If you’re trying to land a sales job you’re in a unique position, because the very act of interviewing is a demonstration of your ability to perform within the role. A programmer has to sell himself in a job interview just like you do, but if he does a bad job selling himself, that doesn’t mean he’s not a good programmer. But you, as a salesperson, are on trial from the very first moment of contact. By the way, I’m going to refer to “he” as I write for ease of communication, but I’m just as open to hiring a “she.”
Over the past year I’ve interviewed several people to come in and help out with sales in our Hong Kong office. All of these individuals have shown a mix of positive and negative traits. Nobody is perfect. But some have come close to being impressive, only to make a minor mistake or two that ruins everything. How could a mistake that ruins everything be a minor mistake, you ask? Yes, in that sense they are major mistakes, but I say minor because they’re mistakes that are so easy to avoid. As I talk to people, I can see that with some very minor tweaks, they might instantly place themselves on an entirely new career path. A 1% improvement might yield a 1,000% gain. Here are my tips for someone interviewing for a sales position.
1. Maintain equality. As soon as you create unequal positions between yourself and the person with the sales job, you’ve lost. Maybe you haven’t lost the job, but you’ve lost something. As an employer, I don’t want to hire an employee. I don’t want to hire someone to work for me and do my bidding. I want to hire someone who is so confident, so good at what they do, so experienced, and so awesome that he scares me. I want someone who is my superior, or at least my equal. A partner, more than an employee. Don’t do or say anything that raises me above you, or lowers you below me. You might do this thinking that I’ll be flattered, or that you’re just being polite, but what you’re not doing is making me think “Man, I have absolutely got to get this guy on board!” This is hurting you, because I want to hire someone who can go to clients and make them think “Man, I have absolutely got to hire this company!” If you can’t convince me I need you, how are you going to convince clients they need us? As soon as you make yourself look small, you do damage to the perception you’re trying to create.
2. Don’t interview for the job. Instead, sit down for a chat. The moment you interview for a job, you create inequality. Let’s say you know I’m hiring for a sales position. Instead of sending me an email and saying “Hey, I see you’ve got a sales position open, I’d love to interview for it,” send me a message and say “Hey, I’ve been following what you do, I’m interested in some of these same things, I’d love to get together and chat sometime. Can I take you to lunch or a cafe?” This is something equals do. When we meet, never bring up the sales position. Just chat. Ask me questions about my business. Ask about challenges I’m facing. Because here’s the thing–if you get me thinking about the challenges I’m facing, and you seem like an awesome guy who might be a good fit, you’ll never need to ask about the sales position. You’ll never need to bring the topic up, because I’m going to come to you.
3. Be willing to let it go. There is a guy in Hong Kong who is definitely the #1 guy I would pick for the job. But he’s not interested. He’s got too many other things going on. He’s never asked me about it as a fit for himself, even though I’ve brought it up, so I know he knows I’ve got this open position. He is, in part, the ideal candidate specifically because he’s not desperate for it. If you want me to want you, you can’t come across as desperate. I don’t want a sales guy who is going to walk into a client’s office and make them feel like we’re desperate for their business. The feeling I want potential clients to have is “Man, MWI is the hottest company ever, how can I get them to accept me as a client?” If we’re desperate to land their business, that makes them think “Do I really want to hire a company that is desperate for my business? If they’re so good, why do they want my business so bad? They should be swamped with work already.” There is power in being able to walk away.
4. Speak slowly. A person who is calm, confident, and in control speaks slowly. Each word is deliberate. The person who is anxious and nervous believes he has to get every word out while he has the chance, or he might miss saying something that needs to be heard. Don’t give in to this temptation. There is plenty of time to say what needs to be said. Make me drag it out of you. You’ll come across as powerful and commanding instead of weak.
5. Look good. Don’t overdo it, but make sure you look good. It’s really not so much about looking awesome, it’s more about avoiding distractions and looking natural. If you’re too casual, it’s a distraction. Jeans and a hoodie would be too casual. If you’re overdressed, that can be a distraction as well, although in Hong Kong it’s hard to overdress.
6. Be punctual. People who are in control are on time. People who are late are out of control. If you can’t be on time, how much confidence am I going to have that you can take care of our clients? I understand sometimes emergencies happen. Sometimes we just forget things. I believe everyone deserves a second chance. I’m probably too forgiving. But the point is that while you may still get a chance at the job, even if you’re late or forget an appointment, I am not capable of giving you a second chance to impress me with your punctuality. Once you’re late, that ship has already sailed.
7. Learn about my business. If I were interviewing myself for a sales position at MWI, and I were sitting down for the aforementioned chat with myself and I asked “What are some of the challenges you’re facing with the business right now?” and the response were “Man, we really need help with sales. We’ve got tons of leads coming in, and we are great at fulfillment, but we just don’t have time to follow up on all the leads and close deals,” then I would dive into that. I would be asking myself questions about the sales cycle, how long it takes, what concerns people have, what keeps people from signing deals, what pricing looks like, how information is gathered, what goes into putting a proposal together, etc. I would gather as much detail as I can, and then come back and restate it all, perhaps in an email, “So if I understand correctly, these parts A and B are working great, but here’s where you face challenges, with XYZ, is that right? So if you could get someone to do such and such, then would that solve the issues you’re facing?” If you can prove to me that you understand the problem, and the solution, then you’re showing me that you might be the perfect person to be that solution.
8. Read. I always ask people I’m interviewing what their favorite books are. It doesn’t so much matter exactly what you’ve read, just that you’re a learner, that you’ve got an open mind and you’re constantly filling it with new information. Even if you haven’t read any books lately, there are good ways to answer the question, such as “I haven’t read many books lately, but I’ve been reading a lot of articles, mostly on such and such topic,” or “I haven’t read a lot lately, but some of my favorite books of all time are…” or even “I haven’t read much lately, but I would love some recommendations. What are some of the books you’ve been reading?” The wrong answer is to try and figure out how I want you to answer the question, or what answer you can give me that will make you look good, or make you not lose the job. That creates the inequality I mentioned earlier.
By the way, here are some books I would recommend to anyone going into sales:
- The Pyschology of Selling by Brian Tracy
- Speak To Win by Brian Tracy
- The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane
- The Art of Public Speaking by John R. Hale
- Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo
- The Ultimate Question 2.0 by Fred Reichheld
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- Getting Things Done by Dave Allen
- The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
9. Linkedin. I could say “develop a good network” but it all comes back to Linkedin. If you want to work for me, you better have a Linkedin profile that’s up to date. I don’t look at resumes. You should have a good photo on it. You’ll impress me more with 1,000 contacts than with 100, especially if many of those contacts have given you testimonials. The endorsements don’t mean much to me, because Linkedin makes it too easy for people to endorse everyone, including people they don’t really know. Sure, I may have 100 people who are willing to click a button asking “Does Josh know about SEO?” but what do they really know? On the other hand, if 30 people are willing to take the time to write a testimonial about you and how much they enjoyed working with you, then that means something to me. For me, those are your references.
10. Give me something of value. It may be advice. It may be a link to an article you think I’d like. It may be that you write a guest blog post for MWI. The best thing you can give me is a lead. If you really want to work with me, then you can take 1-2 hours of time and come up with something of real value for me. Guess what, 99.9% of applicants won’t do this. It’s a small cost to you with huge benefits. Even if things don’t work out for me to hire you, I’m going to remember that forever, because it’s so out of the norm.
Perhaps you don’t want a job at MWI, or MWI isn’t the right fit right now. Perhaps you don’t want a sales job. But if you follow these tips and adapt them for your situation, I guarantee no matter where you want to work, you’re going to be more successful.
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