Interview Questions (& Answers) for Sales Rookies


How can you predict if a person will be successful in sales if they have no experience at all?

It’s not easy. There are countless variables to consider when making sales hiring decisions.   

Today’s successful salespeople come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s hard to know exactly who to look for.

So what do you do? Well, you have two options. Either you can trust your gut, or you can take a more structured approach.

Trusting your gut is fine if you have great intuition, but most of us don’t.

Most of us end up hiring people who we want to be friends with – not exactly the objective approach needed.

So how do we get more objective? Well, first we need to know what qualities tend to correlate with sales success.

While these qualities differ from team to team, our research shows that the following tend to have a generally positive effect on sales performance across the board.

  • Brevity
  • Preparedness
  • Listening
  • Confidence
  • Coachability
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Grit
  • Optimism
  • Motivational Fit

Knowing these qualities, you now need a structured approach to measuring assessing candidates for them. The remainder of the post breaks down each quality, provides questions for assessing them, then gives you tips on what to look for.

1) Brevity

Being a great communicator is key to being successful in sales, and that often means being concise. Anyone can talk aimlessly at length, but the best communicators keep explanations simple. They reveal only what the listener needs to hear and withhold unnecessary information. To assess brevity, consider the following:

What’s something you know a lot about? Explain it to me assuming I know absolutely nothing about it.

The inability to explain something in layman’s terms is known as the curse of knowledge. Look for a candidate who can understand the layman’s perspective and simplify their explanations accordingly.

Tell me a little bit about yourself

Can the person convey an understandable image of themselves without rambling? This question is often used as interview small talk (“lovely weather we’re having!”), but don’t let it go to waste.

2) Preparedness

A salesperson who prepares obsessively wins a tremendous amount of credibility from prospects. No matter how good a rep is at connecting with prospects on a personal level, they will never stand up to a rep who wow’s prospects with preparedness. Consider the following:  

From your understanding, how do we bring value to our customers?

If preparedness runs in someone’s blood, they have already done plenty of research on you and your company. While over-the-top research isn’t necessary, be weary of the candidate who has done no research at all. They either aren’t a good fit, or they don’t want the job enough.  

Tell me about your general understanding of how sales works?

Part of being prepared means not assuming you “know enough” about a topic. Sales is a topic that non-salespeople think they know a lot about. Look for signs that they’ve done some research, and have an understanding of sales that goes beyond the stereotypes.

3) Listening

Successful reps know how to listen, ask deep questions, and synthesize new information on the fly. The best way to pick up on good listening skills is thematically through the interview, but here are a few questions that could be helpful:

Tell me about a time when you created an issue through miscommunication. How did you discover the miscommunication, and how did you resolve it?

Miscommunication cannot be discovered without listening and asking questions. Look for a conscious awareness that effective communication is rooted in understanding perspective.

When is the last time you had a major disagreement. How did you resolve the issue?

Disagreements happen all the time in the sales process–they come in the form of objections. But objections usually come up because something wasn’t explained in the right way. Make sure they know they can listen, synthesise, and optimize communication for understanding.

4) Confidence

Confident salespeople earn your company credibility and aren’t afraid to ask for what they want, meaning they won’t hesitate to ask for referrals. Confidence can be tricky to gauge because it can be confused with cockiness, something you don’t want. This trait will also be discernible throughout the interview, but here are some guiding questions to help you.

Tell me about the last time you had to do something risky. What was it? And how did you respond?

Aversion to risk can be a sign of low confidence. Look for a rational assessment of that risk, an objective decision to act in spite of it, and strategic approach.

Why are you the perfect person for this job?

This question forces the person to sell themselves to you. Pay close attention to their immediate reaction. Do they begin answering without hesitation, or are they momentarily taken aback? This could be a sign of lack of confidence.

5) Coachability

Coachable people are always looking to improve, and they create less friction when you need to align the with company strategy. People with no sales experience are inherently more coachable, but there are still questions you can ask to figure out if a person is particularly receptive to instruction.

If you worked for the competition, how would you beat yourself?

How easily can they come up with a response? What is their thought process? Coachability requires self-awareness and an openness to acknowledging their flaws. In order to be coachable, a person needs to recognize on their own that they can improve.  

Give me an example of a piece of advice that changed your life.

Don’t worry if it takes them more than a second to think of an answer. What you want to look for is an acute understanding of ‘why.’ The most coachable people don’t follow advice for the sake of being told what to do, they take advice because they have a deep understanding of ‘why’ that advice was going to make their lives better.

6) Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is what helps people connect on a personal level. An emotionally intelligent salesperson has the ability to build rapport and trust with empathy alone.  

How would your friends describe you? How would strangers describe you? Is there a difference and why?

Part of being emotionally intelligent is understanding how you are perceived by others. It doesn’t matter what these impressions are, just look for the fact that they can be insightful and self-aware.

You’re sitting in traffic and you see someone driving up the shoulder. What’s your reaction?

Do they assume the person is a jerk, or that there may be some other circumstances? When we do something wrong, it’s because the context of our situation. When other people do something wrong, we assume it’s due to a character flaw. This is called a fundamental attribution error. Make sure they have the state-of-mind to put themselves in other people’s shoes.

7) Grit

Sales isn’t easy, especially at entry-level. You want gritty people who will put in the extra hours when they need things to go their way. Here are a couple way to assess grit:

When was the last time you beat the odds and turned a dream into a reality?

Gritty people aren’t deterred by the idea of hard work. Look for people who aren’t afraid to work hard for what they want.

How do you handle disappointment?

Failure doesn’t deter gritty people–they fail quickly, learn, adjust and move one. Great answers will stress lessons learned rather than emotional setbacks.

8) Optimism

Happy employees are 12% more productive and generate 37% more sales. The positive attitude that optimism brings about is infectious. You want as much of it as you can get. Consider the following when assessing a candidate’s optimism:

Tell me about the worst situation you got into at your last job.

Optimists will tend to describe the problem, then quickly move on to the solution and what they learned. Pessimists will tend to spend the majority of the time wallowing in the pains of the situation.

How do you deal with difficult people?

Optimists view negatives as temporary, they will tend to believe in putting in the effort to turn sour relationships around. Pessimists view negatives as permanent, they will tend to believe difficult people cannot be changed and will avoid the interactions entirely.

9) Motivational Fit

Gritty people will always find a way to make it through the day, but people with a great motivational fit will make it through the day on passion alone. The general notion is that salespeople care about money and competition, but there can be a lot more to it than that. The following questions will help you figure out what other factors may help keep the candidate afloat:

What was the best job you ever had? What did you love about it? Was there anything you didn’t love about it?

Look for parallels between what they loved about their favorite job, and the duties they will be performing. Are there enough similarities to make you believe they will be successful?

Describe someone you really loved working for. What was so great about working for them? What qualities wouldn’t you like in a supervisor?

There are all sorts of different styles of management. On the most basic level, some people require a high-touch management approach whereas others are more successful when they’re left on their own. Assess fit in regards to how aligned they are with the management style of the person they will be reporting to.


If you want to improve your ability to spot untapped sales talent, moving from an ad hoc approach to something more objective is a huge first step – because you can’t manage what you can’t measure.

The next step is to fully customize your approach. The qualities discussed above correlate to sales success across industries, but what about the qualities unique to your team? We each sell unique products to unique customers under a unique company culture – meaning there’s a whole other level of qualities we can learn to identify and measure. 

Harnessing this deeper understanding used to take years of data collection and analysis, but it’s now available almost instantly from Hire Smarter. If you’re interested in analyzing your team and deploying a truly data-driven hiring strategy, be sure to check us out.   

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Chris Hill

Chris Hill

Chris stands on street corners educating people about the new world of data-driven hiring. If lost, please return to Hire Smarter.