Sales interviews are nerve-wracking. Not just for candidates, but also for hiring managers.
You may have to pass on hundreds of excellent sales hires—it’s definitely frustrating.
There are a lot of highly qualified, accomplished, intelligent people out there. Yet as a hiring manager, seeking to build the best sales team in the industry, there are a few things I’ve observed that separate the good from the great—the things that distinguish good interviewees from those who actually end up landing an offer.
At the end of the day, if you’re an “A” player, determined to work in a fast-growing and high-performing organization, you must set yourself apart from your peers.
But creating that separation isn’t easy. Hopefully, these 5 tips will help you avoid many of the pitfalls I see candidates falling into, and drastically improve your sales interview preparation process.
Prepare For Your Next Sales Interview with These 5 Pro Tips
- Understand that the sales interview process is grueling for a reason.
- Articulate (and validate) that you’re an “A” player.
- Demonstrate the depth of your skills, not the breadth.
- Present how your personal values align with the company values.
- Be an active participant in the interview process.
1) Understand That the Sales Interview Process is Grueling for a Reason
If you’re interviewing at a hyper-growth company, and you genuinely have the kind of core strengths—what we, at MuleSoft, call Muley DNA—we look for, you’ll undoubtedly recognize that the interview process isn’t hard for the sake of being hard.
When a company is committed to making a massive investment in your personal and professional growth and development, it only makes sense that they’d make a similar investment, up front, early in the process.
On the Account Development (AD) team at MuleSoft, our early career sales team, we have a big, hairy, audacious goal to be both the rocket fuel that drives the revenue and the talent pipeline engine for MuleSoft.
We genuinely believe that the AD organization is developing the future leaders of MuleSoft—and future titans of the industry.
With such an ambitious goal, hiring the best people possible—the top 3% of their respective peer group—is not only key to our continued success, but also the only way we can execute on such an audacious mission.
At MuleSoft, by focusing on optimizing our process, we’re able to control our own cognitive biases as recruiters. We involve multiple trained interviewers in the process, each with a specific area of focus.
When I say “trained,” I don’t just mean they’ve interviewed before. We have an extensive interviewer training program for people with all levels of experience.
This not only ensures we’re not making a poor hiring decision because of blind spots but, more importantly, ensures we’re creating a complete, holistic picture of a candidate.
2) Articulate (and Validate) That You’re an “A” Player
All too often, I’m compelled to pass on candidates because while you may be “A” players, you’re just not prepared to show me exactly why.
The impact of bringing onboard a B-Player (or even an A- Minus-Player) far outweighs the cost of passing up someone who might well have been an “A” player but couldn’t validate it.
So, why don’t these “A” players make the cut? Effectively packaging and communicating their accomplishments was not something they incorporated into their interview preparation.
Basically, you’re interviewing for a sales role but you’re unable to sell yourself!
Sales interview must-dos
- Speak to your specific achievements.
- Not the achievements of the team, but the impact that you, personally, drove in that role.
- Articulate how these achievements demonstrate that you’re amongst the top of your respective peer group.
- Can you quantify your performance relative to your peers?
- Articulate the lasting impact those achievements have had—hiring managers scout for people who build things to tackle tomorrow’s problems, not just today’s. Candidates who can “pave roads” versus “blaze trails.”
- Where have you demonstrated that ability?
- What will the impact of your work be when you leave your role and move on to bigger and better things?
- Use quantitative or qualitative data to substantiate this lasting impact.
- Present only specific accomplishments that you drove.
- Above all, this is a sales role, so be capable of telling a compelling story.
3) Demonstrate the Depth of Your Skills, Not the Breadth
A candidate’s resume is chock-full of extracurricular activities, including internships, clubs, papers, and volunteer work. But when you really scratch beneath the surface:
- You’re a dabbler—your accomplishments merely demonstrate the ability to go an inch deep, and a mile wide.
- Nobody wants surface-scratchers. Hiring managers most often look for candidates who are coachable and have the potential to master their line of business.
- Furthermore, depth in your accomplishments demonstrates the kind of grittiness that makes great salespeople.
- Angela Duckworth defines “grit” as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” Without long-term goals, there’s no depth in your accomplishments, and then it becomes hard to validate that you’re gritty.
- There’s a haphazardness to it all—your experience doesn’t seem like it maps to an end state that you’re trying to achieve.
- If your accomplishments don’t show a degree of intentionality in your line of work, how can hiring managers be sure that you know what you want out of a career?
- You’re a participant, not a leader—unable to step up to lead or to demonstrate a sense of ownership.
- Essentially, an Account Executive is a leader of an account team.
- Companies are unlikely to onboard a quarterback with no leadership ability to carry a team to a championship. Why would they hire a salesperson who lacks the ability to lead/mobilize/quarterback an account team and drive revenue?
When I hire, I’m not looking for someone who’s interested in collecting merit badges. I’m seeking a candidate who wants to attain a level of mastery as a salesperson and leader.
Furthermore, I want to see passion. Passion takes time to develop. It cannot be taught. An exceptional manager can teach a new hire how to sell, but that manager cannot teach that hire how to be passionate about selling.
4) Present How Your Personal Values Align with the Company Values
Core to building a great team is driving towards a shared sense of purpose.
By selectively bringing onboard those whose personal mission and values align with MuleSoft and the team’s, I can ensure we’re going to be driving toward the same, shared purpose.
Ask yourself, in any hiring process, whether your personal values and your personal mission align with the company and the core values and mission of the team that you think you want to be a part of.
As part of your sales interview preparation, make sure you’ve read up on the core values of the company and team, and see that they reconcile with yours.
At MuleSoft, our core values are:
- Be fearless.
- Own it.
- Make it awesome.
- Be a good human.
As an Account Development organization, we look for people who are:
- Passionate about selling
Perhaps you’re driven by a desire to create a world in which social justice thrives. That’s great! But to me, it’s hard to imagine you’ll do the mental aerobics to make the leap between driving social justice and being passionate about selling.
For that reason, it’s critical that you can connect the dots between what you’re passionate about, or your core values, and how these map to the mission and values of the team.
5) Be an Active Participant in the Interview Process
The purpose of any great sales hiring process is to ensure that if you come onboard, you’re going to absolutely crush it.
It’s equally important to that you’re going to be excited to get out of bed on a Monday morning and come into work.
As a candidate, the only way you can make this determination is if you’re interviewing the hiring manager just as much as they’re interviewing you.
It should be a two-way interview.
Hiring managers are quick to say no to:
- Candidates who are unprepared, and have canned questions—this is obvious when you don’t speak to the content covered in the interview.
- This demonstrates that you’re either not listening, or are not genuinely interested in what’s being said.
- Candidates who fail to conduct meaningful research about the individuals they’re interviewing with.
- Candidates who ask the same questions to everyone on the panel.
Finally, (and this is probably the issue I run into the most frequently), I often see candidates clearly smitten with the company, but unable to articulate why they’re passionate about the role.
I get it.
A company’s growth potential, widespread acceptance, connectivity in the space, and a cohort of the best salespeople may easily get you excited about the prospect of working with them.
But moving beyond that, are you excited to work in that role? If you can’t demonstrate this enthusiasm to me as a hiring manager, unfortunately, I’m going to have to pass.
Being an “A” Player is Just Not Enough
As a hiring manager, if I’ve passed on you, you’ve likely fallen into one of the pitfalls outlined above.
Remember to always be intentional with everything you do during the hiring process. It’s absolutely essential that you prepare thinking it’ll be the toughest interview ever, but I’m sure you’ll ace it anyway with these 5 tips!
If you’re an “A” player, looking to join a massively talented team, and you can successfully incorporate these tips in your sales interview preparation, you have a very good chance to find yourself launching your career into the next level when you interview with the team at MuleSoft.