First impressions at a new company don’t start on your first day. You begin building your personal brand with a company during the hiring process—and in particular, during your first interview. But you’d be surprised by how many candidates who are well-qualified on paper put their foot in their mouth instead of putting their best foot forward.
To help you ace a sales interview at any stage of your career, I have seven best practices to share. Why take my advice? In the past eight months, I’ve participated in well over 100 interviews, including five in which I was the candidate. I’m now the Director of Sales Development at Sprout Social, managing a new team at a rapidly growing company. In fact, the size of the Sales Development team has tripled since I started at Sprout and we’re continuing to grow. We need a lot of exceptional talent, hence my packed interview calendar.
When it comes to interviewing, here’s my advice to help you stand out from the crowd and land your dream job in sales:
Prep! This is a no-brainer, but you’d be shocked by how many people are just winging it when it comes to interviews. Do mock interviews with people you trust, think about your strengths, make a list of your achievements and scour the internet for interview questions you can practice in advance. You better be sure you researched the company and can verbalize what they’re looking for. You should have anecdotes in mind that make it easy for them to see how your unique skills, experience and personality are the right fit for the needs of their sales organization.
Stand in a power pose before your interview to help overcome nerves. You’ll see me standing like Wonder Woman in a bathroom five minutes before I have to do anything high stakes: interview, large deal negotiation or public speaking. No idea what I’m talking about? Check out Amy Cuddy's Ted Talk on body language. When all else fails, hack your way to confidence!
Make sure the interview goes both ways. Even though you’re in the hot seat, don’t forget the power you have in an interview process. Should you receive and accept a job offer, you’re going to spend a significant amount of your time at this organization. You want to ensure that you get the insight you need to know that, without a doubt, you want to work at this company. Make sure you work somewhere that will support your professional growth, has a culture you’d be honored to be a part of, and a product or service you believe in.
Have a few key stories to tell with specifics. These should be professional accomplishments that you’re proud of and that show what you’ll bring to this organization. For example, don’t tell me you won an incentive trip at your last organization—tell me you won an incentive trip that 240 people were competing for and only four qualified to attend. Then make sure you tell me how you did it. What did you do differently than the other 236 people? Specifics drive these stories home and, quite frankly, make them believable.
Ask questions. Most interviews will leave time for you to ask questions, and even if you’re rushed, you should prepare for the opportunity. First, have questions! You’d be surprised by how many people don’t have anything to ask—and even if it’s because they received plenty of information during the interview, asking no questions comes off as a lack of interest. Second, ask questions you truly want to know the answer to. Should you be offered a position, you’ll be investing a decent amount of your precious time at this organization. If you really can’t think of any questions, ask yourself, “Do I really want to work here, for this person, on this team?”
If you ask for feedback, be ready for honest feedback. If one of your questions is going to be the standard, “Do you have any reservations that would keep you from hiring me or passing me through to the next step?”, be prepared to respond to some honest, real-time feedback from someone you’ve just met. This is not one of my favorite questions to get from candidates for many reasons; chiefly that I’ve found that many people are taken aback by an honest answer and aren’t prepared to respond. On the other hand, many interviewers will not provide real-time feedback and will let you know that after you’ve asked the question. Either way, the interview tends to end on an awkward note.
Don’t forget to close. This sounds so obvious while you’re reading a blog, but it’s so easy to do. Think about being in an interview: You’ve been under pressure for an extended amount of time. You're almost done, and all you want is to have a beer or stress eat some Cheetos. I get it. But after the questions are over and before you leave, make sure that you reiterate your interest in the job and that you’d bring X, Y and Z to the team. So many people don’t close. In sales, this is a glaring mistake—in a sales interview you’re essentially pitching yourself, so forgetting this crucial part of the process might leave the interviewer questioning your ability to close business.
Of the team I’ve hired at Sprout Social, I can still tell you who the standout interviews were—and why. They weren’t just candidates I hired, they were people I remembered. When it comes to your next interview, be someone they will remember.