In the first part of this two part series, we focused on preparation — the critical first step in making great hiring decisions. Here we will focus on the second critical step, the interview.
When you consider the ideal outcome for your interview — that you identify the best candidate and she accepts your offer — you quickly realize that there are two potential obstacles to getting what we want. First, we could fail to evaluate the candidate properly, and as a result select the wrong person for the position. Second, we could evaluate the candidate effectively and determine which candidate is our best alternative, but fail to present a compelling opportunity and lose that person to another position.
In order to help you avoid either of these two scenarios and secure the best person for your position, we will break the interview down into three parts:
- 1. Evaluating the candidate
- 2. Understanding THEIR decision criteria
- 3. Positioning the opportunity
Evaluating the Candidate
In the first blog in this series we talked about how to define your ideal criteria and prepare for the interview. This ensures you are evaluating all candidates against your criteria. Understanding that there is no single set of universal hiring criteria, this planning should happen or at least be revisited before you work to fill every open position. It is important to note, however, that merely preparing great questions doesn’t guarantee an effective interview. Asking the questions in an effective manner, particularly when using behavioral or performance interview questions, requires both skill and patience. In order to take full advantage of your preparation, keep the following in mind during the interview.
First, establish some rapport before diving into behavioral or performance questions. Begin with less threatening background questions to allow your candidate to get comfortable with the process. Here is a sample behavioral question:
“Tell me about a time when you were behind your sales objective and how you handled that situation.”
Second, be certain to give the candidate adequate time and space to thoughtfully consider your question and their response. Keep in mind that behavioral questions can be challenging, as you are asking for specific examples of instances where the candidate handled similar challenges to those he will face in this position. Thinking of specific examples can require extra thought on the part of the interviewee, so interviewers must allow them space to think and respond, while being prepared to dig deeper into the answer to get at the real talents and experiences of the candidate.
The same applies for performance questions such as this:
“Let’s role play a typical scenario our salespeople face. I’ll play the role of the buyer, you will be the seller and I’ll give you one of our common objections. Ready? So, we really like your solution but I have to tell you, your price is just too high.”
Third, be prepared to dig beneath the first answer to fully understand your candidate. The objective with your follow up questions isn’t to stump your candidate, you simply want to see how this person really responds in the scenarios presented. Performance questions like these also present an excellent opportunity to see how your candidate responds to coaching. In nearly all role-play scenarios you can find some point for coaching. Since most salespeople, like professional athletes, can always get better, this affords you a great opportunity to see how the candidate will react to your feedback. This is often a strong indicator of how she will respond when coached on the job.
Understanding Their Criteria
Once you’ve used behavioral questions, performance questions, and any other means of verification such as assessments to determine that you have the right person for the job, the second critical part of your interview begins — winning your desired candidate. Sometimes this part of the discussion happens in a separate conversation, sometimes it all happens in the same interview. Whenever it occurs, it is critical to avoid the same mistaken here that many salespeople make… pitching before we fully understand their decision criteria.
To make certain you present your offer in the most favorable light possible, first take the time to fully understand your candidate, her priorities, and the criteria she will use to evaluate opportunities. Top sales candidates will appreciate the fact that you aren’t just pitching your position but instead taking time to make certain it really is a good fit for them. As you do this, keep in mind that candidates always have criteria in all four of these areas:
- The position – Is it work they will enjoy? Do they like calling on this audience, selling this type of product? Is the travel acceptable or even desirable?
- The support – Will they have the assistance they need to be successful? The best people understand they are part of a team and know what other parts are needed to enable their success.
- The company – Is this a company they believe in and want to work for? For many salespeople, it is essential that they see purpose in their work, buy into the company’s vision and have a healthy respect, even admiration for the company they represent.
- The financials – Does this offer provide them the financial rewards they expect? This often extends beyond salary and commissions to include characteristics such as 401K and insurance options.
By fully understanding your candidate’s criteria in all four of these areas, you can be certain to position your offer in the most compelling manner possible.
Position Your Opportunity
Once you fully understand their criteria, you are ready to present your opportunity. In this final step of the interview process (except in the cases where you are negotiating with your candidate, the topic for a future blog) you want to be certain to connect the characteristics of your offer to the criteria that are important to your candidate. The conversation should flow something like this:
“Now that we’ve talked about what’s important to you, let’s see how this position aligns with your criteria. One of the things you mentioned being particularly important is being able to sell a solution with clear compelling differentiation. Here is how our solution is positioned…”
Avoid generic pitches that leave candidates feeling as if their criteria are irrelevant. When you understand and speak directly to their not only to you present a more compelling offer, you demonstrate a genuine concern for the candidate. In some cases, this becomes an important part of their evaluation.
A word of caution here: most interviewers know that the typical sales candidate is always selling, always trying to win an offer, even if it isn’t the right position for them. Unfortunately, hiring managers sometimes fall into this same trap when they try to convince a candidate they really like to take a job that isn’t good for the candidate. Avoid this mistake at all costs — the worst outcome in your interview process is not losing a great candidate, it is hiring the wrong person. This can happen when we fail to evaluate them properly or when we fail to recognize and acknowledge when our opportunity isn’t right for the person. If this really is a great fit for you and the candidate, this will be the easiest of the entire interview process and both you and the candidate will realize this.
Great sales candidates aren’t easy to identify and hire, but it can be done. By preparing adequately in advance, and being disciplined but flexible during the interview, you can build the strongest team possible and gain a sustainable competitive advantage.