Lessons Learned Interviewing 1,000 Sales Candidates

A few days ago I grabbed a drink with a colleague who is on the job hunt for a job in technology sales. He wanted to talk about the market, upcoming interviews, the works. On the train over, I began musing about how many interviews I have conducted for sales positions in the past five years. Over a five year period I interviewed between five and seven people per week, usually with just a couple of weeks off. So in an average year, that amounted to 250 candidates. After five years, that is over 1,000 candidates.

I know, I was surprised too. I began to wonder: of all of those interviews — phone, Skype and in-person — how many do I distinctly remember? How many represented themselves well, were hired, and proceeded to produce for the company? Unfortunately, not enough.

With that said, I had the opportunity to talk with a thousand people who were trying to get their foot in the door and start their career. From these many conversations, I have gained an almost endless supply of hilarious stories and strange interview situations that make for great bar conversation. But as I sat and drank with my friend, I recalled not the outrageous tales, but the common trends. Here are the some of the crucial qualities I have begun to identify and seek out in sales candidates:

1. They Can Tell A Story

Did this person make you want to listen to what they had to say about their past job or where they went to college? If they did, great. If they didn’t, that’s trouble. For many people, the most fascinating topic is themselves. So, if they can’t engage you in a story about school, a past job, or something along those lines, the odds are that they won’t be able to engage someone about work-related and, frankly, boring, topics.

2. They Don’t Let You See Them Sweat

Job interviews can be pretty uncomfortable. Most normal humans are nervous simply because the stakes are high. If a candidate can keep their cool in this high-stress situation, it’s generally a good sign for how they will work under pressure.

3. They Are Curious

Are they asking questions? Do they have a knowledge about your company? This shows genuine interest in the job — this one in particular, not just any job that pays green money — and a willingness to learn. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it also helps a candidate kill it in the interview room.

4. They Show Up Comfortable

Like I said, job interviews can be stressful, but there should be a genuine ease to a good candidate. Feeling comfortable talking about themselves is a sign of confidence. Additionally, feeling (reasonably) relaxed in the interview room is often a sign of a good fit; both the candidate and the interviewer want to work with someone with whom they get along, so this is something to look for.

These are just a few lessons from the many conversations over the years. The most important thing is to know what you are hiring for, make them comfortable, and manage the process.