How to Make Interviews Mutually Effective for You & Candidate (Specifically when Hiring Junior Sales Talent)
Help hiring companies interview junior sales talent effectively. Getting it right from the first interaction is important – this enables companies to get an accurate assessment straight away and gives candidates a chance to evaluate alignment for themselves.
- A top sales candidate is in demand. They are interviewing with several companies and evaluating culture, role, career growth, mentorship, brand integrity, long term and short term benefits. Remember that as you are interviewing them, they are interviewing you.
- As an interviewer, your responsibility is to represent a role with transparency and accuracy –explain the ‘daily life as a X role’ accurately while serving as a brand ambassador –what about Company X makes this role exciting (from leadership to solution and employee experience, all of these ‘sell factors’ should be sold effectively to the candidate).
- Be prepared. Hold an interview when you are planted, with full attention on the candidate. Take notes –everything from tone of voice, pauses before a response and details in their response itself have insights. For areas where you think their response could shed greater insights into a candidate, take notes –add a ‘Q’ next to points you want to question the candidate on further.
- An interview should be a conversation –fluid feedback between candidate and interviewer enables greater insights. Ensure you are asking questions and pausing to give clarifying statements so the candidate knows they too can ask questions and engage in a conversational manner (i.e.: does that make sense, are we on the same page, you following?).
Step 1: Set the Stage
Take control of the call to ensure communication runs efficiently and with a collaborative flow. For example:
- Hi, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. I am looking forward to hearing more about your background and interests, my intent on this call is to understand your potential in X, Y, Z and give you a look under the hood at how we, as a company do X, Y, Z. Sound good?
Step 2: Get to Know the Candidate as an Individual
Asking broad questions can tell you a lot about someone. For sales, think about what information they are choosing to share and how they are choosing to share it. For example:
- Ask: Before we talk about the company or the role, why don’t you tell me about yourself?
- Listed for: What they choose to share. (Are they tailoring for relevance to their audience)? Do they sound certain or are they fluttering through? Are they clear and concise, or long-winded and ambiguous?
- Ask: Why did you choose to attend X University? OR Why did you major in X? OR Why did you choose to work with X in the first place, and what are you missing now?
- Listen for: Whether their response is honest vs “right” – does it show intent, logic, short term and long term considerations, passion and drive? Most importantly (to me), does their response show candor and self-awareness?
- Ask: What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your education or career and how did you overcome that challenge?
- Listen for: Does the response include grit, persistence and perseverance? It should, especially for sales. Is their “biggest challenge” big to you, or are the challenges they will face with your company going to feel massive to this candidate? How’s their natural or shared example approach to problem solving?
- Ask: Can you give me an example of a time when you have thrived under pressure or influenced others in an organized fashion to drive change or action?
- Liste for: Why they thrived, if their tone is energetic or exhausted by recounting this experience. Sales pros that are successful, even before getting a seasoned career in sales, generally thrive under pressure and are influential for causes or ideas that have passion for –they know how to commit, communicate and create action from others.
Step 3: Figure Out if They Came Prepared
You are aware of what you know about them thus far, yet you don’t know what they know about the company so start there. Examples:
- Ask: So, what do you know about our company?
- Listen for: Have they done their homework before the interview? What does their response touch on –the brand, competitive landscape, solution, culture, recent recognition, ventures backing the company? While they may not know much, they should know more than the tag line and basic value props obvious on the website. They should have shown a proactive and inquisitive interest before the interview.
- Ask: Why are you interested in this particular role?
- Listen for: If their response is canned or generic, see if you can pull something unduplicatable out of the candidate. If there is not real specific alignment with you, your company and your solution – the interest may be neutral to negative at this time. If they do not know how to prospect and show interest in you as an employer, will they be able to prospect and capture interest from leads? I don’t know, you may not know yet, but start to watch for this as the interviews progress.
Step 4: Give the Candidate Space to Speak
Giving the candidate a chance to take control and ask questions can be just as insightful as the interview you conducted. An important thing to remember is that this candidate may have had interviews or managers where they didn’t get to take the floor and where them asking probing questions or qualifying questions were looked down upon, so ensure they know they are encouraged to ask anything and have a candid conversation with you. Here is how I would suggest you evaluate candidate questions after you’ve set the stage for them to ‘ask away’:
- Did they ask strategic questions about the company?
- Did they shed any insights into the role and their interest now that they have learned more?
- Are their questions taking an accurate perspective on this role and how they would fill the shoes of this position?
- Are they asking you the right questions to assess their own candidacy?
Step 5: Set Expectations
If a candidate is unqualified, waiting for a later date to tell them is wasting your time and theirs. If granted the authority, tell them transparently on the call what your next steps are. For example:
- It was great speaking with you and I so appreciate your interest in the company. For X, Y and Z reasons, I don’t see you as a direct fit for this role. What is missing in your candidacy is….. OR What really drove me to this conclusion is…
- If they don’t take no for an answer, listen. It is showing perseverance and might be worth a second glance. If it’s not, it is not. Either way – remember, they now have engaged with your brand. They have been rejected from your brand and you do not want them to walk away with a negative connotation about your brand because you never know where they will share that. Close out respecting the candidate.
- Based on X, Y and Z, I think you have great potential for this role and I’d like to serve as an advocate for you to move forward in the interview process. Here are the next steps. Lay them out clearly with a timeline and details of individuals involved in the hiring process. Explain the interview process, should the candidate have a consensus with your team to move forward with interview steps.
Step 6: Evaluate their Follow-up
For any role, and especially sales, follow-up should be timely and personable. Here are some evaluation metrics:
- Did they follow up within 48 hours? (For sales, they absolutely should)
- Was their follow up personable? (For sales, it absolutely should be)
- Was there a call to action and push for next steps? (For sales, should, yet if they are truly junior, this may not be learned yet – remember, they may come from an environment that encouraged them not to drive action in such a way, so take note and remember to touch on this…ask them why they did not push for action and ensure that there is no judgement, rather, that you are curious. Their feedback will allow you to shape where they are coming from and what their thought process was – are they malleable with potential that needs guidance, or are they missing basic sales mentality you see as necessary on day 1?)
- You are a direct representation of your brand, this role and the employee’s perceived value of joining this team.
- You are being interviewed by the candidate. Consider the candidate as the customer –a top performer will not be desperately interviewing, but evaluating you as they strive to put their best foot forward during the interview process.
- They care about who you are –you are a part of this team, you have insights they want. Be personable, make them feel comfortable to be their authentic self. You are hiring them and their authentic self is who you are getting so make sure you are interviewing the true them. You can do this by making them feel comfortable to be themselves. A big way to do that is simply to be yourself, be transparent and be engaging.