9 sales interview questions and answers to find your next top performer

The right sales interview questions will help you build a powerhouse team, but knowing what to ask—and how to ask it—can be tricky.

By Josh Bean, Director, Marketing

Published July 23, 2019
Last updated February 17, 2021

Choosing the right sales interview questions requires careful thought and preparation. Each question needs to have a clear purpose so you can:

  1. Find out whether the candidate is qualified
  2. Convince stellar candidates that your company is a step above your competitors

To help you make the right choices, we scoured Glassdoor for questions B2B unicorns are asking sales candidates. For one reason or another, these questions stood out to real candidates during real interviews — enough that they wrote about their sales interview experience.

By comparing these questions with sales interview best practices, we parsed some valuable lessons and came up with a list of more direct, specific questions for you to use the next time you interview a salesperson.

  1. Walk us through your resume from start to finish.

    Yep, we know: This sales interview question is pretty basic. On the surface, it seems generic and boring. You can just as easily read the candidate’s resume, right?

    But asking this question is an effective way to evaluate the candidate’s presentation style and poise while simultaneously learning how they’ve performed in other positions. We pulled it from an interview for an account executive position with team communication software company Slack.

    Salespeople need to be extremely comfortable with giving presentations, so pay attention to how the applicant answers. Are they prepared, or do they have difficulty remembering past position responsibilities? Are they making eye contact, or are they nervously shifting in their seat?

    Also ask yourself the following questions about their delivery to gauge whether they’re using sales presentation best practices:

    Does the candidate highlight past position accomplishments that speak to your company’s pain points?

    How unique is their presentation approach? Do they simply list prior jobs, or do they provide a quick narrative around each one?

    Do they use a bunch of sales jargon, or do they explain past responsibilities in layman’s terms?

    Do they clearly state numbers achieved in past sales positions, or are they vague about their accomplishments?

    Look for candidates who present their resume confidently and enthusiastically and provide hard facts—you’ll want the same type of presentation style with potential customers.

    One Slack candidate explained what sales managers are looking for with this type of interview question well: “Everything matters—[...] how you greet others, the questions you ask, your composure.”

  2. In three sentences, describe [Company Name] as if you were pitching to a client.

    This question comes from an interview for a sales development associate position at Airtable, a low-code collaborative platform. It puts a creative sales-related spin on the traditional question, “What do you know about our company?”

    Hopefully, the candidate has researched your company in-depth, but this question puts that knowledge to the test. Not only will you discover if the candidate is familiar with your product or service offering but also whether they have what it takes to sell it to potential customers.

    Evaluate the candidate’s answer by asking yourself the following questions:

    Is the candidate easily able to fit their pitch within three sentences, or do they have trouble with succinctness?

    Is their information about your company accurate?

    Does their answer use info that’s available on the first page of your website, or would it have required more digging?

    Do they merely list the benefits of your company, or do they weave together a compelling story that makes you want to purchase your own product or service?

    Allow them a minute to think about their answer, and then look for a polished, comfortable presentation style.

  3. Let’s run through a mock sales call.

    According to a candidate interviewing for a sales specialist role at legal solutions provider LegalZoom, the company asked, “How do you handle stress?” This question is important to see how the candidate responds under pressure, and it’s especially valuable when hiring for a sales representative role.

    An even better approach to this question is to put the interviewee in a commonly stressful sales situation to find out how they respond. A mock sales call is a great way to test the candidate under pressure and see how they would react to potential customers on the job. It will help you assess the following:

    Can the candidate think on their feet when thrown a curve-ball question?

    Can the candidate re-explain the offering if the potential customer doesn’t understand?

    Is the candidate pushy, or are they focused on building rapport with the potential customer?

    Prepare a mock sales call script before the interview by going into your CRM and finding a recording of an actual sales call between a potential customer and one of your current sales reps. This scenario will provide a real-life application to your own product or service.

    Although the goal is to see how candidates react under stress, the exercise will also offer a demonstration of candidates’ selling tactics. How comfortable are they directing conversation? How do they handle making a case for your company or dealing with customer questions and concerns? This scenario allows you to evaluate them as though they’re already a rep and you’re observing for a performance review.

  4. Describe our company and sales culture based on what you’ve seen or heard.

    To suss out whether a candidate was a good fit for their company, video communications company Zoom asked a potential sales development representative, “What do you look for in a company culture?”

    We tweaked this question slightly to make it specific to your particular workplace. Use it to learn what candidates understand about your company so far and whether they’ll be a good match for your company culture and sales team.

    It’s a particularly important question when interviewing for a sales manager, as they heavily influence company culture. Not only do sales managers influence their direct reports and, as they climb the ladder, the management suite, but their outward-facing team also sets the tone for what clients can expect from your company’s culture. Salespeople are likely to engage in cross-department communication, liaising with customer service, marketing, and even engineers, and they bring their team’s culture with them into other departments.

    If you publicly share information about your company culture, look for how candidates describe the following aspects in their answer:

    Your values and mission

    Your team and work environment (this applies if you share behind-the-scenes looks at your team/office, such as on LinkedIn)

    Your management hierarchy

    For example, maybe your company is focused on relationship building—both with clients and employees. You invest time in customers and close sales based on quality over quantity. So if the candidate answers, “I believe [Your Company Name] is dedicated to generating as many leads as possible and getting fast results,” they might not be the best fit for your company—and they haven’t done their research.

    This question opens up space for you to discuss what’s most important in your company culture and correct misinformation, which helps the candidate better assess their fit with your company. If a candidate valued an autonomous working environment and mentioned they were excited about that aspect of your company, you could gently correct them and let them know you have a team-oriented culture.

  5. Walk me through your sales process and how you consistently met your sales goals at your last company.

    According to Glassdoor, Zenefits, a people operations platform, asked their sales representative job candidates, “Have you consistently met your sales goals?”

    With this question, it’s easy to get answers like “I achieved my quota every sales quarter I was with XYZ company.” That information is great to know, but it doesn’t explain how the candidate reached that number.

    Instead, pose the question so the candidate takes you through each step of their sales process. This question is knowledge-based—you can see whether candidates have a clear understanding of sales stages. You also find out how long it takes the candidate to go through the sales process and where their strengths lie.

    For example, a possible (simplified) answer could be, “My goal at the beginning of Q3 was to achieve a quota of 50 new subscribers. I focused on social selling to source 200 new leads and build a relationship during the prospecting stage. Eventually, I moved 50 of these leads to the closing stage by focusing on X and Y.”

    Asking for a walkthrough rather than posing a yes/no question helps you determine how the candidate’s actions during the sales process allowed them to reach their desired quota.

  6. Tell me about one deal that you didn’t win and what you took away from the experience.

    A Glassdoor user who interviewed for an account executive position at human resource management software company Gusto reported that the company asked, “Tell me a time you failed and what you learned.”

    We made this question more sales specific. Failure is a part of any job, but it’s something that salespeople deal with on a regular basis. It’s what a candidate takes away from these failures that matters.

    This question should help you determine the following:

    Can the candidate admit to a mistake, accept it, and learn from it?

    How did the candidate use their failure as a way to improve?

    Based on the above two questions, is the candidate coachable?

    Probe for answers that are specific. Keep digging for details, prompting if necessary with follow-ups like, “What would you have done differently in retrospect?” and “How did you determine what went wrong?” Your goal is to get a response like this one:

    "I had a big deal that I had been nurturing for a couple of months. My contact was excited about our service, and I was ready to close the deal. However, when it came time to sign on the dotted line, the contact said that the key decision-maker (who I should have been working with all along) wasn’t comfortable with the purchase. Since then, I’ve been striving to improve my qualification tactics by doing X, Y, and Z."

    Every salesperson has weaknesses, but the differentiator here is that the candidate recognizes this fact and is striving to improve. Make sure the candidate will be responsive to sales coaching if needed and will maintain a positive attitude in spite of failure.

  7. Please give examples of sales books, blogs, or podcasts that you follow to educate yourself outside of work.

    For an inside sales representative role, project and task management software company Asana asked this question: “What’s something you learned recently?”

    You can make this question even more specific by asking candidates what content they consume to improve their sales skills. Are they reading popular sales books by experienced sellers, such as The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer? Do they follow sales blogs? How about informative podcasts? Ask for specific examples and a quick summary of each, and ask them to share the key takeaways. When interviewing for sales managers, also ask about management and leadership resources to see how invested they are in developing themselves as a supervisor.

    If the candidate can’t name any specific sales resources or publications, see if they offer details on other ways they’re trying to improve. Maybe they completed a social selling course on LinkedIn, or maybe they attend sales conferences every year. The point of this question is to see if the candidate is committed to personal development—a strong indicator of a top-performing employee.

  8. How do you prioritize your time at work?

    One candidate for financial service software company Stripe listed this question about prioritization as one of the standouts in their “difficult but enjoyable” interview. It is a more helpful version of “Tell us about a typical day at your job” because it forces candidates to show their thought process behind their work.

    It’s an especially valuable question when hiring salespeople since it’s a busy job. Every day involves juggling different prospects, qualifying leads, scheduling meetings, and dozens more tasks. Knowing how to create order out of chaotic to-do lists is the only path to success.

    When candidates are answering, look for those who:

    Show a good understanding of time sensitivity.

    Differentiate between the different parts of the sales process and how to approach them.

    Stress the importance of prioritizing high-volume, high-impact tasks, like returning emails and calls.

    The best interviewees will show they clearly understand their main job functions and have methods for prioritizing tasks.

  9. What motivates you?

    According to Glassdoor, real estate CRM company VTS asks this question in its sales development role interviews. This one is especially important since internal motivation is a key quality for great salespeople—and it’s a quality that can’t be coached.

    While there’s no one right answer to this question, there are some red flags you should look out for:

    Being motivated only by quotas or rewards, which shows a primary drive from external sources.

    Providing vague responses such as “I just like sales, I guess!” which shows a lack of self-awareness.

    Attributing motivation primarily to a good manager, a particular work environment, and/or other circumstances that won’t necessarily be true at another job. This response suggests a lack of internal drive.

    Highly motivated salespeople, on the other hand, will likely give a range of factors, from a lifelong competitive streak to a genuine belief in the products they sell. Their answers will include internal motivation factors that they can bring to any workplace.

  10. Ask direct sales interview questions

    Ask thoughtful, direct questions to help both you and the sales candidate get the most out of your time together during the interview. You’ll come away with a better sense of the candidate’s selling capabilities and whether they’re the right fit for the position. The candidate will see how seriously you take sales and the position, and your standards for success will be clear.

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