You’re applying to sales positions. But before you can dazzle potential customers, you need to sell yourself to prospective employers. The interview is your prime opportunity to demonstrate stellar selling abilities.
Think of the interview as a sales pitch where the product is you. Like any other sales pitch, it’s not enough just to talk about your virtues. You have to actively demonstrate that you have what it takes to be a top seller.
Here are seven critical steps for nailing the sales interview:
1. Understand your Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
With companies receiving 250 resumes for every job opening, standing out is paramount. Just as every good product has a USP, you should as well.
Consider: Do you have any unique industry experience? What sales skills do you excel at so much that coworkers seek your help? Have you had any unique life experiences? Dig deep. If you’re stuck, it may be helpful to talk it out with people who know you well.
Aim for something that’s fairly unique. Lots of people can boast of strong grades in college. But if you maintained a 3.8 GPA while working 30 hours a week at a job, that’s something special.
Once you understand the factor that differentiates you from everyone else, figure out a way to communicate that succinctly. Practice a one-minute elevator pitch that communicates your USP. This statement will serve as your guiding star during the application process. During the interview, prove that your USP isn’t just talk.
2. Prove that you’ve done your research.
Some job candidates briefly scan the “About” page on the company’s website and then call it a day. That kind of surface-level research suggests a mediocre candidate. Pursue every bit of information you can get your hands on from the company’s website and social media feeds. Prepare for the interview so much that you think you’re over-prepared.
Moreover, make sure you know your interviewers as well. Prospecting them on LinkedIn isn’t cheating–it’s prudent and proactive. Scan their online presence for any talking points you might bring up. Nothing shows interest more than personalized research.
Learn everything there is to know about the company and its product. In your research, pay special attention to:
- The company’s history and founders’ background
- How the product was first developed
- How the product differs from competitors
- What types of companies might utilize the product
- Leading existing clients
Use this information to start thinking like a sales representative for this company. What types of companies would you approach as a sales rep? You might even come up with a sample sales pitch for the product before you learn the company’s own pitch.
3. Demonstrate your knowledge of sales terminology.
The interview is your opportunity to demonstrate your mastery of sales terminology and concepts. While you don’t want to overdo it with buzzwords, make sure that you come in prepared to discuss important sales concepts in relation to your own career.
This is particularly important for candidates who are new to sales. To prove that you’re committed to your field, read leading sales books and blogs–preferably material that’s relatively recent. During the interview, show that you’ve thought about sales concepts and are interested in furthering your education. Don’t ignore the greater industry trends, either. You don’t need to be an expert, but a cursory self-education will go a long way.
Interviewers can forgive a junior candidate who has limited experience, but they tend to be suspicious of people who seem interested in a career in sales just because of the financial compensation. By the same token, overreliance on jargon may betray a lack of genuine interest in the deeper concepts, so make sure you strike that middle ground.
4. Provide supporting evidence for your claims.
In a sales pitch, you would never just say that the product is great without offering proof. This basic principle also applies for the sales interview. Approach the interview like you would a sales presentation and come armed with solid evidence.
Ideally, you should present both qualitative and quantitative evidence for your selling abilities. Discuss your sales numbers, and try to contextualize the numbers within the larger scope of the company where you worked. If your numbers aren’t stellar it’s okay to explain why, but make sure you’re taking ownership of the lessons learned from your mistakes, rather than just making excuses.
In addition to statistics, be prepared to discuss anecdotes that illustrate your abilities. These stories can be more powerful than data when told correctly. For candidates with limited sales experience, your evidence can come from other areas of your life. In addition, be able to answer the question “Why sales”? Claiming you’re a natural salesperson won’t cut it, nor will saying that your friends and family say that you would be good at sales. Think about all of the times in your life when you demonstrated leadership, initiative, and dedication.
5. Be ready to improvise when necessary.
The best sales representatives know when and how to improvise. Although you should walk into the interview prepared with answers to likely questions, avoid coming across as overly rehearsed. You need to show that you can adapt to the flow of the conversation. If you seem overly rehearsed in the interview, the hiring manager may worry that you’ll be a stiff salesperson.
To strike the right balance, don’t memorize specific answers to questions. While it’s fine to have basic talking points in mind, you want to be able to relay them organically. Stay attuned to the interviewers’ body language and be ready to pivot if something just isn’t landing.
6. Don’t underestimate the power of building rapport.
Beyond your ability to sell and self-educate, you’re going to want to demonstrate that you’re the type of person people will actually want to be around. Not every virtue can be conveyed in a résumé, so use the interview as an opportunity to build rapport. Not only will this spark your interviewer’s imagination to envision what it’d be like to have you on the team, but it will convey that you possess the same soft skills that make a great salesperson. After all, so much of sales is based on building relationships with clients.
Hone your conversational skills by extending genuine empathy and interest towards whoever you are speaking to. Do it every day, even outside your professional life. By the time you nail down an interview, building rapport should come naturally. Master the art of listening. Be wary of over-zealousness, as you may come across disingenuous.
7. Close the deal at the end of the interview.
When you sense that the interview is coming to an end, don’t just let it peter out. The end of the interview is your final opportunity to close the deal, so be ready for it. Make the most out of the moment by summing up your USP and proving why you deserve the job. Don’t try to introduce new points at this phase.
Again, it’s helpful to approach it like a sales presentation. The client/hiring company has a problem that needs solving. Position yourself as the solution they need and ask about the next steps in the process.
Show the company what they’ll be getting when they hire you by closing out the deal like an expert. If you can do that, you stand a good chance of landing the job.
The conventional path isn’t the only option. Figure out where you want to be and how sales fits into your story. Once you know that, sales can take you to any number of destinations.