If you’re applying for a sales position, be prepared to answer a question typical in interviews: “Sell me this pen (or pencil, stapler or another object within reach).” This question initiates a form of role-playing, and may also be asked for other positions in which interacting with people is important. Your response gives the interviewer an impression related to your selling and interpersonal skills. Don’t be intimidated by such a question. Selling an object in an interview can be fun, and is really just a matter of following proven sales techniques to inspire the interviewer to bet on you and your abilities.
Determine a Need
A fundamental concept salespeople follow in all businesses is to find out what a person wants and then show her how to get it. Apply this idea to your interview sales pitch. For example, if you’ve been asked to sell a sticky note pad, ask a few questions that will give you an idea why this item is needed. Your presentation could begin with, “Assuming you don't already have a sticky note pad, please tell me what you do when you need to write little reminder notes to yourself. Do these notes ever get lost causing you to search for them and making you waste time trying to remember their contents?” Your questions should be designed so the interviewer envisions a situation in which she would benefit from the object you want to sell.
After you’ve established a need within the interviewer's mind, describe in a lively way the object’s advantages. You might lead with, “It sounds like you could benefit from having a way to keep your reminder notes where you place them. I have something here that will really help you out. Have you ever seen or used these sticky notes? They’re quite incredible. They come in a variety of sizes and in so many different colors you could pick one to match every outfit you own! Their surface is smooth enough to make your pen or pencil just glide as you write. Best of all, each sheet in a pad has a special adhesive along one edge that readily sticks to almost any surface -- they won’t damage any surface and can be easily removed and even reused. I can tell you the popularity of these little notepads has just skyrocketed because they’re so amazingly useful!” Paint a picture with your argument in a specific, personal and compelling way. Based on your initial questions, describe the benefits that will most appeal to your “customer.”
Your interviewer may try to test you by giving a negative response to each of your comments. Try not to get flustered; stay calm, listen closely, and offer solutions that meet the interviewer’s concerns. You might use a creative demonstration for your reply. For example, you might ask the interviewer for several small blank non-adhesive note sheets. Jot a brief note on a few of them and then attach them to a surface, such as to another sheet of paper. Obviously, without adhesive the notes won’t stick and will fall off. If your interviewer says, “Well, I typically use paper clips for that,” you can reply, “Paper clips do work well, but you’ve got the added expense of having to keep them on hand, plus they’re not biodegradable and could damage a paper shredder if left on a sheet. These little sticky notes are inexpensive, earth-friendly and won’t damage a shredder.”
Close the Deal
To wrap up the sale of the object, think of a way you can leave the “customer” with something that helps form a relationship. For example, you can ask, “How much would you think one tablet of these sticky notes would cost? Really? You might be surprised to know that you can get six entire tablets for less than one box of paper clips. And, if you aren’t prepared to order them now, let me leave a tablet with you free of charge to try out. I just know you’re going to be amazed and delighted, so here’s my card. Please call when you’d like to order!” End your sales pitch with a handshake and a big smile -- a contagious facial feature that will be mirrored on your interviewer's face.
In addition to practicing sales techniques, you’re also promoting yourself. Let your personality shine through and use lighthearted humor. Be confident, persuasive and engaging to keep the interviewer interested. Create a sense of warm and respectful camaraderie by speaking with her as an equal, just as you would a real customer. Remember: In addition to trying to determine the level of your specific skills, the interviewer will be attempting to get a feel for you as a person.
Michelle Reynolds has been writing about business, careers and art since 1993. She was the publisher of a newsletter, “Working Parents Monthly," as well as a graphic design guidebook. Reynolds also served as human-resources director at a resort/spa for eight years. She is an artist and promotes the arts and other artists through ElegantArtisan.com, a website she developed and maintains.