Salespeople who golf tee Gary Johnson off. So, when the sales manager at ABC Seamless Siding & Windows in Toledo, Ohio, interviews candidates for a sales job, he not only carefully checks their resumes, he also asks what they do with their free time. “I have nothing against golfers, but if they put golf on their resume, that will be a problem,” he says. “On a sunny day, when I can't find them, I know where they are.”

Clark Brockman, on the other hand, loves having three former golf pros as Exterior Innovations sales reps, and in his interviews looks for clean-cut golfer types. “They have the ability to slow things down in their mind and think on their feet,” says the president of the Savannah, Ga., replacement company. “A lot of people just go out there and hit. [These guys] think through every shot.”

Interviewing Skills A fondness for golfing greens isn't the only thing that Johnson and Brockman check for in their interviews. Johnson looks for evidence of some sense of urgency. He asks candidates how they handle pressure. “The most laid-back guy on earth is probably not my guy,” he points out. Brockman encourages applicants to talk, and looks for those who tend to be “a little bit boastful” and want to make a lot of money.

At Weather Tight in Franklin, Wis., president Tod Colbert also looks for salespeople who want to make money. He even asks them how much. If it's too little, that indicates a lack of ambition. Too much? An ambition out of scale with what's realistic. The question, Colbert says, “helps us know how to approach the rest of the interview.”

Goal-Oriented Colbert and his sales managers also ask candidates about their 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year goals. “If they don't have an answer, they haven't set goals,” he says. “We also want to see if they're looking for a stepping stone or for a career.”

To weed out candidates who want a 9-to-5 job, Weather Tight's Colbert asks about the hours candidates prefer to work. “In our industry, the hours are so crazy. They're the No. 1 reason we lose salespeople, so we like to clear that up right away.”

And to make sure he has someone who can sell, Colbert always challenges interviewees with a question like, “Based on your resume, I don't believe you can do this job. Why do you think you can?”

Pam Fry, a Nashville window saleswoman whose annual sales have often exceeded $1 million, suggests three questions for those who want a job like hers: “How do you handle rejection? How often do you find yourself getting angry? What sale was your most challenging, and why?” The question about the sale gives insight into whether someone is a team player — a very important quality, Fry says.

What to Ask Bill Carpitella, president of the Sharrow Group in Rochester, N.Y., suggests the following questions when hiring a sales professional.

Functional Questions

  • Please tell me the primary reason (or reasons) you chose sales as a career.
  • What are the reasons people buy what you sell?
  • What is your methodology or process for selling?
  • How do you prepare for a sales call?
  • How do you describe success for yourself as a sales professional?
  • Tell me about a difficult sale where you were able to overcome the prospect's objections and complete the sale.
  • Tell me about a time when you failed to perform to your own expectations. What happened? What would you do differently today?
  • What type of boss, environment, and level of responsibility are ideal for you to perform at your maximum output? What qualities in these three things would cause you to lose productivity?
  • Are there any areas of development that currently prohibit you from being the best you can be in the sales profession? What are they?
  • Let's role play: Please treat me like a potential customer and take the next 15 minutes to do your best to get me to buy this window from you. Use your imagination to take me through the entire process.
  • Behavioral Question

  • How do you build rapport when first meeting someone?
  • What is the usual first impression you give when meeting new people?
  • Tell me about a work crisis you had to manage.
  • Tell me about a time that you believe you were unfairly treated.
  • What do you think your most creative contribution has been to a company?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an unreasonable request from a customer. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you built a strong relationship where none previously existed.
  • Tell me about a time with a customer when listening worked extremely well and a time when it did not work so well.
  • What is the biggest negotiation you ever won? The biggest you ever lost?
  • How do you close out people who you believe are wasting your time?
  • What do you personally value in your life?