The Initial Interview
After 30 plus years as an executive recruiter that specializes in placing I.T. sales professionals, I have learned scores of valuable lessons. One that keeps repeating itself in my practice is that even the most successful sales executives in the industry often lack the ability to translate those unique skills into an interview setting. I reason that this is due to a failure on the part of busy, gainfully employed candidates, whom are the ones my clients pay me to put in front of them, do not realize that interviewing, like selling any other product or service is a discipline that requires preparation and practice to master.
As a third party to thousands and thousands of interviews I benefit from being the one that is informed of the results and have been able to deduce from these observations a winning formula to follow.
Let’s start with a cliche that’s probably a cliche because it’s true! You never get a second chance to make a first impression. For face to face (or web based video) interviews, please dress for success (okay, now I will dispense with the cliches). Really; my advice is to err on the side of conservatism or overdressing for any professional sales interview. You can always loosen your tie, or remove a sport coat once chemistry is established and it becomes clear to you that the environment you are in is more casual than you had prepared for. But regardless of what the interviewer/hiring authority is wearing, my clients want to see how you appear when you are at your best.
Be Prepared with Your Research & Questions
Secondly, just like preparing for any sales call, you must spend at least 15 minutes or so researching your prospective employer before you sit down with him/her. Any serious headhunter will assist you in understanding what to expect from the manager seeking to hire, but that’s not enough. Check out their website, Google their competitors; peruse the manager’s Linkedin profile. Regardless of how busy you are, these steps are made incredibly easy with today’s technology.
Plus, go at least one step further. Most experienced interviewers will ask you if you have any questions for them at some point in the initial sit-down. Be prepared with three or more.
I’ll give you two that almost always work. One, Mr. /Ms. Manager, I see from your profile that you have been tremendously successful at Blather and Blather; to what do you attribute your success? I too, want that track record someday and I’d love to know how you accomplished what you’ve earned. Two, now that you have done the brown-nosing, I see that you are in a very competitive market, what do you believe sets your company and its products/services apart? My clients love that question as it shows that not only do you care about their marketplace, but that as a sales pro, you need to know what your chances are of succeeding based upon their distinctiveness.
Be Well-Versed with Your Own Accomplishments
Another aspect of being well prepared for a successful interview is to be well-versed with your own accomplishments and account base. Believe it or not, most sales pros are not expert at blowing their own horn. I have come to accept that there is a bit of a natural awkwardness in selling one’s self, as opposed to their current employer`s solutions set. So the way to avoid that common challenge is to simply write down your five most notable achievements in your sales history before you go to the interview. The same goes for two to four of your most coveted client/account relationships. Write em down.
You do not need to show your interview counterpart your lists, nor do you even need to bring the valuable data with you. But inevitably, you will be asked for that information, and when you are, you will be mentally prepared because you thought about it and wrote it down. Believe me, 600 placements and 30 years later, this practice works!
Lastly, but way not least is the issue of closing. If I had a couple bucks for every client that said to me post-interview we really like Sally and she actually has a lot of the credentials we seek too, but we will not be moving ahead with her because she didn’t close me on the job offer; I’d be writing this article from my second home in Maui. This is one of those aspects of the business of search and placement that regardless of how much things change, stays the same.
It is an eternal principle of superior sales management executives to live by the credo that if you are not qualifying and closing them as part of your interview strategy, they assume that’s the way you will be treating his/her prospects and customers.
Even the top reps I deal with often forget to close, are not sure when the right time is, or lack the script to articulate their desire to move to the next step in the process and/or to simply express their interest in the job at stake.
My advice is simple. Be clear and forthright. As soon as you sense that the interviewer is gearing to wrap up the session state Before we finish, may I ask you if you have any concerns that would cause you to hesitate from offering me the job or moving me into the next phase of your process? If so, please allow me to address any remaining issues. If the interviewer discloses any specific concerns, proceed by being specific, but concise with your rebuttals to his/her objections. Or if there are no tangible issues to prevent the momentum from building and/or to close after your rebuttal, say Great I have really enjoyed my time, I am extremely interested in moving forward to learn more about this opportunity and I’d really like to know what I need to do (or can do) to set up our next interview before I leave.
Now, that wasn’t so hard was it?
Oh yes, and one more issue for all of us salespeople. We, in general, have very healthy egos. So it’s easy to cross the line of self-confidence by being vain. My advice is to exercise your humility until it comes to the very end of the interview process, called compensation negotiations. That is the subject for a future article. In the meantime, be prideful and communicative about your accomplishments without bragging. Let the interviewing manager shine while you listen and remain grateful and positive. Leave with a firm handshake and feel the love by knowing that you have made an awesome, new connection and perhaps have put yourself in line for an upwardly mobile career move.
And for more help and information from me, enjoy the rest of my website and contact me when I can assist you personally.
Sincerely, Jordan Greenberg