Sales Managers – Do You Interview Candidates Like You’re On The Apprentice?

Sales Managers – Do You Interview Candidates Like You’re On The Apprentice?

During some of the SerialTrainer7 Sales Management Training I have been talking to a lot of sales managers about effective recruitment and recently one subject that has come up has been around interview questions.  They have shared experiences of interviewing and some have even explained how they have tried to interview people in a style that is aggressive and puts the candidate under significant or even extreme pressure.

The Apprentice Approach

The sales managers suggested that getting quite aggressive and challenging with sales candidates can be a way to see what they are made of.  Sometimes they use a good cop bad cop routine too.


“Don’t you think you are just wasting your time applying for this job?”

“Did you actually think that your answer would impress me?”

“Isn’t it true that you are simply side stepping my questions because you just cannot answer them?”

“Could you not come up with a better answer than that or is it that you just cannot think on your feet?”

Now I should say, that I am all for putting people under a little pressure, it can get people to think and answer more succinctly and show how they actually handle pressure from clients when negotiating or handling objections. However, when done poorly it can be very off putting to someone looking to work in an organisation, as it can be an indicator of an aggressive management style or high -pressure culture.  This approach I often liken to the styles adopted by the panel on the Apprentice during the interview stage, where the candidates are grilled on their business plans, it is deeply unpleasant viewing.

In an interview, candidates look uncomfortable and start to lose their way in their answers and ultimately leave the interview not wanting to return, even if the job looks amazing.  Of course this style can actually result in some pretty nasty outcomes too.

  • The reputation of the business and the manager is tarnished
  • The interview experience is very poor, resulting in fewer candidates applying in the future
  • Complaints can be lodged into the business via HR
  • In extremes, candidates could complain about being bullied or harassed.

From my own experience, I have actually been interviewed this way, by a client looking to seek my services as a training supplier, and during the meeting, the client got himself so into his role, that he started shouting and barking insults and he would not let me finish sentences or answer his questions. Eventually I asked him what his agenda was, and he told me that he was looking to establish my experience.  I then explained to him that his interview technique was not only poor but also actually insulting and he should try out for the Apprentice, as clearly that was where his inspiration had come from. I also informed him that if he found a supplier who responded well to his interrogation tactics then that would be day that the sun sets in the North.  I then politely took my leave.  He went to shake my hand, (heaven knows why) and I politely declined explaining that I wasn’t wearing gloves and left.  Within 24hours I received a call from a fellow Director of the business apologising for his behaviour and would I come back to meet her. Naturally I declined.

Some Constructive Help

Interviewing is an interesting subject as sales managers have dream criteria in their heads as to what the perfect sales person should have in their skill set and establishing whether the candidate has the skills can be challenging.   These desirable skills can include:

  • Being an ‘Asker’ so good questioning skills and the ability to ask for the sale.
  • Being an ‘Informer’ great at selling value, benefits and bring insight and knowledge to the sale.
  • Being a ‘Wolf’ the skills in going after and hunting down the new business.
  • Being the ‘Committer’ in it for the long game, so that they build a consistent long lasting relationship with the client.

The thing is, some sales managers want all of the above in every sales person, and this might be reaching for the moon.

It is important to question sales people on their experience, and to establish whether they have the skills. Good and robust questions should be asked.  Here are two example questions that I ask for each of the above criteria.

“Please describe to me the types of questions you might ask a new client in order to qualify them so we can help them as a future client?”

“When a client is not forthcoming with detailed answers, how might you change your questions to help the client open up a bit?”

“What do you think the term ‘value’ actually means?”

“How do you go about framing a statement to a client, so that the very best benefits and value can be recognised about your product?”

“When do you suppose is the best time in a sales cycle to go out hunting for new business?”

“How do you recognise a potential new client as someone that is worth pursuing for your product?”

“How much effort should be put into a lower spending client, that commits for a long period of time, compared to a higher spending client that only commits for a shorter time?”

“What would be your strategic priorities to win more market share from your current committed clients who already spend with you?”

These questions ask very specific questions linked to the required skill of the sales person.  They are designed to be wordy to encourage listening and require thought and pause before answering, therefore demonstrating consideration and recall of experience.

So to sum up…

By asking questions in this manner, it is possible to establish the skills and experience of the candidates, and by asking each candidate the same questions it is possible to evaluate their answers in a balanced and fair way, so that the final decision making process can be evidence in the answers to the questions.

Thanks for reading and if your sales managers need help with recruitment skills as part of their management development, then drop me an email

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