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Sell Yourself: Interviewing for a Sales Job

When I graduated from college with a mechanical engineering degree, I was in for a rude surprise. Nobody was hiring mechanical engineers that year. Within my entire graduating class, only two people had offers, and both of those were with the navy.

Not one to lick my wounds, I decided to look for a job selling to engineering organizations. I answered an ad for something along these lines, which was placed by a professional recruiter. I can’t recall her name, but she taught me something that has stuck with me for decades and I’ve had the privilege to hand off to others with great success.

She taught me a six step process for interviewing. In retrospect, it’s a general sales process that could be used to sell any solution, so it might help in other ways if you’ve already landed that coveted sales job. If not, take note, and let me know how it works for you.

  1. Introduction: Begin the interview with some proven introduction skills; good eye contact, smile, firm handshake, and introduce yourself with your first and last name. You can add some rapport building chit chat, but don’t spend too much time on it.
  2. Candidate Profile: As early as you can in the discussion, and without appearing to forceful, take control by asking the interviewer to describe the characteristics of the ideal candidate. They might say things like self-motivated, easy to coach, high aptitude for learning, or any variety of key sales skills. Take notes.
  3. Sell Yourself: When they’ve completed their profile description, take each attribute identified and begin the process of describing how you have demonstrated those skills in previous situations. The examples don’t have to be sales related situations, especially if you don’t have direct sales experience. They can be from other situations. For instance, if they list leadership as a key requirement, you can describe the leadership skills you brought to your sorority or volunteer group. Give concrete examples of your exhibition of the skill where possible, or at a minimum, on your ability to learn the skill.
  4. Uncover and Address Objections: No matter how good a candidate you are, there are usually some concerns from every interviewer’s perspective. Ask them to share their reservations about you. It might sound something like, “So is there anything about my background or profile that might cause you to think I’m not the ideal candidate?” Your objective is to flush it out and address the objections. For instance, if they answer this question with something like, “well, yes, I’m concerned that you don’t have any experience in our industry”, you should empathize with their observation and then address it. Your response might sound something like, “if I were in your shoes, I’d probably think the same thing, but, I’d like to draw your attention to my SAT score. You’ll notice that I have a high aptitude for learning, and if you’ve ever read the book, “Good to Great”,  the author cites the best leaders are those with a high aptitude for learning, not industry experience.” Addressing objections takes some thinking on your feet. Its likely you can anticipate their objections for common issues like experience, education, and industry tenure. Being prepared for the objection will raise your confidence and gain theirs.
  5. Flip to the Positive: Now that you’ve addressed their objections, you want to move their focus to the positive. Ask them to identify something about you they like. It might sound like this, “so is there anything about me that you think would add positively to this job or the team?” You may hear they like your questions, your education, or your energy, etc… Your objective is to move their brain from the negative (objection) to the positive. This shift in thinking is very important for the success of the next and last step.
  6. Closure: Once you have them on the positive note, the last step is to gain their commitment to you. If they are not the hiring manager, your close may be, “so would you feel comfortable recommending me for this position?” You’re likely to get a positive answer, but if not, flush out the concern and address it as in point four above. If they are the hiring manager, you can get even more pointed in your close, “assuming you have no other candidates as promising as me, can I count on an offer?”  The sharper the close, the more likely a seasoned sales leader will appreciate it.

The first time I used this process was during a two day interview process for a software company with 25 other recent college graduate candidates in the rotation. During day one, I had nine back to back interviews with hiring managers from different sales offices around the U.S.  At the end of the day, I reluctantly informed the HR leader that I couldn’t stay for day two as I had an interview with another company out of state. She whispered to me that it wasn’t a problem since I ended up in first place on all nine hiring manager’s lists. I departed early for the other interview, but ended up accepting my first sales job from this company. The hiring manager I ended up working for later told me that I was the only person that “sold” him. The selling process was apparent in my interview dialog and it wasn’t lost on him.

I’ve shared this process with many people over the years, and every single one of them has reported positive results. Recently, my son graduated from UC Davis. During his second interview with a major software company there were multiple hiring managers on the other end of a web meeting. Halfway through, the lead manager stopped the conversation and informed my son that he had never seen so many heads nodding at the same time during a group interview. He then asked my son if he would was ready to accept a job offer on the spot. I’m happy to report I have a gainfully employed son with a career track in sales.

*** Please “like” this post or forward it to anyone you know looking for a sales job – or any job for that matter.

Kevin Temple guides sales teams to be more agile and improve revenue outcomes. He can be contacted at kevin@enterprise-selling.com. The Enterprise Selling Group is a leader in delivering sales training, coaching and project oversight to improve the agility of sales teams around the world.