As a Sales Manager, a crucial part of your role is recruitment – selecting new members of staff. You want talented and committed individuals who can truly add something to your company; who are driven and passionate, as well as skilled. You want people who can excel as part of your team.
The interview, therefore, is hugely important. This face-to-face meeting, which may be less than an hour if you’re seeing several people in one day, is often the only window you have to establish whether a candidate is suitable for a prized place in your sales team. The way a candidate performs in interview will ultimately inform the decision you make on the hire.
Recruitment can be time consuming and expensive. HR Review recently reported a study from Oxford Economics that calculated the cost of replacing staff at just over £30,000 per person. That’s the price of recruiting and integrating a new employee and there’s a cost in terms of time, too – the same report stated that it takes 28 weeks to reach what is called Optimum Productivity.
In other words, that’s the period it takes to get a new team member up to speed, and that requires time investment from colleagues and line manager – whether that comes in the form of sales training or ongoing mentoring.
The bottom line is that recruitment is a significant investment for a company.
Get it wrong, make a bad hire and you will only find yourself having to recruit again, so it pays to get it right first time. That means being prepared – and by breaking the interview process down into three stages you’ll be in a great position to make the right decision.
Step 1: Pre-interview candidate checks
It’s vital that you prepare ahead of the interview. You should already have a clear understanding of who you are looking for in terms of the type of person you want to fill the available role.
Now it’s time to get to know the candidates as well as you can before you meet them. Look through their CV, check out any extra material they have provided you with; you could even explore their social media channels.
Social media gives hiring managers the opportunity to find out more about candidates than we ever before. It’s a rare candidate indeed that doesn’t have a Facebook or Twitter account; what they post gives an insight into their character, personality and interests. Of course, social networking sites are personal accounts so don’t completely form your opinion of someone from what you can see – such material can help to give a 360 view of a potential candidate.
LinkedIn can be a powerful platform for candidates, so if you’re checking out a person’s credentials beyond the CV, start here. The sharpest professionals will understand that the networking platform is a digital extension of their CV, listing employment history and achievements. You may be able to identify connections, and read testimonials from colleagues and former managers. You may consider anyone who is using LinkedIn as a means of building a personal brand to be a step ahead of someone who has no presence on there.
Step 2: Setting interview questions
Of course, you will have areas of questioning specific to the role being discussed and also aligned to the objectives of the company. You will also have some questions aimed at the candidate’s job history, experience and personality.
Ideally, the questions you ask should involve a mix of those categorised in this article – Skill-Based, Situational Sales and Fit and Motivation Sales interview questions.
Skill-Based questions assess a candidate’s understanding of the sales process, customer relationships and technology; sales professionals today invariably need to understand and interpret analytics and data. Situational Sales puts the candidate into a fictional situation – though also one that he or she will realistically be involved in should they land the job role – to see how they would react. Fit and Motivation Sales taps into personality and behaviour.
Consider including some of these questions:
1 – Tell me about a difficult pitch you’ve had. What did you do to turn it around?
A perfect pitch is key in sales – you need to make sure they are capable and confident enough to try and turn it around if it is heading in the wrong direction. They may not have got the ‘yes’ they were looking for but this information will provide an insight into how the candidate performed under pressure, and how they reacted to a difficult situation.
2 – What is your most significant career accomplishment to date?
Lou Adler – author of The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired – spent ten years researching the best interview question and this was it. It will tell you about someone’s successes, while enabling them to show off the achievement they are most proud of.
3 – How do you enjoy spending time when you aren’t at work?
It is important to get to know your interviewee as a person. This means understanding how they spend their free time which can help you to get a clearer idea of how they would fit into your company’s culture. It may also help to make a judgement on how they would fit in – or not – with other team members.
4 – What is your greatest weakness?
Candidates are fine-tuned to selling the very best about themselves, so this question flips the interview on its head. It’s a question which is virtually guaranteed to draw a pause from the interviewee as they ponder the answer. What they say provides an insight into their ability to self-appraise, their honesty, and obviously the area of their skillset which needs most improvement.
5 – What could (this company) do better?
This questions draws on two areas – firstly, a knowledge of your company, illustrating a candidate’s depth of research and understanding of its history, customer base and operations. Secondly, it’s an opportunity for them to hint at what they can contribute to its success in the future.
Step 3: The Interview
The interview itself is a crucial part of the recruitment process, of course. Solid preparation, as we have covered, is key but that time you spend with the candidate in front of you will ultimately influence your decision.
It’s in this environment that you will match the person to the CV and get that vital first-hand glimpse into how they could actually fit into the role. A golden rule – don’t forget that the interview is a two-way process and the candidate will also be appraising you as their potential future manager; as much as recruitment is about someone impressing you to win the job it’s also about you, as an extension of the company, convincing them to join and commit to you.
Follow these 10 tips for the interview:
- Set the agenda by by introducing yourself and your own role within the company, succinctly and briefly as possible.
- Introduce a colleague, too, if one is present – and it’s always advisable to have a second opinion through recruitment.
- Provide an outline of the interview format, including the time it should take – one hour, for example – and whether there will be second interviews.
- Outline the job role and expectations. And then stop talking – if you spend more than 25% of the interview talking, according to this article on Monster, then you’re talking too much.
- Move onto your questions – and allow the candidate to talk and answer properly.
- Listen – so you can react to answers and follow up if you require more detail.
- Analyse body language and tone of voice. Picture them talking to clients or running through a presentation in front of colleagues.
- Don’t accept generic or flippant answers. It’s too easy for a candidate to state they are the ‘best person’ for the job or that they ‘have a record of success in sales’. Ask why – what was their biggest success story, how was it achieved, what was their role in a project? Ask for specifics.
- Leave time at the end of the interview for any questions from the candidate.
- Conclude by outlining a timeline for the recruitment, to give the candidate an expectation of when a decision will be made.
Step 4: Post-interview debrief
It’s important to have a post-interview debrief and ideally this should occur as soon after the interview as possible while the finer details are still fresh in your mind.
Recap on the candidate’s answers and interview performance, and discuss their merits with the colleague who attended the interview with you. Did they match up to your expectations? Were there any areas of concern? How did they rate alongside other candidates? Do you want or need to see them again?
Your challenge is finding the best fit for your challenge. What do you need in this role? Does it require someone who is the finished article, or someone who can develop given the right nurturing and coaching?
You may not find the perfect salesperson, but someone with enough ambition and ability to get there one day.
Do you have any insights into preparing for sales interviews? If so, please share your comments below.