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Article 11 min read

Hiring a salesperson in 10 steps: Interview best practices, questions & examples

Making the wrong hire is costly. Here's how to ensure you get the right candidate.

By Margaret Deflieze, Staff Writer

Last updated January 5, 2023

A better hiring process means attracting great candidates. Remember, you’re not the only one deciding on the partnership, and providing a seamless and professional interview process is the first step in finding quality candidates for your team. With the average annual turnover in sales being 20 percent, you need to take the right steps and ask the right questions to ensure the role is a good fit for the candidate from the get-go.

How to hire a salesperson

Whether you’re hiring for an entry-level salesperson or an account executive, follow these steps to create a better interview process.

  1. Confirm your interview process
  2. Prepare your job listing
  3. Review resumes–and watch out for hiring bias
  4. Screen applicants
  5. Prepare for the final interview
  6. Ask the right questions
  7. Use interview best practices
  8. Make final decisions
  9. Send out notifications
  10. Learn from your process

1. Confirm your interview process

The first step is to confirm your interview process. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Do you need to backfill or is this a net new position?

  • What type of person do we want to be part of the cycle?

  • How many people will be included in the hiring process?

  • How many rounds will be included?

  • 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?

2. Prepare your job listing

Putting together a great job description attracts the right kinds of candidates. Decide on the criteria for your ideal candidate and what the position should look like:

  • Full-time or freelance?

  • Entry level or experienced?

  • What region is this for?

Looking for more guidance? Check out our sample sales rep job listing below.

3. Review resumes–and watch out for hiring bias

According to Forbes, the average number of people who tend to apply for a single job is 118, while only 20 percent of them get invited to an interview. Select who you would like to move forward with based on resume and LinkedIn information that align to your company’s goals and priorities. Here are a few questions to help guide you:

  • Is the resume filled with “fluff” such as generic sales skills?

  • What’s the tone of the resume?

  • Does the applicant include impressive awards or certifications?

  • Did they demonstrate a time when they solved a specific sales problem?

Avoid common hiring bias and educate yourself about bias in the workplace such as gender bias, affinity bias, recency bias, and the halo effect. The more you are aware of your implicit biases, the easier it will be to keep away from them when hiring.

4. Screen applicants to narrow options

Consider the phone or video 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 with the larger team.

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 screening, the higher the chances that you’ll have a great candidate for the final interview.

Here are screening best practices and questions to consider.

Screening best practices

sales rep screening

Keep it short. Spend 15-30 minutes (or less). 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. 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.

Initial screen questions

Here are a few general example questions:

  • 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?

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.

5. Organize and prepare for the final interview

To prepare for final interviews, make sure you know the ins and outs of your company: You are the first line of contact to the candidate. Additionally, look at LinkedIn profiles and a candidate’s website. What types of companies did they work for in the past?

And most importantly, be sure to set up an agenda.

“Interviews go better when you set an agenda and expectation up front, just as you do with sales calls.” Mickey DeFellipo, Business Development Manager, Zendesk

6. Ask the right questions

Try to ask questions to incorporate real world examples that would be good indicators of the key attributes you’re looking for in your future salesperson. Understanding how they tackle challenges and wins from previous scenarios will be a good indicator of how they will perform for your team and give you a sense of their salesmanship.

“Can they define what would make us better than a competitor? Salesmanship is important. We want people to connect before they dig into the details.”Jeff Atwood, Regional Vice President, Corporate Sales, Zendesk

Sales interview pillars

Does this candidate have the right characteristics?

  • Do they have a determined mindset (perseverance amd pushing beyond the first no)?

  • Do they have the ability to be vulnerable and honest about shortcomings?

  • Do they demonstrate self development and learn from mistakes?

  • Do they have the ability to work well under quota and pressure – at the end of the month are they going to be fighting to the end?

Does this candidate have the right skills & knowledge?

  • Do they take initiative to expand their knowledge on business acumen and how to be successful in the role?

  • Do they understand how to outbound from account selection?

Does this candidate bring the appropriate experience?

  • What sales experience do they have?

  • Have they had experience closing deals, and how extensive has their past experience with that been?

Will this candidate enjoy doing the role?

  • Are they excited to be in a competitive environment?

  • Are they curious about how businesses work, and can they do the proper research on accounts?

7. Use interview best practices

Here are 7 interview best practices to consider. Check out our sales interview blog for more.

  • Introduce yourself and recap the process

    You want to make a good first impression yourself. When you begin the interview, make sure to set up front expectations of the interview and agenda.
  • Take notes

    Make sure to be engaged during the interview while also taking appropriate notes.
  • Create a scorecard or scoring system

    When deciding between multiple candidates who are all qualified for the role, a scorecard system may help with your decision process. On a scale of 1-5 for each core fulfillment, how do they rank? The candidate with the highest score may be the right person to choose. Here’s a template you can use.
    Characteristics Skills & Knowledge ExperienceEnjoyment
    Total score:16
  • Observe the soft skills

    While very important, exemplifying hard skills is not always the best determinant of the best candidate. Knowledge can always be learned, but grit and strength cannot.

    “Do they have that hunger? Do they have the grit? I would choose someone with the right soft skills over experience and knowledge.”Jeff Atwood, Regional Vice President, Corporate Sales, Zendesk
  • Pivot your questions as needed

    Depending on the candidate’s answers, you may need to pivot your questions. Is there something you want to follow up on?
    “First impressions are big. If you’re looking at your clock more than once or twice, then you’re bored.” said Atwood.
  • Leave time for their questions (and be honest)

    Allow several minutes for questions from the candidate, but use their questions as an additional determiner of their fit to their role. Answer honestly; they’re also interviewing you.
  • Be yourself

    Being yourself and allowing candidates to feel comfortable during the process will also go a long way.
    “The marketplace is competitive, try your best to demonstrate how you manage to show a level of employee experience. It’s equally important because people are looking for a place where they feel safe, heard, will grow, and their manager will have their back,” said Tang.

8. Make final decisions with any stakeholders

Connect with other stakeholders to get different points of view.

“Acknowledge that no interview is going to be perfect. You need to discern what you’re willing to accept and not accept. Coming up with a guide for yourself and sharing ideas with stakeholders will make things easier and help you not fall to biases, ” said Aydan Tang, Business Development Manager, Zendesk.

“Sharing ideas with stakeholders will make things easier and help you not fall to biases. ” Aydan Tang, Business Development Manager, Zendesk

9. Send out notifications to all interviewees

It’s never a good experience when a company ghosts you. Follow up with everyone you interview.

10. Learn from your process

There is no one-size-fits-all way to conduct your hiring process to choose the right candidate, however learning from your past experiences and adjusting your practices in the future will help make the process more efficient for next time.

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