Hiring a sales rep: best practices for interviewing candidates
Find the right candidate for your sales team — and impress them in the process.
Published April 25, 2019
Last modified July 21, 2020
The interview process leaves a distinct impression on candidates — whether good or bad. No matter what happens, candidates will evaluate your company based on how the interview process goes.
Nearly 60% of job seekers say they've had a poor candidate experience. Not only that, 72% of candidates share their experience online, for example, through Glassdoor. It's important to make sure that your interview process is up to par before causing irreversible damage with candidates.
Whether you're hiring for an entry-level salesperson or an account executive, create the best interview process/sales interview questions AND select the perfect sales candidate by following these three steps.
1. Respond to all applicants
Some companies only contact applicants who have been selected for the interview. But 80% of job seekers say “they would be discouraged to consider other relevant job openings at a company that failed to notify them of their application status.” Stand out from the crowd, and let all applicants know the result of their application.
Time is also of the essence. Whether it's a “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe,” don't wait too long before responding. Your “Yes” applicants are likely interviewing for other positions — don't miss out on top talent. For “No” and “Maybe” applicants, a response demonstrates common courtesy from your company.
Need help getting started? Here are email response templates for each type of candidate:
Keep it short and polite but open to future applications.
Dear [Applicant Name],
Thank you for your interest in the Business Development Representative position with ABC Sales. We received many applications for this position. I'm sorry to let you know that we have decided not to proceed with your application.
We do appreciate the time you took to invest in applying for this position. Please consider applying for any future openings that match your qualifications.
We wish you the best in your job search. Thank you, again, for your interest in our company.
[Name of Hiring Manager]
Backup candidate email
You might need backup if your “Yes” candidates fall short during the phone screening process.
Dear [Applicant Name],
Thank you for your interest in the Business Development Representative position with ABC Sales! We are reviewing your application and will let you know within 7-14 days if you're a good fit for the position.
Again, thank you for your interest. We'll be in touch soon.
[Name of Hiring Manager]
Setup interview email
Let candidates know what to expect during the process and how long it will take.
Dear [Applicant Name],
Thanks for your application and for your interest in the Business Development Representative position with ABC Sales!
We were impressed with your resume and would like to invite you to proceed with our interview process. First, let me give you a quick overview of our process so you know what to expect.
1. Initial interview: This is a half an hour phone interview where our <Team Member Name> talks about your background, experience, and skills.
2. Final interview: A one-hour interview with <Team Member> to talk about our sales process and expectations, the culture at ABC Sales, and team development. You'll also have the opportunity to ask any questions you may still have.
We aim to complete the entire process in 2-3 weeks. For the initial interview, here are a few day and time options:
- [Monday, date, time]
- [Tuesday, date, time]
- [Wednesday, date, time]
- [Thursday, date, time]
- [Friday, date, time]
If none of these times work for you, suggest another time and we'll see if we can adjust. Looking forward to chatting with you.
[Name of Hiring Manager
For “Yes” emails, consider using a tool like Calendly, which lets candidates easily schedule their own interview.
2. Start the phone screen process
Consider the phone screening of sales candidates as your second vetting process. You should be able to cull down candidates even further to find out who is actually worth interviewing.
At this stage, you're looking more at the qualifications of each candidate and their overall manner rather than their cultural fit. You want to make sure they can back up their statements on their resumes. The more preparation you put into the phone screening, the higher the chances that you'll have a great candidate for the final interview.
Phone screen best practices
- Keep it short. Spend 15-30 minutes (or less) asking basic phone screen questions. Try not to deviate too much from your list of questions. You can go more in-depth if the candidate makes it to the next stage.
- Take detailed notes. What is your impression of the candidate over the phone? How are their communication skills? Are they enthusiastic? Also, note the amount of time they spend answering a certain question. For example, are they focused on salary or on company culture?
- Ask about any concerns. Bring up anything that concerned you about the candidate's resume. For example, do the dates of their selling experience line up with their former position?
- Review your notes. Directly after the phone interview is complete, add any additional impressions to your notes about the candidate to determine if they can move on to the next stage.
Phone screen questions
Here's a list of phone screen questions that you can draw from. These questions cover basic candidate information and interest in your company and the sales position.
- Tell me briefly about your responsibilities at your past jobs.
- Where are you in your current job search?
- What are your salary expectations?
- Why did you leave (or are leaving) your current position?
- Why did you apply to our company?
Once you have your final list of candidates, send a timely email no later than three days after the screening to each candidate thanking them for their time.
For definite rejections, send a short email letting them know that they didn't make it to the next step. Give the reasons why, so applicants will know how to do better with their next phone interview. Place these applications into your “No” pile. Some of the phone interviewees might become “Maybe,” so let them know that you'll get back to them soon.
3. Questions for the interview
Select at least three candidates to interview from your phone screen shortlist. Now it's time to get organized for the final interviews.
Be prepared to ask questions that are relevant to the position and your company. Six out of ten employees feel that the job they’ve chosen doesn’t match with what they actually interviewed for. Make sure the questions you ask fit the actual position, so you don't risk employee turnover later on.
To make the best impression on interviewees, create an interview system that's organized and efficient. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Who will the interview moderator be?
- How many people will be on the interview?
- How long will each interview last?
- Where will you conduct the interviews?
- What criteria is the hiring team using to evaluate the candidate?
- Will your team work from a structured list of interview questions or bring their own?
Once you have an interview structure in place, contact chosen candidates via email or phone. Schedule an interview time and let them know what to expect.
Let's now take a look at possible interview questions for both an entry-level sales position and a higher-level sales position.
Sales Development Representative
As this is an entry-level position, focus on identifying problem-solving skills and determine if the candidate can actually sell. For example, what past projects demonstrate that they are coachable and persistent?
- Tell me about your responsibilities at your last company.
- When have you been required to complete cold calls?
- How do you use social media in your selling process?
- Which is more important: Meeting quota or customer satisfaction?
- How do you approach customer objections?
- What values do you believe are important to being a successful sales rep?
- Explain the steps you take in your own sales process.
Also, look for a good cultural fit when asking questions. For example, do they work well with others?
For an upper-level position, ask questions that provide insight into the candidate's relevant work experience and ability to meet targets. Prospecting, communication, past sales performance, and selling approach are all crucial areas to cover in your interview questions.
Here are a few examples:
- Describe your role at your previous company and how success was measured.
- Give me an example of a successful cold call you've made.
- What arguments would you use to persuade a Director or VP-level leader to consider our company?
- What is your average deal size?
- Tell us more about your expertise with CRM software.
Use these questions as a jumping point for your interview process. For even more sales interview questions, Peak Sales Recruiting offers a list aimed directly at reps and managers.
Interview best practices
Create a scorecard
Just as you may have done with the application process, use a scorecard to quantify candidate skills and rank applicants.
Based on your application scorecard, create interview criteria to discuss with the hiring team. Discussing the scorecard results as a team after the final interviews assists with individual and collective accuracy. It also reduces bias.
Ask the right questions
Get past the surface level and learn more about a candidate's traits, cultural fit, time management skills, and negotiation capabilities. You should already know basic information about the candidate from the phone screen. Ask questions that directly relate to the position.
Observe the soft skills
Carefully observe body language and tone of voice. Are they holding eye contact? Is their body stiff, or are they relaxed? Are they enthusiastic or bored?
Ask yourself: Do I want this person selling to my customers?
Especially with sales (an often stressful job), it's important to be transparent about the role and its responsibilities. Talk with your current sales team about an average workday.
It's better that a candidate knows what's expected up front rather than get shell-shocked later when they're working 60 hours a week.
Optimize your time
A structured list of questions or at least a general guideline helps you and your team stay on track and not run overtime. For a better idea of how long each interview should take, see the chart below:
- Gauge interest. Did the interviewee do their research on your company aside from basic website info? What type of follow-up questions did they ask? For example, a question like “What kind of targets will I be expected to hit in the first year?” shows that the candidate is interested in whether they'll be a good fit for the role.
- Give the candidates feedback. Review your notes and provide feedback to candidates. Just because they're not a great fit now doesn't mean that they won't be in the future. Talent is four times more likely to consider your company for a future opportunity when you offer them constructive feedback.
Wrap up your interview process
The sales interview process is not only the candidate selling their skills — you have to convince candidates that your company is right for them. 83% of talent say a negative interview experience can change their mind about a role or company they once liked. From phone screening to the actual interview, be prepared and take the time to do it right.
Stay tuned for our next “Hiring a sales rep” installment where we take a look at how to make the best hiring decision for your sales job.