A sales interview is different than an interview for any other type of position because the fundamentals of selling are the same regardless of company or industry. That means if you have any sales experience at all, you know what the interviewer is looking for on a basic level. You’ve had a chance to practice the core skills at your last sales job, the one before that, and the one before that!
But just because salespeople are generally a bit wiser to what a hiring manager is looking for doesn’t mean they always make a good impression.
I advise salespeople going on a job interview to start with the end in mind. What do you want to be remembered for after you leave? Make sure to stress this point and talk about the positives (your strengths, why you want this job) more than the negatives (what you’re not good at, why you’re leaving your last job). Otherwise, you could end up making a bad impression.
As someone who talks with sales candidates and hiring managers daily, here are the top 10 worst things to say during a job interview. Only say these phrases if you want to be eliminated from consideration — fast.
1) “I really hated my last job/boss.”
Maybe you did have a crummy job and/or manager. But hiring managers use how you handled your previous role as an indicator of how you’ll handle the position you’re interviewing for. Don’t harp on a negative situation — it will end up reflecting negatively on you.
2) “So how soon can I have your job?”
There’s a fine line between being confident and outright cocky. You have no idea the route the hiring manager took to get to his or her role, how much education they had to complete, or what skills they needed to develop. Don’t risk coming off as presumptuous — either phrase the question more delicately (i.e., in terms of career development), or skip it altogether.
3) “I was the absolute best sales rep in my entire company.”
Hiring managers know how sales works. They know that some months you’re up, and other months, you’re down. The very best reps usually fluctuate between the top 10 and 20%. With this in mind, “I was the top 10 out of 12 months” or “I was consistently in the upper 10%” sounds better than “I was the best, all the time, every time.” In addition, provide supporting evidence, such as a manager reference or a president’s club certificate.
4) “Oh man, I got so wasted at the last work event.”
Salespeople are social creatures, and that’s a good thing. But revealing a bit too much about your social life at your last job is a no-no. When talking about social events, keep it high-level and stray away from potentially incriminating details.
5) “The sales targets at my last job were unfair.”
Every time I hear job candidates complaining about how unreachable or unfair quota was at their last job, I can’t help but think they’re making excuses. Sales targets at different companies aren’t apples to apples — differences in the length of the sales cycle, discounting policy, territory structure, and so much more mean that it’s impossible to compare target X to target Y. So while the complaint might be completely valid, don’t dwell on it, lest it make you look bad.
6) “Um … I can’t think of any weaknesses I have.”
“What are your biggest weaknesses?” is a classic interview question, which is why it surprises me that salespeople are often unprepared for it. You might think not admitting to any weaknesses is better than laying your faults bare, but the opposite is actually true.
To be successful, salespeople need to be good listeners and have a mid to high level of self awareness. Chances are, you’ve received some feedback about areas you could improve upon from a manager or colleague. If you didn’t listen and internalize that feedback, how will you listen to clients?
7) “So, like, I’ll start by, like, talking about, like … “
I don’t dislike the word “like” — I just don’t think it has a place in business communication. Sales reps need to be able to tailor their wording and communication style to their audience. If they’re unable to use business speak in a job interview, will they be able to on a prospect call? This isn’t a good doubt to raise in a hiring manager’s mind.
8) “What time do people usually stop working around here?”
Typically, high sales achievers don’t care about clocking out at a certain time each and every day — they care about hitting their targets. If they leave the office a bit early one day and a bit late another, so be it. Ask this question after you start on the job, but never during the interview.
9) “Do you pay monthly or biweekly?”
Not to be glib, but successful salespeople generally aren’t broke. If you’re good at what you do, you’ll be getting plenty of commissions — you won’t have to worry about the precise day you get paid.
10) “No, I don’t have any questions for you.”
I’ve had sales VPs tell me that if candidates don’t have any questions at the end of the interview, that means they don’t have the requisite curiosity for a sales job. Today’s buyer requires a consultative salesperson that asks insightful and relevant question to uncover pain and craft solutions. An interviewee without questions provides no proof of their interest nor their consultative selling skills to the interviewer.
Above all, you must be deliberate about the impression you want to create. Think about a job interview like going on a date. When you meet a new love interest, you probably don’t talk about all the terrible things about your ex. You talk about why you want to be with this new person. Apply this advice to sales job interviews, and you’ll be getting hired in no time.