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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

5 Biggest Interview Pitfalls—and How to Avoid Them


Interviewing salespeople is tough! Screening, uncovering, and selecting top talent takes a lot of practice and a reliable process. And it is essential to avoid the most common pitfalls along the way.

As far as interview questions go, the best are the ones provided in a validated scientific talent instrument used (toward the end of your selection process) by a certified Talent Analyst. The next best interview questions are those you yourself can ask each candidate to gain insight into their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—to determine whether there is enough evidence of talent to invest more time in them.

I often work with our clients to help them improve their interview techniques and become better at moving the right people forward in the funnel. Those who are the very best at recruiting and selecting top talent know that strong screening in the beginning leads to a much more talented candidate pool every time. Those that don’t commit to that kind of consistent practice tend to get stuck in one of five common interviewing traps and often find themselves disappointed with the underperformance of those they’ve brought on board.

In order to better take advantage of every golden interview opportunity that comes your way, you need to know these traps welland then avoid them.

The 5 Biggest Interview Pitfalls:

2019 State of Media Sales Report - Coming Fall 1. Asking hokey questions about ridiculous topics.

“Which color would you be if you were an M&M? And why?” might feel creative and even deep to some, but the odds of you learning something that will help you to determine whether this candidate is likely to grow in their job, reach and exceed their goals, and consistently replicate their success over time are pretty slim. Don’t waste their time or yours with questions like that. 

2. Failing to spend time preparing for the interview.

Even with the best intentions, most hiring managers don’t take enough time to get ready for their interviews. Especially if they are short-handed and balancing more on their plate than they normally do! Instead, they pull out the resume right before the candidate arrives and proceed to fly by the seat of their pants, asking questions about resume items that look interesting. It’s often a long time later when they realize their missed opportunity.

3. Asking questions for which the right answer is always yes

Most interviews that I have observed (outside of the structured talent interviews that I conduct) seem to fall into this pattern. Candidates might elaborate after each question, sharing a bit about the why or the how, but they intuitively know that the right answer to these questions is yes. Open-ended questions will provide you with much more to work with. For example:

  • Do you think you can handle the tough negotiations that go along with the major accounts that are on this list?” Yes.
  • “We focus a lot on our goals here and it’s important that everyone makes budget every month. Is that a good environment for you?” Yes.

4. Allowing glare to interfere with objectivity.

If the candidate attended your alma mater, shares an interest in one of your hobbies, or just returned from your favorite vacation spot, it is much more difficult to get an unbiased read of their potential. It’s easy to fall in love with the person you are interviewing and, with those rose-colored glasses on, throw a bunch of softballs at them before you make what might ultimately be the wrong hire.

5. Trying to cover too much ground during one interview.

In an effort to get to know the candidate better, hiring managers often toss a wide variety of questions at them in one sitting. They ask questions about skills, experience, goals, personality, preferences, resume highlights, and past failures instead of taking the narrow and deep approach that would have provided great insight. They may leave with lots of notes, but little of value.

How to Avoid These Pitfalls

There is a simple and easy way to avoid these 5 pitfalls and prepare for an interview that will determine whether or not you should move forward with your candidate. For years, I have taught clients to begin their interviews with an open-ended, experiential question like “Tell me about a time when you accomplished something that you felt was remarkable.” Or, “Give me an example of a goal you reached that you believe was life-changing.” These are what I call foundation questions.

Then, after asking that foundation question, I instruct them to continue asking a series of follow-up questions that steadily dig deeper and uncover more specific information related to the candidate’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

This week, I discovered someone who shares my philosophies and feels like a kindred spirit. Lou Adler announced that after “10 years of trial and error” he eventually discovered “the only interview question that matters.” Read the full article from Inc: The Only Interview Question That Matters.

So here’s the magic question: “What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date?”

Pretty good stuff, right? If you’re a manager who interviews recent college graduates, you could modify the question to ask, “What single project or task would you consider your most significant accomplishment to date?”

After the initial question, he suggests the following follow-up questions:

  • Can you give me a detailed overview of the accomplishment?
  • Tell me about the company, your title, your position, your role, and the team involved.
  • What were the actual results achieved?
  • When did it take place and how long did the project take to complete?
  • Why were you chosen?
  • What were the 3 or 4 biggest challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?

Those are just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine what you could unearth after 15 more minutes of delving in to this single, meaningful, magic question!

As I’ve written before, finding the right person for an open position can be really hard, and it can be very tempting to rush through the process or take shortcuts when possible. But making the wrong hire can cost your company up to five times their annual salary – and once you finally get rid of them, you’ll find yourself back at square one, sweating over your hiring process again.

If you don’t have time now to do it right, when will you have time to do it over again?

Save yourself the headache and do it right the first time!

Top Interview Questions

Topics: hiring salespeople Talent