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Interviewing for a Sales Job: Selling Yourself

“Salespeople don’t have job interviews, they make very important sales calls”.

Despite this reality, many candidates approach the interview too casually, making failure that much more likely.

Many naive salespeople believe that selling is simply a matter of selling yourself. Equally, a large number regard the job interview process as a series of comfortable chats within which you try to make a good impression. In reality, the interview is a vital sales call that demands all the commitment, consideration, preparation, attention to detail and effective presentation that should be given to any crucial appointment.

Like any first contact with a prospect, qualification of the situation is of paramount importance, establish your customer/interviewer needs and relevance of your own skills and experience. This can only be achieved by ensuring the right questions are asked at the right time, as well as being able to answer opposing questions in a way that will win the interviewer's confidence.

In other words, have your questions ready and be ready for the questions.

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Agenda Setting

The most important effective interview is the one in which the applicant gets to know everything about the job and the interviewer discovers everything about the candidate. It's therefore up to you to ensure those ends are achieved by preparing the interview structure that guarantees maximum benefits from the time invested.

Proposing an agenda for the meeting, containing the topics you'd like to address, will nearly always be greeted positively. After all, salespeople are expected to be proactive and such agenda setting will be appreciated, as long as it also addresses the anticipated needs of the interviewer.

"Thank you for considering me for this job. It would be very helpful if you would give me an overview of what you would like to achieve from this meeting so that I can mention any additional items of my own."

Or whatever works for you. Don't forget, the degree of control you have over the meeting will be perceived as some measure of your ability to control a sales call. <Back to top>

Ready Questions

Consider the sort of questions a well-prepared sales professional should be asking himself before the interview:

  • What kind of selling job, with which kind of company, offering what kind of product will most advance my experience and thus my market value?
  • Am I confident this company has an expanding future?
  • What are the real prospects for career advancement and to what degree is this evident within the existing sales force?
  • What will be the cost of leaving behind my current pipeline of prospects and on-going negotiations?
  • Have I really exhausted all possibilities of job satisfaction with my existing employer? <Back to top>

After the First Interview

  • Are the sales targets really achievable?
  • What's the real income potential for the first year based on the performance of the existing sales force?
  • Is the OTE realistic?
  • How much and what kind of training will I need to succeed in this job and how does it compare with that being proposed by the potential employer?
  • To what degree will the financial and other benefits of the job offset the additional costs and inconvenience of relocating?
  • Am I convinced that the products/services I shall be selling will command my absolute belief and commitment?
  • Do I have absolutely all the information I need concerning every aspect of this job situation to make a clear decision? For instance, territory with any established customers, targets, training, company car, relocation allowance, health and life insurance, holidays, fringe benefits, reporting structure and so on. Better to find out now than learn the awful truth after you've joined.
  • (This is the big one.) Could I be happy and fulfilled working with these people, especially my direct superior? <Back to top>

Ready for Questions

Being prepared for the interviewer's questions is more difficult, but at least you can be ready for the more predictable ones:

  • For how long have you been selling our kind of products in our kind of marketplace?
  • Who are your main competitors?
  • Have you performed against sales targets over the past three or four years in terms of revenue and gross margin?
  • Give me details of some of your biggest sales victories last year.
  • What kind of job are you really looking for? <Back to top>


What do you know about our organisation, its products, market, customers and competitors? Amazingly, many salespeople still turn up for interviews with only a smattering of superficial information gleaned from hearsay, sparse input from the recruiter that set up the interview, and a quick glance at the brochure in reception.

It's reasonable for the potential employer to assume that the level of preparation for the job interview reflects the amount of effort the salesperson usually puts into the selling process. After all, it's very easy to 'phone the sales manger's secretary and ask for the most recent annual report and a product overview.

What about contacting one of their existing salespeople and getting some inside-track information: What's it like to work there? How well are they doing? What is the client like to work for?<Back to top>

The Right Impression

However you approach it, don’t underestimate the importance of first impressions. The interviewer usually gets a strong impression in the first five minutes, and spends the rest of the interview qualifying that initial decision. Anything else means starting out with an obstacle to climb. Be prompt, be smart, be positive, be aware and be attentive. And be the part - the interviewer is expecting to meet a professional salesperson, not a technician, an administrator or, worse, a marketing specialist. Don't be a disappointment.

Also, focus on your own achievements rather than those of the team around you. The interviewer is much more interested in your victories than your responsibilities, no matter how grand your title. In fact, as a rule of thumb, the more senior you make your job title appear, the less chance you have of getting a new job. And remember, salespeople who are vague about detail of recent sales victories probably didn't make them.

Accomplished salespeople instinctively want to contact the sales or recruitment manager before and after the interview, to obtain company information or to say thank you for an informative meeting and confirm any agreed follow-up action. You know the kind of thing: details of next appointment, names of references and so on, like competent salespeople do. <Back to top>

Useful Tips

Beware of the relaxed interview. It's a typical sales situation where you're delighted to find yourself facing a really nice person who instantly makes you feel at home. They are articulate, thoroughly charming with a wide range of interests, and glad of a bit of relief from the mundane reality of day-to-day business. He could be chatting about golf, sailing or ferret breading, but whatever the subject, he can make it totally absorbing. He relaxes you, and makes you relax because salespeople are instinctively accommodating in that way.

Unfortunately, it's all a big trap and you walk straight into the web with your eyes wide open. He may be having an enjoyable interlude, but that doesn't mean you're supposed to have the same. No! He's given up his time to witness a professional salesperson in action and that's what he expects to see, not someone who doesn't know the difference between a ferret and a weasel pretending he does. In fact, more top class salespeople lose top-class jobs in this way than any other. A frightening thought, but true. <Back to top>

Closing the Sale

This comes instinctively to the professional salesperson, so be sure to demonstrate selling this crucial skill by trial closing within the interview. The best opportunity will probably occur at, or near to, the end of the meeting.

"Thanks for an interesting meeting. I'm impressed by all you've had to say about the role, the company and it's products. I believe I could do a good job for you. Is there anything about my application that prevents you from taking this process to the next stage." Or something similar.

If yes, handle the objection. If no, fix the next appointment there and then. Maybe even close the deal.

When all this is complete, immediately call your consultant at PMA and tell us the good news! <Back to Top>

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