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Ask the Right Interview Questions

Learning Objectives

After completing this module, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain how interviews help to determine emotional intelligence as well as professional competency.
  • Explain why emotional intelligence is important to succeed in sales.

Ask the Right Interview Questions

Now that we know the skills we need from our new sales reps and we have a structure for the entire hiring process, it’s time to plan what we’re going to ask in our interviews. Working chronologically through the resume helps you identify trends across their career, but it’s also important to make sure you understand the candidate’s strengths when it comes to the softer skills (eg: emotional intelligence). The right interview questions can help you understand both.

Competency

As we discussed in Learn How to Screen Candidates, a chronological interview gives you an excellent opportunity to identify patterns and themes in a candidate’s prior work experience. It's worth looking for themes, such as how well they've adapted (or not) to change, advanced in their career, or whether they are continuously gaining new skills.

But if you really want to get to know whether a candidate is competent enough for the job, be on the lookout for these five things during the interview process:

  • Responsibilities/Success — Ask the candidate to describe their current role. This will give you a better understanding of how much responsibility they have. Also ask them how they measured success, what metrics they used, and if they met them.
  • Accomplishments—Ask the candidate to tell you about their proudest accomplishment, and listen for how well that aligns with their responsibilities. This helps you determine how well their accomplishment aligns to their stated responsibilities and success measurements.
  • Self-awareness—Is the candidate self-aware enough to explain what they do differently now, based on what they’ve learned in their role since they started? How do they think their current VP views them and how they’re improving?
  • Leadership preferences—Knowing what the candidate appreciates about their current/former leadership can help you determine if they’ll gel with your leadership style. This can also indicate if they’re a culture fit with your team.
  • Motivation—It’s good to know what motivates each candidate. Ask them this question: Why are you leaving your current job?

Emotional Intelligence

Once you know the candidate is competent, it’s time to test their softer skills. These are harder to measure, but can be a valuable predictor of future success. Technology can’t replace soft skills—emotional intelligence, good attitudes, and self-confidence. The most successful salespeople know this and work to develop strong relationships with their customers and prospects—which requires, for starters, strong emotional intelligence.

“[A sales rep’s] goal is to intrigue the prospect by being engaging, exposing pain, and positioning the realm of the possible. Their goal is to get off the phone with you.”
—David Priemer, VP, Commercial Sales, Salesforce (Former)

So how do you identify whether your star candidate has emotional intelligence? Here are some things you can look for to help determine that:

  • What’s their superpower—They might not be able to fly or make themselves invisible, but everyone has a superpower. People see the world differently and value different skills. Knowing this helps you understand their strengths, the diversity the candidate brings, and highlights their self-awareness.
  • Checking In—When a salesperson calls the same customer every week to check in, it wears on customers. (And why wouldn’t it? We’re all busy). So what you want to know is this: How does your candidate approach customers, connect with them to add value (and perhaps new business) with every interaction while not turning off the customer?
  • Skills for Success—Ask your candidate what skills they believe a salesperson needs to succeed at your company. This helps you not only understand how well they’ve researched your company (a good insight into how they’d approach the sales discovery process), it gives you insight into what skills they value, including the softer skills essential to success in sales.
  • Coaching—Everyone needs coaching at some point, no matter how seasoned you are in sales. Ask your candidate to list any areas where they can use a little extra coaching. Get them to talk about the skills they don’t have, but would like to hone. This gives you a sense of how much support they need, and it can tell you how self-aware they are.
  • Failure—When you’re moving fast to grow your business, there’s always the potential for some failure. Ask your candidate to tell you about a time they failed at something. This can give you a sense of how and when candidates are willing to take risks—and what they did to learn from those mistakes.
  • Trust—Developing trust with prospects is key to closing a deal. So it’s good to find out what your candidate would say in the first 20 seconds of a cold call to keep the prospect from hanging up. How do they articulate the value of what they’re selling in a way that can resonate with their potential customers? Understand how they prioritize their messaging and delivery in an environment where the fight for attention is fierce.
  • What Sets You Apart— Can the candidate articulate what makes them a top performer? What specific skills do they bring to the table that differentiate themselves in the current environment? Pay attention to their answer, and you’ll learn a lot about how they define success.
  • Beating the Competition—Only people who are self-aware and emotionally intelligent can clearly identify their weaknesses. They can look at a missed sale and say where they let the competition win. This is a good thing! Ask them to walk you through what went wrong, and how they got beat by their competition. You will see where they need to grow.

What’s Next

Now you know the skills you want to target, you have the right structure for hiring the best candidates to support your growth, and you’re ready to hire a killer sales team.

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