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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


    • 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;


    • 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;


    • 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!

Date published: 7th July 2024

Rob Scott, Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, Author Photo

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.

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