Recruiters often ask a stock set of questions when interviewing prospective employees. They ask everyone the same questions so they can compare pros and cons of each candidate, and they use some of the questions to evaluate more than just technical skills. Recruiters also want to learn about your character, your confidence and your honesty. Although salespeople are not generally scored on their honesty, they are judged by how well they tell a story.
In sales, you need a sense of humor to keep your energy levels up and not let rejection get you down. Displaying a sense of humor also helps break the ice with customers and takes the edge off tense situations. Let some of your humor show during the interview when you answer the common question "What is your biggest weakness?" Respond jokingly, especially if you’ve already established rapport with the recruiter. Answer with a short reply like “creamy caramel” or “hot donuts.” Then elaborate on how you can never resist the hot, fresh out-of-the oven taste of the donuts from your local bakery and may be a few minutes late on days you stop for a dozen, which you’ll gladly share with the team.
Salespeople are good storytellers. “Ah, yes, I remember a time . . .” is an effective way to build rapport with clients and get them to listen to you and relate to the experiences you share. This kind of a sentence shows customers that you’re open and willing to talk about yourself and gets them to open up to you. Use the same tactics on your potential employer: answer the weakness question by recalling how you used to be so shy, you were too afraid to knock on a stranger’s door, let alone ask for a sale. Share how you overcame that flaw to get where you are today, and that now you sometimes talk over people in your enthusiasm for your product. Add that you know you’ve got to slow down and listen more. Create a scenario of how you’re working on the shortcoming with a story of how your efforts work. Tell the interviewer about your last encounter and how you sat for 30 minutes listening to a widower go on and on about his late wife, after which you closed a huge sale.
Impatience is a weakness many salespeople share, especially when in a hurry to close a sale and move on to the next customer or when you know you’re not getting the sale and you want to move on right away. The ability to follow up and build relationships is an important attribute in sales and an area in which almost every salesperson needs to improve, so you won’t be cutting off your nose by saying you need to work on your follow-up. Then talk about the spreadsheets and calendars that you use to remind you of follow-up calls you need to make.
Details Bog You Down
You don’t want to blow the interview by talking about a shortcoming that is vital to sales, like getting along with people. Instead, look for a weakness in yourself that is not critical to the job, such as filling out paperwork. This is shortcoming that can be overlooked if you’re a rainmaker. Talk about not being very good with details, even though you understand how important they are. Tell the recruiter that in the past you relied on the accounting department to make sure your contracts contained all the necessary details, but that you’re working on paying more attention to details. Explain that you now go over contracts twice at the end of the day before turning them in. Close by saying you know that details are important, but they don’t give you the same thrill as closing the sale.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."