Skip to main content

How to Interview Sales Professionals

Recruiting the very best sales professionals for your team is imperative for your success as a sales leader. With employment at 95.5% together, the UK is about as close to full employment as you can get.  

A good sales professional who can dramatically increase your business revenue is a rare commodity. In this 'candidate led' market', it is imperative that you set the right environment and prepare beforehand to interview effectively.

The most common and recommended approach is to hold interviews over two stages.  

The first stage should be relatively informal, and the Aaron Wallis bespoke interview questions will help you quickly penetrate the candidate's psyche and improve your ability to get beneath the skin of the 'interview façade'.  

We recommend that the second interview is more of a formal business meeting, perhaps involving a presentation or formal discussion document that you ask the candidate to prepare beforehand.  

It is imperative that you sell the company and the opportunity to each candidate - remember you are against the competition in this 'candidate driven' market for the best talent, and we recommend that the first interview puts the candidate at ease so that they are 'bought in' to your company, your staff and your opportunity.

The first stage should be a test of personality, character and basic culture fit. It should be a test of basic competence and ability but, most of all, a fact-finding mission for both parties. Someone once likened the perfect first interview to 'two strangers meeting in a pub for the first time', and I feel that this is an excellent analogy to get the setting right.  

At the second interview, we recommend that you ask the candidate to prepare a formal document - a presentation, a formal discussion document matching their experience and skills to your needs, a business plan, a SWOT analysis or even 'a day out in the field'. In asking the candidate to prepare something for the meeting, you will not only see the candidate's ability to research and prepare, but the exercise will help focus their mind in deciding whether your business is right for them.  

Here are some excellent general hints and tips to effectively improve your ability to interview. They are simple tips but effective ones!

  • Make a list of the required competencies, qualities and minimum skills/experience that you require an individual to possess in order for them to succeed. This may sound obvious, yet most interviewers don't take the time to do this. This exercise will make interviewing a natural process where you gather the evidence from each candidate on each point to ensure that you make the right hiring decisions.

  • Read every candidate's CV to get a 'flavour' of them before the interview. We find that just remembering where the candidate lives, their personal information, hobbies/interests and their current employer will make them feel more comfortable in the knowledge that you've taken the time to read their CV.

  • The Aaron Wallis personality questionnaire that we provide on each candidate gives an invaluable guide to holding an effective interview. Probe the personality traits in greater depth and use the recommended questions to quickly gauge whether the candidate has the prerequisite traits. For help and advice on interpreting and using the questionnaire, please do not hesitate to contact an Aaron Wallis staff member.

  • I personally highlight (or underline if I don't have a highlighter to hand!) areas of each CV and the personality questionnaire to probe. This not only helps to get to the 'meat' of the interview but tangibly proves to the applicants that I've taken the time to read their CVs!

  • Leave enough time for the interview itself and make notes afterwards. Set each interview at intervals of 15 minutes more than you feel you will complete the interview. Try not to over-run and keep candidates waiting.

  • Avoid distractions. Interviewing to get the right staff for your team is one of your most important responsibilities. Take the time out to interview effectively in an environment where you won't be disturbed. At Aaron Wallis, we offer fully furnished and equipped interview facilities to every client on a zero-cost basis. Make sure you switch off your mobile phone!

  • Remember, first impressions count - and that also counts for you! Make sure the reception area is tidy and welcoming. If you are running late, let the candidate know.  

  • Think of how you will position the interview. Do you want the formal, traditional, opposite a desk approach, or do you want to interview at right angles? Being able to see the whole person will enable you to read all of their body signals (and feet movement give a lot away - see our 'Improve your Reading of Body Language for Sales Success' for more information!)

  • Start by setting an agenda. How long the meeting will take, what you would like to get out of the meeting and invite the candidates to ask questions throughout the meeting.

  • For the first meeting, take a conversational approach to the interview and ask wide-open questions. One of the best ways to start an interview is asking the candidate to tell their 'story' in five minutes, both in work-related and personal terms. This approach will throw up a whole heap of questions to probe as the meeting progresses and will put the candidate straight at ease, which will aid you to tease out the required information in a very natural way.

  • Ensure that you take the time to detail why you are recruiting and the vision and direction of your business.

  • Research has shown that an ideal first interview is 60% candidate talk and 40% interviewer talk, and I would guess that this will probably rise to nearer 70%/30% in second and subsequent meetings.

Types of interview questions

  • Open - Who, where, why, when, how, and who (sorry to patronise you!) encourage the candidate to answer freely. However, use questions beginning 'why' sparingly as they can come across as confrontational;

  • Closed - Used to acknowledge, check facts, reiterate points and clarify;

  • Leading Questions, i.e. 'we need someone to open doors in the healthcare sector, do you have experience in this field?' used to lead the candidate to detail their experience/skills/qualities;

  • Multiple questions - 'What brings you here today? Why are you looking to leave your current employer? What are you looking for in a role?' allows the candidate to answer all of the questions in a single answer;

  • Competency-Based, i.e. 'give me an example of when you have...' the best, most valuable and recommended way of questioning to gather both information and to select an individual from a pool of candidates' fairly; Similar to Competency questioning is example questioning 'Can you give me an example when you have...?' again, useful to gather evidence and information;

  • Hypothetical Questions, i.e. 'What would you do if...'? I think that they have little use as you will get a standard interview façade answer rather than what they would do in the actual event;

  • Behavioural Questions - How they've handled particular issues/scenarios/events in the past and focused more on their personal qualities;

  • Probing Questions, used to ladder or funnel questions, i.e. drilling the detail of a particular answer. Competency-based laddering questions are some of the most useful ways to interview - 'Well why did you do that', 'why did you think that was the right decision', 'what could you have done differently', etc.

Positive Body Language When Interviewing

Remember to listen! Acknowledge what the candidate is saying, be aware of your body signals, nod your head in agreement, smile, and use open hand gestures. Be mindful of looking at your watch, out of the window, at your phone/blackberry, etc. Clarify, acknowledge and summarise to demonstrate your understanding of what has been said.

  • Observe everything, and if intuitively you do not feel that their body signals and words match, probe deeper.

  • Keep to timings, and don't be afraid to 'reel the candidate back to the agenda' if they embark on a journey of anecdotes!

  • Make notes throughout the meeting. It is incredible how much you will forget between the first and second interview.

  • A professional way to recruit and select is by listing the required skills/competencies/qualities/experience and marking each candidate out of a score of five or ten. This will help you to select based on 'fact' rather than 'intuition' (By law, you should have a centrally kept list of how a candidate would score two out of ten, three out of ten, eight out of ten, etc. as the candidate has the right under the data protection act to read your notes and see how you've judged them to be a particular score).

  • Don't ask surreal or 'showboat questions' - i.e. 'If you were an animal, what would you be and why?' Unless you are a trained psychologist, they offer little value!

  • Manage the candidate's expectations - detail the next stage, when they'll hear feedback, etc. Unless it is the last candidate that you are meeting in a pool of candidates, do not offer them the next stage opportunity unless you are convinced they will be at the next stage!

About the author

Rob Scott

Rob is the Managing Director of Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, a national recruitment agency specialising in sourcing sales and marketing staff for businesses across a broad range of commercial sectors. Before setting up Aaron Wallis, Rob spent ten years at a specialist Sales and Marketing recruitment division of a £0.5BN recruitment group, leaving in 2007 as Marketing & Sales Director to establish Aaron Wallis.
With over 24 years of experience in sales recruitment, Rob is a History graduate with an MBA (Merit) and a PgCert in Management Practice.  In 2007, 2009 and 2013 Rob conducted the most extensive surveys of sales professionals in the UK and is a trusted authority in the sales industry. From guiding employers through the recruitment process to helping candidates find their dream job, Rob's advice has been quoted in leading publications such as Business Insider and The Independent, as well as OnRec, which host The Online Recruitment Awards every year.

Please call us to discuss your vacancy

Milton Keynes



Our employers say...

Rob’s knowledge of the recruitment industry and his thoughts and how to make it better for his clients have always been eye opening. I would recommend Rob to anybody who is looking for a professional, knowledgeable and flexible recruitment specialist.

CEO, Friday Ad Online Services

I have always found Rob to be very knowledgeable about our industry sector, and it is refreshing to see after all of these years that Rob continues to quickly and accurately understand my requirements.

HR and General Manager, THK

I have used Aaron Wallis to fill a number of our Sales Development Manager roles and I have found them to provide a very professional service. I will use their services again in future recruitment campaigns.

HR Business Partner, Greene King

We were impressed not only by the quality of candidates you found for us but also the level of information, preparation and qualification you put into the process. You continually kept us informed of each person’s feelings about the process, which is very important but often overlooked. I am looking forward to working with your company again in the future.

Commercial Director, Incentive Facilities Management

Since joining DSGi, Rob has been a supplier of permanent staff and has performed to an extremely high standard, successfully filling 98% of roles he has worked on. If anyone is looking for a good sales and marketing based consultancy with an informal yet professional approach, I would recommend Rob.

Senior Recruitment Consultant, DSG International

I just wanted to thank you for your help with our recruitment process which went very smoothly and has – we hope – found us just the person for the job!

Managing Director, Citrefine International Ltd

We appointed Aaron Wallis in February and the successful candidate, out of the six which Aaron Wallis introduced, was able to join Alphametrics before the end of April. The whole process took less than three months. I would recommend Aaron Wallis' services to others without hesitation.

Chief Financial Officer, Alphametrics

Rob is a true recruitment professional that goes the extra mile that I have never experienced from any other recruitment agency before. If you need sales people call Rob or someone in his team, as they really are experts in sales recruitment.

Sales Director, Inside Business

Aaron Wallis has continuously provided us with suitable candidates that have been proactively sourced. Having used countless recruitment companies, Aaron Wallis are the only company that I can count on to deliver.

Managing Director, JARK Healthcare Recruitment

Giles Phillips is a rare find in the minefield of sales recruitment; an honest and thoughtful recruiter who considers the needs of both the client AND the candidate to create perfect role matches. I look forward to working with him again in the future.

Marketing Director, City of London Police

I found Aaron Wallis to be very professional and efficient, taking time to understand the role and the type of candidate we were looking for. The candidates they put forward met our criteria and were of a high standard. The service they provided was exemplary and I would have no hesitation in recommending them, and will certainly consider using them again in the future.

HR Assistant, Fischer Connectors Ltd

Thanks for all your help during the recruitment process. I have been extremely impressed with Aaron Wallis especially when compared to other agencies we have dealt with. I really felt you grasped the type of person we required and found strong candidates.

UK Sales Manager, Nexcom

In an industry where people over promise and under deliver, Rob and his teams have consistently provided a high-quality service. It is great to deal with someone that has an excellent understanding of UK industry, and a passion for sales.

Sales Manager, TR Fasteners

Giles is highly professional and was a pleasure to work with. He achieves excellent results through his personable skills and tenacity. I have no hesitation in recommending Giles to anyone who considers employing his services.

Commercial Director, G4S Government & Outsourcing Solutions

I really liked the YouTube presentations which made the service seem both simple and accessible. The company came to see me, and my management team, at short notice to present their service and I liked the support and advice that I received about maximising the results from the applicant.

Managing Director, Leisuresec plc

Understood the type of person we were looking for and good follow ups - not too frequent.

Managing Director, bigHead Bonding Fasteners Ltd

Our candidates say...

Really excellent experience dealing with Aaron Wallis. Liam Oakes who helped me get a great job was brilliant. Kept me up to date during the process and offered great help and advice, and a thoroughly nice guy. Highly recommended!

J. Hathaway, Candidate

The service provided by Aaron Wallis has been just great. I was constantly informed about what was going on with the process interview and the agent has always been supportive and kind to me.

L. Colagrossi, Candidate

The Recruitment agent I used, Simon, was extremely helpful and really went the extra mile to ensure all of my questions were answered, and that I felt as comfortable and prepared as possible. Very professional company and would definitely recommend to others. Thank you Aaron Wallis!

A. Callaby, Candidate

Fantastic customer service, communication was brilliant, happy polite people to talk to, made everything a lot easier and smoother. Thank you for all your help getting me back in the work force, Keep up the good work :-)

K. Everitt, Candidate

Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment are a very friendly and professional recruitment organisation who listen to your needs, work with you and act on your behalf which sets them apart from many of their competitors who in my experience are willing to throw anything at you. We discussed my history, my preferences and my wishes - one opportunity was introduced. It was perfect. I start at the end of June.

R. Buckley, Candidate

I can honestly say that the time and expertise you gave me was way beyond any other recruitment consultant I dealt with. You are a rarity in your industry.

S. Akers, Candidate

Good swift process with Aaron Wallis, informative regarding the role and the process was moved at a good pace with healthy interaction. Would recommend them to anyone pursuing a change.

S. Bartlett, Candidate

Aaron Wallis have provided me with an excellent service, Giles went out of his way to help me preparing for my interview and supported me through all the processes. If you need an agency to give you a fully professional and consultative approach to finding you a new career move, the Aaron Wallis can certainly provide this for you.

D. Richards, Candidate

Very good advice and support was given during the course of the interviewing process. Potential job seekers would be well advised to use this company whilst looking for their new career.

R. Speakman, Candidate

Less than two weeks after joining Aaron Wallis I was offered my new job. I got a £10,000 rise in my basic salary, car allowance, a laptop and many other perks, which will help to further my career. I definitely would not have found my dream job without the help of Aaron Wallis.

C. Hoy, Candidate

Aaron Wallis is an outstanding recruitment agency specialising in high calibre sales positions. I was working directly with Darren Dewrance who went above and beyond my expectations in sourcing me my perfect role. I was kept in regular communication with Darren and he worked extremely hard to secure my dream job. Highly recommended and Thanks Darren for all your expertise and hard work.

R. Sealy, Candidate

I've had a really good experience working with Giles Phillips at Aaron Wallis. From initial contact to the finer details of securing the job, he has been very professional and a pleasure to work with.

M. Shutt, Candidate

A great recruitment company to work with. Excellent experience with Aaron Wallis through the entire recruitment process. The team was really professional and extremely helpful. Darren was a pleasure to work with. He was friendly, supportive and gave me great advice. Thank you very much!

A. Bauchet, Candidate

Perfect from start to finish. Simon deserves a shout out. Best recruiter there is. If you need a job, this guy will get you one. He's like the super man of recruiters. Top man, can't recommend him enough.

M. Crisp, Candidate

Excellent experience from first contact to ultimately securing a suitable placement. Giles looked after me in a very professional and friendly manner. He used his expertise and experience to ensure I was put forward for the most suitable positions for my skill set and found me a new role very quickly. I can't recommend Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment highly enough.

M. Green, Candidate

I have to say coming across and having dealings with Aaron Wallis proved to be very successful. Being highly experienced did not seem to count for much during my job search bit a conversation with Robert Scott gave me a real confidence boost and enabled to get a position at the age of 63. Great service!!!

D. Burgess, Candidate

Fantastic service, helped me find my ideal job quickly and smoothly. Would highly recommend them.

C. Caine, Candidate

Aaron Wallis helped me secure a position I really wanted. Giles sought to keep me updated with all the details preceding interviews and after with feedback. I would highly recommend Giles and Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment.

L. Taylor, Candidate

Aaron Wallis (and in particular Rob Scott) have been fantastic throughout the recruitment process, and even a few months down the line, still continues to care. Rob clearly cares about each individual and has a wealth of knowledge and expertise, which shows in the work he does. Each candidate is not just a number, and the support received from Aaron Wallis has helped me get a career which I truly enjoy.

M. White, Candidate 

Excellent service, very professional and friendly, would and have, recommended Aaron Wallis.

E. Heley, Candidate