Over the years I’ve interviewed hundreds of people. And it amazes me how many make the same basic errors in an interview situation. Maybe its the general quality of people in the job market, or a lack of understanding of what commercial teams need, but glaring mistakes like these mean your interview is over. At least if I’m the other side of the desk!

Gnomes' three phase business plan

Gnomes’ three phase business plan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not having a plan – People who answer the question ‘where do you want to be in a years / 5 years / 10 years time?’ with an evasion or even worse a generic sort of emotional answer, eg ‘happy’ frighten me to death in a job sense. If they have not considered how to construct their career and build their future for themselves, what chance will they have of achieving a sales target or constructing a business plan?

Being afraid of earning too much money – When asked ‘How much are you looking for?’ or words to that effect, if you are going for a sales job DO NOT answer ‘I’m sure the salary will be fair’ or even worse, ‘I havent really thought about it’ Sales people are obsessed by their earnings, and it’s not accident the good ones earn lots, and are always looking to earn more. Be specific – don’t be afraid of under pitching, if you do, you’ll learn the next time. And over pitching is expected.

Not knowing what motivates you – If you can’t get yourself up off the floor and back out into the game, then sales isn’t for you. Not knowing what motivates you is a sure-fire way to spend days in a sales job waiting for inspiration to strike. The worst possible answer here revolves around those questions where you reveal you aren’t motivated by money. Really? Well I’m not sure what will keep you going in the face of adversity then. Equally, a general lack of target orientation will kill the interest of your potential employer dead.

Not being proud of something, or not having a record of achievement  Sales people tend to be outcome focussed and target orientated. Not being able to recall your proudest moment does not paint the picture that you are too. People that have sort of drifted through life with no real direction up to this point in the interview, are likely to continue that way – even if other things in the interview point to them being able to sell.

Not having a visible progression. Maybe you started at the bottom? But you can demonstrate that you have worked your way up? Awesome! That points to all sorts of sales related abilities. On the contrary, having worked at the same level in a single company or even worse in different sorts of companies is a tell-tale that the person in front of you lacks ambition and drive, and the wherewithal to improve their lot in life.

No imagination. Imagine not turning the stories of your life into examples that demonstrate your suitability for the job? Worked in a butchers? OK, well this is a sales job, so lets focus on the customer service part! You were a grave-digger? You’d be perfect as a ground breaking new business development expert (sorry!) Don’t just lay your c.v. in front of the hiring manager and expect them to do the work to piece together your suitability for you.

Grave Digger

Grave Digger (Photo credit: petesimon)

Not having any questions. ‘I think you’ve answered all my questions in the interview’ is my pet hate! Listen to what they have to say and save a question till the end! Or think or ones before hand. Even if the questions you have prepared have been answered, ask for clarification!

Ok, now for some practical tips.

Dress smartly. Going for a sales job? you will rarely go wrong with a suit and tie. Don’t wear a shirt and trousers, especially not an open necked shirt. Watch your shoes. Scruffy or inappropriate footwear stands out. Make sure your hair is tidy and professional looking. You maybe a stunner on the dance floor but the boardroom needs a more conservative look

English: A. G. Murray, 1901. A. G. Murray is p...

English: A. G. Murray, 1901. A. G. Murray is pictured in a double-breasted suit and tie, with a fob watch on a chain. He is wearing a topcoat over this suit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Be careful of the open necked shirt and suit. Its generally accepted these days and practically de rigueur in big cities, but bump into a traditional CEO or MD and you could have your card marked straight away. Cufflinks are timeless and always add a smartness, but tie pins are well in the past.

Above all, you have to look like someone who people are willing to trust with their money. Even if the job is telephone or internet based, still go as formal as you can manage in the interview. If the job doesn’t require a suit then fine, you’ll be told that, but its better to go in over prepared than under dressed.

Please make sure you have a firm handshake! Practice with someone if you are worried. Handshakes vary from the firm and fast two shaker to the firm and vigorous that last for up to a minute, often accompanied by a touch to the elbow or shoulder. You’ll note the operative word here is firm.

Do not stick your hand in front of you like you aren’t sure what it is, and are afraid if might explode if you aren’t careful with it. We are looking to hire confident people. Those that find the basic social niceties difficult are at a disadvantage.

If you are female or being interview by a female boss, don’t automatically go in for the cheek kiss. It’s extremely common these days. but It’s still easy to fall into the fairly informal in this country if you kiss a lady upon meeting. Formal handling of this situation is fine if you are confident.

If in doubt, and at the very least to avoid the old chicken head as one of you goes one way and the other goes the other way, stick out a hand assertively leaving no doubt that you are after a handshake. Again, be firm, don’t crush. Trying to crush each others hands is also, thankfully consigned to the past!

So what have I missed? Let me know in the comments!

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7 replies
  1. whynotgoglobal
    whynotgoglobal says:

    Excellent article and an excellent checklist. Most of my working life has been a balancing act between recruitment and sales, and like you I’m often astonished by the poor quality of interview performances. One thing I’d add – and this is my own pet hate about interview candidates – is that it’s a bad idea to turn up with no knowledge of the company. If I’m attending an interview I’ll prepare for it in a similar way that I’d prepare for a new business sales meeting. That includes knowing enough about the company to talk intelligently about their culture and commercial goals and how I can add value. I’ll do this even if I’ve been headhunted; if a company pays me the compliment of approaching me then I’ll certainly show them the courtesy of doing my homework before the meeting.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thanks! And I agree, and essential from the candidates perspective. IF you cant research the company you’re looking to work for, there is no chance you’ll do it as part of your new business process!

  2. Mark Selby
    Mark Selby says:

    Being confident as well cannot be stressed enough. I know so many people who have gone for interviews and are so nervous before they get to the interview, they have virtually blown it before walking through the door. You have to be confident in the corporate world not arrogant but act as if you belong in with the “big boys” so to speak.
    It goes a long way, especially in Interviews. Be confident in your own abilities, do your research on the company and believe you deserve the job, because if you dont, no-one else will either.

  3. Nicky Cook
    Nicky Cook says:

    Hi Tony, from experience I would not rule out someone because they did not have a tie on, I agree you have to be smart but surely it is more about what you know rather than what you wear, Don’t get me wrong if someone turns up looking like they have been dragged through a hedge, I would not hire them, but cufflinks seem a bit extreme, and as I am female I do not own a blouse that requires them. Nerves can get the better of the best of people, I used to get very nervous in interviews, but it did not mean I was unable to do the job, I think you need to cut some slack and remember that it is also about how you conduct an interview, to get the best of the applicant and put them at ease. I have been to an interview where the interviewer did not have a clue how to conduct the interview, and I seemed to have more knowledge about the company than they did. Sharp suits, wit and answers are not always the best, as some of those types of people can also damage your business. I would look for personality every day of the week, and that should shine through in any interview, and remember we all have weaknesses it’s what makes us human. 🙂

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      Thanks Nicky, what a great comment!
      I’ve actually employed people that have been totally inappropriately dressed because they were the right candidate
      I’m not talking about people that need to sell me though, I’m talking in very much general terms, and based on the majority of customers I’ve dealt with and the fastest way to position yourself with them.
      Its all based on generalities and therefore can overlook things for silly reasons like those I’ve mentioned.
      I agree with a lot of the points you make, but stand by the advice in general terms
      Thanks for such a thoughtful and insightful comment! I really appreciate it.

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