Top Ten Tips for Intrviewers

  1. Screen Candidates by Telephone
  2. Set the Scene
  3. Have a Standard Set of Questions
  4. First Impressions are Critical
  5. Conduct an Interview, not a Conversation
  6. Ask Behavioral Questions
  7. Observe Body Language
  8. Take Notes
  9. End the Interview Graciously
  10. Summarize the Interview

1 Screen Candidates by Telephone

Call potential hires on the telephone and ask a few questions about his or her CV along with some additional questions. You might ask, “what interests you about this job?” or “why do you want to make a change at this point in your career?” This is also the time ask any ‘knock-out’ questions such as, “are you willing to travel two days per week?” or “are you comfortable with a commission-only compensation plan?”

Because most salespeople often use the telephone in dealing with customers, they should sound upbeat, positive and somewhat enthusiastic. If the candidate lacks these qualities or doesn’t impress you, he or she is unlikely to impress your customers.

Only move forward with a formal interview if you liked what you heard. While there are no guarantees, if the person sounds good over the telephone, he or she is likely to be even better in person. If you get poor answers to your questions, or the potential candidate doesn’t communicate well over the telephone, go no further.

A six to ten-minute call may save you hours of wasted time.


2 Set the Scene

Here is a typical interview process:

  1. Greet the candidate and spend a few moments chatting and building a friendly rapport.
  2. If the candidate hasn’t already completed an application for or the Sales Temperament Assessment, have him or her do it now.
  3. Again, put the candidate at ease with brief small talk.
  4. Give the candidate an overview of what will be happening and what you want to accomplish during the interview and how long the interview will likely run. We recommend a 30 to 45-minute first interview.
  5. Explain that you will be using a set of standard questions in order to be fair and consistent in the interview process (See Tip #3). Then conduct the initial interview.
  6. Unless you feel the candidate is likely to be asked back for a second interview, terminate the interview at this point. Otherwise, go on to the next step.
  7. Describe the job, the company and any other pertinent information. Tell the candidate what will happen during the next interview and what preparation, if any, will be necessary.
  8. Answer any of the candidate’s questions.
  9. Set a time for the next interview.
  10. Close the interview on a positive note.


3 Have a Standard Set of Questions

Having a standard set of questions gives you a number of benefits:

  • It keeps you on track
  • It provides consistency to your interview process
  • You get to know what to expect in a way of responses
  • Helps avoid leading questions
  • Stops you from asking questions that you shouldn’t ask (age, etc.)
  • Helps minimize the halo effect (see Tip #4)

We have developed a set of questions for interviewing salespeople that is available to our clients. There are 17 must-ask questions for the first interview and another 17 for a second or follow-up interview.

One of the big features of the Sales Interview Questionnaire (SIQ) is that it not only tells you what questions to ask but explains why you’re asking them and what to look for in an answer.

Download your copy of the SIQ today if you haven’t already done so.


4 First Impressions are Critical

How you view the candidate is usually how your customers will get their first impression about your company. Any salesperson knows the value of a first contact and most human resource people will tell you that the interview is “as good as it gets.”

Has the person dressed appropriately for the interview? If the candidate is going to err, it’s better to err on the side of overdressing. It’s easier for a man to remove a tie or take off a jacket than it is to find one to wear if the situation warrants it.

Be aware of the “halo effect”—a knee-jerk positive or negative first impression based solely on a previous experience with another individual or circumstance. Usually this happens when a candidate subconsciously reminds you of someone you like (or dislike) and, no matter what the person says, you’re blinded by the halo. As a result, you may ignore potential problem areas in people you like and areas of strength in those you dislike.


5 Conduct an Interview, not a Conversation

This is not the time for a chat with a candidate. You can do that over lunch or some other time. It’s also not the time to explain all about the position the person is being considered for. You should do that after you get your questions answered.

The purpose of the initial interview is to see if the candidate is someone you want to bring back for a second interview.

An effective interviewer talks (asks questions) about 20 percent of the time and listens for the remaining 80 percent. I’ve sat in too many interviews where the interviewer did most of the talking and, in so doing, gave the candidate enough information to give the interviewer the answers he was looking for when he finally did ask a question.

For example, telling someone that your company prides itself on teamwork and then asking the candidate what type of work environment they thrive in is most likely to solicit an answer that corresponds with this information, whether or not it’s really true of the candidate.

If a sales manager says he’s looking for aggressive, take-charge people, the candidate will fashion his responses accordingly and, all of sudden, become an aggressive take-charge person.


6 Ask Behavioral Questions

This type of question will get you more thought-out answers as well as a picture of what the person has done in the past. This is the best indicator of what he’ll likely do in the future.

If the candidate has mentioned on his CV that he can manage change or that he is a high achiever, you might ask, “tell me about a time where you had to manage change,” or “can you give me an example of some of your achievements?” You’re getting somewhere if the candidate can back up his CV with real examples.

Avoid questions like, “if you were a plate of food, what would you be?” These are pointless and fairly insulting questions.


7 Observe Body Language

Is the person relaxed and confident? Do they maintain reasonable eye contact? Is there a change in demeanor when answering certain questions? This might indicate that you touched a nerve somewhere and you should investigate the situation more fully.

Also, keep your own body language and facial expressions from indicating approval or disapproval when the candidate is speaking. A candidate who senses approval may try too hard to please and a candidate who senses disapproval may shut down.


8 Take Notes

Don’t write down everything the candidate tells you. That makes some people uncomfortable. You want to have enough notes so that you can remember the candidate.

When I’m using the Sales Interview Questionnaire, I often just rate the answer rather than make a note of it or I may just jot down one or two words. Often that is all it takes to recall the detail.


9 End the Interview Graciously

If starting an interview is awkward for many people, ending it is even more of a challenge. Many interviews drag on past the point where the interviewer has enough information to make a decision. This is often because the interview doesn’t know how to end the interview graciously.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Set a time limit at the beginning.
  • Give the candidate clues that the interview is coming to a close. Some clues might be to stop making notes and close your portfolio. Look at your watch or refer to another appointment.
  • End on a gracious and appropriate note. Thank the candidate for coming in and let him know when the final decision is made.
  • Make supportive but non-committal comments such as, “I enjoyed meeting you,” or “you have good communication skills,” or “I am pleased to see that you have strong experience.”

In addition to thanking the candidate for being there and telling him what will happen next, you might say something like, “I want to thank you for being here today. I very much enjoyed chatting with you. What is going to happen next is that we will review the results of all interviews and, if we want to pursue the opportunity with you, we’ll contact you by (date). If you don’t hear back from us by then, it’s safe to assume that we have selected another candidate.”


10 Summarize the Interview

After the interview, take time to write down a couple of paragraphs of your general impression of the candidate. Does the person have relevant experience? Do they have proven abilities? What was their attitude and enthusiasm level? Were they energetic, resourceful, sincere, etc.?