Before we get started let’s get straight on something right out of the gate. Getting a sales job is not terribly hard. What’s very hard is standing out in a field of highly qualified candidates who are all competitively pursuing a quality sales job at a quality company.
I’ve spent nearly two decades as a sales leader, and I know what makes great candidates stand out in the interview process. In this article I’ll give you five sales job interview tips to help you stand out from the rest of the pack. We’re going to get into some human psychology here because you need to be able to understand and leverage irrational human nature to help create an “unfair” advantage for you in standing out among a crowded field of candidates who are all pursuing a really great sales job at a really great company.
The second thing that I want to cover is the aspect of experience. Experience is massively important, and that’s all there is to it. If you have it then fantastic you’ve got a leg up, and more opportunities are available to you. If you don’t have it then you’ll need to go out and get it. Look, you have to be realistic here. If you a) don’t have the requisite experience to apply for a certain sales job or b) don’t know an influential person at that company with the “top-shelf” sales job, then it’s simply not going to be accessible to you. Pouting about it is a waste of your time. Accept this situation and focus your efforts on sales jobs that are more accessible to you.
However, just because you may not have as much experience as the next person does not mean you don’t stand a chance. Experience is helpful in opening doors, and proving success, but it does not guarantee you’ll land the sales job. Ultimately what you really need to do are two things.
1. Stand out among the competition.
You want them to remember you (for the right reasons of course). They have enough bland, vanilla, generic people to consider. Don’t go in competing to be the most generic. Go in competing to be the most unique, the most alpha, the best you.
2. Win the hearts of the interviewers.
There are some basic check boxes that the interviewers are going to be looking at. However, after they’ve interviewed all of the candidates they’re not going to go with the person who was the best “box checker”. They’re going to go with the candidate actually stirred something up inside of them. They’re going to choose the person who got them excited. If you win their hearts, you’ll win the job.
So the million dollar question is how do you pull this off. There are five core strategies that if employed effectively in an interview will render any competition you may have for the job obsolete.
1. Research and Prepare
Yes, this sounds basic, but you’d be really surprised how little people do to prepare for their interview. Learn everything you can about the company. Read through their entire website. Learn about their industry, learn about the problems that they solve and why they matter. Learn how they solve the problems. Read about their corporate vision, and try to get a handle on where their company is strategically going. Read all the news you can about the company, or some of their key-mark clients. However, keep the big picture in mind. Why does the company exist. What’s wrong with the world where their company must exist to combat that wrong and make it right.
Through your interview intentionally weave what you know about the company into the narrative. The power of this knowledge becomes twice as strong if you can weave what the company is about into your purpose. Let them know what your purpose is and how the company is aligned with that. The closer you can align the company’s purpose with yours the more compelling you’ll be. Invite them into a story where you tell them why you care about what they do, why it matters to you, and why you want to be a part of solving the same problem that warrants the company’s existence in the first place.
Furthermore, find out who you’re interviewing with. Yeah, it may sound a bit creepy, but learn about them too. Look at their history, schooling, interests, etc. What you’re looking for is some sort of overlap of experiences and/or interests that you can use to form a sincere connection. If you’re both super into karate, you’re both pilots, you both like woodworking, you’re into chess, etc that goes a long way into forming a true connection that will help you win their heart.
2. Calibrated Questions
Calibrated questions is a term that came into my lexicon thanks to Chris Voss in his paradigm shifting book “Never Split the Difference”. If you’ve not read that book you MUST change that. Go and read it! I don’t care what your profession is, this book will help you become a better negotiator which will have a positive impact on all areas of your life.
Calibrated questions are more open ended in nature and can not be answered with a binary “yes” or “no” (read more here). Towards the beginning of the interview ask the interviewers a couple calibrated questions. For example, ask them to describe the type of person they’re looking for. Who would be would be a perfect fit for this role, and why. Perhaps ask them what it is about you that interested them enough to take the time to interview you. Their answers will be extremely illuminating, and could very well give you all of the high notes that you’ll need to hit on. Calibrated questions offer you the advantage of owning the battle space or playing field.
It’s not too likely that the interviewer will know exactly what you’re doing, but if they are smart and they do see what’s actually going on it will work in your favor. They’ll appreciate that you have the wherewithal to own the conversation, find out what the interviewer’s priorities are, and then capitalize on that info. Calibrated questions and the utilization of the information they reveal put on display your capacity to not just talk, but to listen.
3. Clarity of Purpose
Purpose is powerful. Purpose is at your core. Purpose is your truth. Purpose yields passion. Purpose is meaningful and it resonates at a deep level to those around you. You need to know exactly what you’re about. What is your purpose? If you can’t answer that question then go and figure it out before you continue further. Personally, you need to have complete clarity of purpose. Your purpose is your nexus for passion. Passion is the fuel that will drive unabated action. Purpose and passion are both extremely powerful, and they ring true at a very deep level.
The interviewer will be talking to a ton of different people and they’ll hear a lot of the same ole’ ho hom “textbook response” answers from other candidates. There is no feeling or emotion in that. However, If you clearly articulate your purpose, and the passion derived from your purpose, to you interviewer, you are presenting them with your absolute truth. Articulating your purpose cuts through the BS fluff, and other rehearsed predetermined “correct” answers. Connecting the interviewer with your purpose allows you to connect with them on a deeply human level. This deep human connection will help you win their hearts. They will remember you.
Let them know in no uncertain terms what you’re purpose is, and how working for the company aligned with your purpose. Tell them why you’ll pour your passion into the company, and what that will look like.
4. Quiet Confidence
Sales is NOT for the timid and meek. Sales is a zip code occupied exclusively by the confident. Now, I do have appreciation for what I’m getting into here. Confidence is a funny thing. You may be sitting here thinking having confidence is easier said than done. Yes, you’re exactly right. You may also be thinking that confidence is something that you either have or you don’t. Well, you’re partially right here. You’re correct in that confidence is hard to fake, and it can wax and wane depending on life’s circumstances. However, you’re wrong if you think only certain people are blessed with it in that it’s a “you’re born with it or you’re not” thing.
Let’s take a moment and frame this in the opposite manner. If somebody presents themselves as less than confident to you, would you hire them? No of course not! Confidence is about believing in yourself and if you don’t believe in yourself then why should anyone else? Let me be clear about one thing though. Don’t confuse confidence with brash cockiness. Don’t be that person. Quiet confidence is the ultimate form of confidence. Quiet confidence is the powerful intangible that lets you radiate power and command without having to exercise any of that power. Quiet confidence can’t easily be faked. Quiet confidence is earned. Think of it as emanating the feeling that you know you will be a success because you have been a success. You know you can do it, because you’ve risen to other challenges before.
Practice purposely exuding quiet confidence in your life. Put a conscious effort towards that, and not only will you improve your chances of winning the job, but you’ll see your life change. I’ll write more on confidence later, but just appreciate that confidence is 20% experience, and 80% decision.
5. Close the Deal
This is really simple, but 99% of prospects don’t “close the deal” when it comes to the job interview. They’re passive. Passivity is NOT what any interviewer wants in a salesperson. They want someone who knows how to tactfully close the deal. This does not necessarily mean that you force the interviewer into submission on the spot and get them to extend the job offer to you on the spot where it’s consummated with a handshake. No, I’m talking about clearly a) summarizing the meeting you just had, and b) setting up clear next steps. Again, don’t be passive or timid about this.
1. Meeting summary
First, take a moment to ask them if they are left with any lingering questions or concerns that have not yet been addressed. Once you’re past that move to the close. At the beginning of the meeting you asked calibrated questions. They responded to those calibrated questions by providing you with revealing information relative to their true needs and wants. You then leveraged that information through the course of the interview to present yourself as the solution to their needs/wants. At the close of your time summarize all of this. Concisely repeat their needs/wants. Remind them of exactly how you address every single one of them. Crescendo with your most powerful note by tying everything back into your purpose. Tell them in no uncertain terms that you want the job, and how your purpose makes you not just the best choice, but the only choice they really have.
2. Setting up clear next steps
Ask them to define what their next steps are. Ask for their timelines. Ask when you’ll hear from them, and ask how you’ll hear from them. Generally, it’s good to not leave this completely open ended and solely subjective to their timeline. Unless there’s some extenuating circumstances it’s good to let them know you’re a hot item that others are vying for. Tell them you’re interviewing with other companies. Let them feel the pressure that you’re not infinitely available. We’re talking simple supply and demand here. It may even be a good idea to let them know you’re interviewing with their competition as that may strike a competitive cord with them. This feeds their irrational emotional side and can easily frame you in a totally different light. Be careful though because you’re playing with TNT here.
If you can skillfully tie all five of these elements into any sales job interview you’ll change the landscape in your favor. Some would call this an unfair advantage. That’s fine. It’s not about being fair. It’s about consciously taking advantage of every single element available to you. You’re dealing with humans and humans are irrational creatures. Know that going into it, know how to use it to your favor, and get the result you want.