What to Know Before You Interview Your Next Sales Candidate

Written by
Lucas Price
May 2, 2023
4 min

Just how important is the interview process to find the right candidate for a sales role? Given that 46% of new sales hires fail in the first year, the interview process is essential to not only selecting the right hire but also setting them up for success.

The consequences of new sales hiring failing in the first year can be quite significant. First, it can lead to potential lost revenue as an inappropriate hire may not be able to generate leads or close deals to meet quota. Second, the organization may incur additional costs to recruit and train a more suitable hire.

High turnover rates negatively impact company morale and culture. Poor sales hires may also lead to burnout and additional turnover as team members take on additional work to compensate for lost revenue and opportunities. It’s easy to see why getting a sales hire right is so important.

Having a solid interview process based on individual role competencies and goals is the first step to finding a hire that meets your organizational needs and goals.

Define the Role Before Recruiting or Interviewing

Before you get started on recruiting candidates or interviewing, take time to define the role carefully. This step may seem like an obvious one, but you may be surprised when you look at your role in more detail and see it’s vague or dated. Job descriptions are often put on the back burner or used as wishlists. For best results, take time to be specific and consider competencies important in the role. These questions can be used to brainstorm and create a successful job description.

Put the Candidate at Ease

To start things out on a positive note, work on putting the candidate at ease. Job interviews are often stressful, and even the most practiced candidate can feel nervous. Begin with some small talk and an easy question to help the candidate relax, open up, and be more candid with their answers.

Give the Candidate Your Full Attention

Next, prioritize the candidate and the interview experience. In other words, listen actively to what the candidate says and be sure to engage with them throughout the interview. Avoid distractions such as your cell phone or computer. Be aware of anything that may give the candidate the impression you’re not paying attention, such as using your laptop.

If you need your computer to take notes (more on that later), just be sure to let them know what you’re doing. By giving the candidate and the interview your full attention, you’ll be able to better assess their suitability, the role, their abilities, and their experience.

Build Rapport with the Candidate

Building a strong rapport with candidates is essential for creating a comfortable environment. Doing so will encourage them to provide honest responses. Starting off easy and demonstrating that you’re paying attention are good starting places. You can also focus on asking questions that allow the candidate to showcase their skills and experiences in a favorable light. Avoid putting the candidate on the spot or asking questions that may make someone feel defensive or uncomfortable.

Prepare Your Questions in Advance

Have your questions prepared ahead of time. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions off the cuff but focus on planning out the interview rather than coming up with questions on the fly. Studies have shown that structured interviews are highly predictive of a candidate’s success. Given that a failed sales hire costs over 70% of their annual quota in lost productivity, it quite literally pays to invest in preparing for the interview.

That way, you’ll be sure to cover all the necessary topics, stay organized and focused, and make a strong first impression. It’s a good idea to include both open-ended and close-ended questions and behavioral-based questions that require the candidate to provide specific examples of their skills and experiences.

Know What You’re Looking for in an Answer

In addition to your planned questions, have an idea of follow-up questions you can ask based on the candidate's responses. Also, have an idea of what you’re looking for in the candidate’s answers, such as the ability to problem solve, communication skills, or work well on a team. Unpredictable processes drive away top performers as these candidates prefer structured interviews. The initial legwork of coming up with follow-up questions and ideas for answers conveys that your organization is fair, inclusive, and rigorous.

Do: Take Notes, Don’t: Make Judgements

When it comes to taking notes, make sure your notes capture what the candidate says, not your judgments. This technique will help you remember key details and serve as a reference for assessing candidates later on. Let the candidate share their experiences and ideas so you can promote an open dialogue.

Avoid making judgments or assumptions in your notes (especially those related to physical appearance or characteristics), as they can cloud your assessment and distract you from what the candidate is sharing. Likewise, don’t write off candidates based on one answer or aspect of their interview. Take the time to review all the information and consider each candidate's overall qualifications and suitability for the role.

Leave Time for the Candidate’s Questions

Don't forget to leave time for the candidate's questions. Recruiting great candidates can be challenging, and they will likely have questions about the role and the company. Providing them with the opportunity to ask questions can also be telling about their suitability for an open position.

Assess Candidates with an Interview Scorecard

A scoring rubric can help you objectively evaluate critical factors regarding the candidate’s ability to succeed in the role. This interview scorecard should be focused on evaluating the candidate’s ability to achieve specific goals and competencies important to the role and your organization. Avoid scoring how the candidate answers each question; this only brings judgments and assumptions into the interview.

This structured method of analyzing candidates promotes objectivity, minimizes personal biases, and reveals trends that can be used to improve your interview process. It guides hiring managers and other stakeholders to focus on job-related criteria rather than personal preferences or first impressions. This ensures that the best candidates are chosen based on their ability to perform the job.

Conducting interviews can be challenging, but preparation and a well-thought process are the keys to making them successful. The candidates you hire are among the most important decisions you'll make at your organization, so taking the time to conduct a thoughtful and effective interview is well worth it.

Spot A-players early by building a systematic interview process today.

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