We reviewed sales interview questions from 7 B2B unicorns: Here’s what sales managers should look (and listen) for

Choosing the right sales interview questions requires careful thought and preparation. Each question needs to have a clear purpose so (1) you can find out whether the candidate is qualified and (2) you can convince stellar candidates that your company is a step above your competitors.

To help you make the right choices, we scoured Glassdoor for questions B2B unicorns are asking sales candidates. For one reason or another, these questions stood out to real candidates during real interviews — enough that they wrote about their sales interview experience. By comparing these questions with sales interview best practices, we parsed some valuable lessons and came up with a list of more direct, specific questions for you to use the next time you interview a salesperson.

1. Walk us through your resume from start to finish.

Yep, we know. This is a pretty basic sales interview question. On the surface, it seems generic and boring. You can just as easily read the candidate’s resume, right? But asking this question — from a Slack interview for an Account Executive position — is an effective way to evaluate the candidate’s presentation style and poise while simultaneously learning how they’ve performed in other positions.

Salespeople need to be extremely comfortable with giving presentations. Pay attention to how they respond: Is the candidate prepared, or do they have difficulty remembering past position responsibilities? Are they making eye contact, or are they nervously shifting in their seat?

Also take note of the following, based on sales presentation best practices:

  • Does the candidate highlight past position accomplishments that speak to your company’s pain points?
  • How unique is their presentation approach? Do they simply list positions, or do they provide a quick narrative around each one?
  • Do they use a bunch of sales jargon, or do they explain past responsibilities in layman’s terms?
  • Do they clearly state numbers achieved in past sales positions, or are they vague about their accomplishments?

Look for candidates who present their resume confidently and enthusiastically and provide hard facts — you’ll want the same type of presentation style with potential customers. As one Slack candidate explained about what sales managers are looking for with this type of question, “Everything matters — how you hold a meeting, how you greet others, the questions you ask, your composure.”

2. In three sentences, describe [Company Name] as if you were pitching to a client.

This question comes for an Airtable interview for a Sales Development Associate position. It puts a creative sales-related spin on the traditional question, “What do you know about our company?”

Hopefully, the candidate has researched your company in-depth, but this question puts that knowledge to the test. Not only will you discover if the candidate is familiar with your product/service offering but also whether they have what it takes to sell it to potential customers.

Here’s how to evaluate the candidate’s answer:

  • Is the candidate easily able to fit their pitch within three sentences, or do they have trouble with succinctness?
  • Is their information about your company accurate? Did they find the info on your website, or did they have to dig a bit, such as by reading press releases?
  • Do they merely list the benefits of your company, or do they weave together a compelling story that makes you want to purchase your own product/service?

As with the first question, also observe the candidate’s presentation style.

3. Let’s run through a mock sales call.

Especially if you’re hiring for a sales representative role, it’s important to see how the candidate responds under pressure. LegalZoom, hiring for a Sales Specialist, asked the candidate who wrote about the interview on Glassdoor, “How do you handle stress?” A better approach is to put the interviewee in a commonly stressful sales situation and see how they respond.

A mock sales call is nerve-racking for a candidate, but it is a great way to test the candidate under pressure and demonstrate how they would react to potential customers in real life. It will help you assess the following:

  • Can the candidate think on their feet when thrown a curve-ball question?
  • Can the candidate re-explain the offering if the potential customer doesn’t understand?
  • Is the candidate pushy, or are they focused on building rapport with the potential customer?

Prepare a mock sales-call script before the interview by going into your CRM and finding a recording of an actual sales call between a potential customer and one of your current sales reps. This provides real-life application to your own product/service.

Although the goal is to see how the candidate reacts under stress (he or she might not have much sales experience), the exercise will also offer a demonstration of the candidate’s selling tactics.

4. Describe our company and sales culture based on what you’ve seen or heard.

To suss out whether a candidate was a good fit for their company, Zoom asked a potential Sales Development Representative, “What do you look for in a company culture?” We tweaked it. Use it to learn what candidates understand about your company so far and whether they’ll be a good match for your company culture and sales team. Look for their understanding of the following:

  • Your values and mission
  • Your management hierarchy
  • Your team and work environment (this applies if you share behind-the-scenes looks of your team/office, such as on LinkedIn)

For example, maybe your company is focused on relationship building — both with clients and with employees. You invest time in customers and close sales based on quality over quantity. So if the candidate answers, “I believe [Your Company Name] is dedicated to generating as many leads as possible and getting fast results,” he or she might not be the best fit for your company (and probably proves that they haven’t been observing closely).

This question also helps the candidate figure out whether your company is right for them. For example, if your company and sales culture encourage a transparent and collaborative work environment, some candidates who prefer working solo might not feel comfortable with this arrangement.

5. Walk me through your sales process and how you consistently met your sales goals at your last company.

If you ask candidates a question like Zenefits did for a Sales Representative role (“Have you consistently met your sales goals?”), it’s easy to get answers like “I achieved my quota every sales quarter I was with XYZ company.” That information is great to know, but it doesn’t explain “how” the candidate reached that number.

Instead, pose the question so the candidate takes you through each step of their sales process. This is a knowledge-based question — you can see if candidates have a clear understanding of sales stages. You also find out how long it takes the candidate to go through the sales process and where his or her strengths lie.

For example, a possible (simplified) answer could be, “My goal at the beginning of Q3 was to achieve a quota of 50 new subscribers. I focused on social selling to source 200 new leads and build a relationship during the prospecting stage.” The candidate eventually moved 50 of these leads into the closing stage.

You get the idea. Rather than the candidate providing a vague quota number that doesn’t provide context, this question determines how the candidate’s actions during the sales process helped them reach their desired quota.

6. Tell me about one deal that you didn’t win and what you took away from the experience.

This question was originally reported on Glassdoor by someone who interviewed for a Gusto Account Executive position as, “Tell me a time you failed and what you learned.” We made it more sales specific. Failure is a part of any job, but it’s something that salespeople deal with on a regular basis. It’s what a candidate takes away from these failures that matter.

This question should help you determine the following:

  • Can the candidate admit to a mistake, accept it, and learn from it?
  • How did the candidate use their failure as a way to improve?
  • Based on the above two questions, is the candidate coachable?

Probe for answers that are very specific. For example, a report of a generic failure like “I lost an important deal because I’m a perfectionist and tried too hard” is not enough. Keep digging for the detail. Your goal is to get a response like this instead:

“I had a big deal that I had been nurturing for a couple of months. My contact was excited about our service, and I was ready to close the deal. However, when it came time to sign on the dotted line, the contact said that the key decision-maker (who I should have been working with all along) wasn’t comfortable with the purchase. Since then, I’ve been striving to improve my qualification tactics by doing XYZ.”

Every salesperson has weaknesses, but the differentiator here is that the candidate recognizes this fact and is striving to improve. Make sure the candidate will be responsive to sales coaching if needed and will maintain a positive attitude in spite of failures.

7. Please give examples of sales books, blog, or podcasts that you follow to educate yourself outside of work.

For an Inside Sales Representative Role, Asana asked the question, “What’s something you learned recently?” Get more specific with this type of question. Find out if the candidate is motivated to grow and improve their sales skills in addition to their work responsibilities.

Are they reading popular sales books by experienced sellers, such as The Sales Bible, by Jeffery Gitomer? Do they follow sales blogs? How about informative podcasts? Ask for specific examples and a quick summary of each, and ask them to share the key takeaways.

If the candidate can’t name any specific sales resources or publications, see if he or she offers details on other ways they’re trying to improve. Maybe they completed a social selling course on LinkedIn. Or maybe they attend sales conferences every year. The point of this question is to see if the candidate is committed to personal development (a great indicator of a top-level employee).

Ask direct sales interview questions

Ask thoughtful, direct questions to help both you and the sales candidate get the most out of your time together during the interview. You’ll come away with a better sense of the candidate’s selling capabilities and whether they’re the right fit for the position. The candidate will see how seriously you take sales and the position, and your standards for success will be clear.

Want even more tips about sales interview questions and the hiring process? Check out our series on Hiring a Sales Rep.

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