News and advice for software sales professionals and employers.

Conducting a Successful Interview – 7 Challenges Series

To continue our series on the challenges hiring managers face, we are considering how to create a successful interview process. We will look at the number of candidates to interview and the types of interview questions to ask. If you missed part 2 of the series, we discussed “Selling the Opportunity and Setting up an Effective Interview.”

The Ideal Number of Candidates in a Successful Interview Process

First, let’s think about how many candidates are ideal for each position. Having 3-4 qualified candidates in the queue is ideal for conducting a successful interview process because it allows you to have enough variety to make comparisons between the candidates. However, this should never stop you from hiring the right person if they are sitting in front of you! The most common mistake made by hiring managers is finding a person who is a great fit for the job but feeling the need to stall on hiring because “this is the first person I’ve seen.” The only exception to this is a position that is tough to define, with a hiring manager who has little or no experience hiring this profile. In that case alone, it may make more sense to stall because qualification by comparison may be the best option.

**Important: Regardless of the true number of qualified candidates, every candidate should be told that at least three people are competing for the position (as outlined below).

Asking The Right Questions

Once you start the interview process of your qualified candidates, it is important to know what questions should you ask and what should you NOT say to have a successful interview. Theories abound on interview questions. Here are a few “out of the box” questions that drive important topics to the table. These can be asked before or after you cover the obvious questions about quota attainment, stack rankings, etc.

  1. What excited you about your current opportunity when you decided to take the job? Does that still exist?
  2. How did you find the majority of your leads in your last couple of positions (including current)?
  3. What has your average sales cycle been? Walk me through a recent deal…
  4. How many deals do you typically need to close per month/quarter/year to achieve quota?
  5. What should be your earnings if you hit quota exactly? (Compare with W2 figures provided against their claims of quota achievement.)
  6. In which position in your career have you felt your selling style/strengths were most in sync with the responsibilities/sales cycle/etc.? Why?
  7. What are the top 2-3 things you consider/measure as you choose your next step or which company you join? (Keep your ears open for how closely this matches the position they are interviewing for. Are their desires in opposition to what you have to offer or your environment?)
  8. Can you tell me about a sales success of yours achieved by doing something unusual?
  9. What do you consider “hard work” to be in terms of hours? What is the hardest you’ve ever worked? Why were you motivated to work so hard?
  10. Tell me about a time you lost patience with a customer.

In addition to good questions, it is important to include these factors, and also avoid saying the following things if you’re looking for a successful interview:

  • Be prepared to tell stories about reps who have been promoted, given increased responsibility, or had banner earnings years.
  • Be prepared to describe ways that your environment/culture is attractive (Is it sensitive to family issues? Is it intense enough that people feel like they grow more than before with your company? Do you have interesting sales contests?)
  • Do NOT express to your top choice/candidate your evaluation of him/her being the top choice. (You do not want to lay your cards on the table, even if you think he/she is the strongest candidate you are interviewing.)
  • Do NOT let any candidate know if he/she is the only strong candidate in the mix, only that he/she is one of two or three strong candidates.
  • Talk about offer/salary issues only in hypothetical terms (“IF we decided to move forward—it would probably be next week, and we would likely be offering something in the range of ___. How does this work with your timetable?”)

Don’t forget to come back in the coming weeks when we address “How to make an offer?” once you’ve identified your ideal candidate.