sales interview

How To Interview Salespeople

In my previous post, I discussed why an interview rubric helps you make better hiring decisions for salespeople. How you structure your interview is shaped by other factors, including the job’s role, your product industry and your company’s stage.

To bridge the gap between an all-encompassing interview rubric and the particular structure you need, here’s a generic framework to get you started on creating an interview agenda for your particular search.


In addition to assessing passion and personality for cultural fit, it is equally important to explore sales-specific culture dynamics.

  • Strategy vs. Execution: Depending on your product/market, you may need a “figure-outer” as opposed to someone who can crank out 100 calls a day and crush repetitive sales activities. It’s hard to find someone who can do both well, so prioritize what you need in advance.
  • Career Ambitions: Often times, we hire sales talent by asking them to make short-term financial sacrifices in return for rapid career growth and/or management duties. Can you deliver on these promises? Can you meet individual ambitions, and are their timelines for growth compatible with your team? Be honest with yourself and the candidate from the get-go to decrease the chances of attrition later on.

Sales Process

A candidate’s familiarity with your sales process not only reduces ramp-up time, but it can also drastically reduce your risk of making a bad hire.

  • Similarity + Track Record: It’s important to dig into a candidate’s metrics as well as the characteristics of their previous sales process (e.g., price point, deal length, stakeholder types). For example, if you know your sales process has low access rates, you should evaluate a candidate’s ability to gain access by asking them to estimate their activities versus the number of meetings they are able to set. Probe deeper on qualitative answers, and don’t be afraid to ask interviewees to estimate and quantify so you can check for consistency.
  • Tools: There are a ton of sales tools (e.g., CRM, email tracking) your team may be using that could increase ramp-up time for a new rep. It’s important to understand how much learning a rep will have to do to master your tool suite and be productive. If the hurdle is significant, test their experience, tech savvy and learning speed.

Product Knowledge

Simply put, your salesperson needs to be a credible expert in front of your customer. A candidate’s product knowledge profile can be viewed as a 2 x 2 quadrant of strong and weak at current knowledge and learning ability.

Strong/strong and weak/weak should be easy decisions. The other two cases depend on your patience for their ramp-up time and the accuracy of your assessment.

  • Current Knowledge: A harsh reality in some sales industries is that a knowledge gap can be too large despite raw horsepower. In industries like healthcare and finance, for example, the sales role can require years of prior experience to be able to “talk the talk.”
  • Learning Ability: A great way to test aptitude for learning is to teach the candidate something about your product and then ask them to explain it back to you. You can do it orally on the spot or send them a case study before the interview. Great candidates can master the concept and even articulate new insights. You can also do this exercise using a randomly selected, unfamiliar subject.

Dry Run

You wouldn’t hire an engineer without seeing their code, so why would you hire a salesperson without seeing them sell? Here are four ways to test their skills:

  1. Role Play: A rapid succession of tough (or weird) objections can be a great way to test for how the candidate will handle edge cases.
  2. Mock Pitch: Test a candidate’s presentation and closing ability by having them present a mock pitch to your team of stakeholders.
  3. Field Day: Ask a potential salesperson to spend a day shadowing one of your reps. Creating controlled environments to have them speak to real prospects is a great way to estimate their ramp-up time.
  4. 30-60-90-Day Plan: For senior hires and big-ticket enterprise sales, your sales person needs management consultant-type skills to help organizations make strategic purchasing decisions and visualize implementation roadmaps. Have your interviewees lay out a 30-60-90-day plan for how they would approach their new role in the company so you can test their visioning, conceptual thinking and presentation skills.

As you navigate how to structure your interviews, keep in mind that competition for top sales talent is incredibly fierce, so it is important to balance your interview diligence with getting candidates through the process efficiently.

Originally published on Square 1 Bank’s blog, Insights, and written by CloserIQ Founder/CEO Jordan Wan.

Jordan Wan

Founder & CEO of CloserIQ. Previously Sales Strategy & Management @ZocDoc, Head of Analytics @PayPerks and Trading Strategist @Bridgewater Associates. MIT Bachelor’s & Master’s in Computer Science. CFA Charterholder.