Interview tips for sales professionals

Job interview tips for sales professionals

Kim Hughes|

One of the many great things about a job in sales is that every transaction is a professional affirmation. Of course, being a skilled salesperson means you have to be able to convince others of the value of your product whether that product is a car, a laptop or pricey commercial real estate.

How can you demonstrate your ability to close the deal in the most important test of all, the job interview? According to the experts, there are some simple but essential strategies that can give you an edge over the competition.

Arguably, the most important step happens long before the interview appears on the horizon.

“The resume, application or cover letter is the first point of contact for a candidate to make with a prospective employer, so we look at the quality of those,” says Donna Rankin, district manager with Andrew Peller Limited, who weekly interviews candidates for part-time sales positions in one of the 25-odd GTA West retail locations of the Wine Shop she oversees.

“Quite often it’s obvious that we’re looking at a document that hasn’t been crafted to highlight a skill set that’s important to us,” adds Rankin, who also has a B.Sc in psychology from the University of Toronto. “So people are applying for a job on the sales floor of the Wine Shop but their resume highlights a technical or medical employment history. It demonstrates very little effort; people have this one cover letter that they send out to everyone.”

This is especially true for people pursuing sales as a second career. Just because you were the bomb in some other business doesn’t mean you can convincingly cut it on the sales floor. You need to show how your skills are transferable. For example, if you were a legal assistant but are applying to sell display advertising, emphasize your ability to simplify complicated concepts or language.

And be sure to say whatever it is you’re saying with feeling. Rankin says that while a candidate’s wine knowledge and retail experience are taken into consideration along with their availability, those factors are ultimately less important than their soft skills, “because we can teach people about the wine.
“I look for eagerness. Are they engaged in the conversation? Are they asking questions that explore whether we are going to be a good fit for the candidate? You want to get the sense that people want the job.

“Some people are intrinsically motivated and some aren’t so what you want to get from the job interview is the sense that, whether the manager is in the store or not, they’re going to consistently perform to maximize the business because that’s just who they are.”

It may seem obvious in the Internet age, but due diligence and doing your homework prior to the interview is also hugely influential on the hiring manager, according to Anne Babej, COO with the 27,000-member Canadian Professional Sales Association. And please: make sure your research doesn’t begin and end with a quick peek at a company’s website.

“I want to know if a candidate read the president’s message,” Babej says. “Do they know the financial situation of our organization or what our focus might be in a given year? If candidates know those things, it tells me they are really interested in this organization and that they took the time to go beyond the bare minimum of checking out the website.”

Like Rankin, Babej insists a coherent, well-thought-out resume is paramount to nailing a face-to-face interview in the first place. “Every time a candidate makes a statement on their resume, they should think of an example to back up that statement.

“If you say you are proactive, come prepared with an example of how you are proactive. If you say you have attention to detail, don’t show up with scuffed shoes. That happened to me just recently. Be honest. If you’re not, the interviewer will pick up on the discrepancies and you will lose all credibility.”

Some other evident – and not so evident – tips for the job interview? “Dress for the role. Find out what people wear in a given environment and then go up one notch,” says Babej, who advocates leveraging connections on LinkedIn and Facebook for insight into a company’s corporate culture while “erring on the side of conservative.”

And don’t forget to follow up. “Just because you submitted your resume doesn’t mean your job is done,” Rankin says. “Getting a job is a job. If you can’t sell me on yourself, I don’t have confidence in your ability to sell wine.”

The final word goes to Babej. “Try not to be too nervous. And practice active listening – focusing on the question being asked and answering directly. Sales jobs require an ability to listen, so listen to your interviewer.”


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