play), they will be impressed with your attitude, seeing that you try to maximize the value of each deal. Rule no. 5: If you get an opportunity, try to up-sell or cross-sell the customer.


Conclusion, next steps

Role play is undoubtedly a difficult part of an interview. But as long as you remember the following five rules, you should do well, and pass with flying colors:

  1. Always accept the role play. If you refuse, making excuses, they won’t hire you. Courage matters more than anything else in sales.
  2. Ask questions. The best salesmen listen first and just then talk. You can actually start the entire thing with a question, such as “What do you need a pen for, Sir?”, or “What are you looking for in a perfect pen, Sir?”
  3. Do not let them to stress you out. They may give you strange question, or make pointless objections. It’s all part of the game. Stay courteous and composed, just let it flow. Answer everything to your best knowledge, and do not get nervous or impatient. Play it to the end.
  4. Use the first opportunity to close the deal. As soon as they show some buying intent (I like the pen; what you say makes sense; that’s really a great price, etc), confirm their opinion and ask them to proceed to checkout. Do not talk endlessly if it’s not needed.
  5. If there’s any opportunity, try to sell them also something else. A notepad on a table, or another pen? Once you gained their trust and they decided to open their wallet, try to extract as much value as you can. This attitude will impress your hiring managers…

Sell me this pen is a tricky role play. As long as you follow my advice, however, you should pass it with flying colors. And it doesn’t matter whether they make it easy for you, or purposely make countless objections… I hope you will manage it, and wish you good luck!


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Matthew Chulaw
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