Friday, January 27, 2006

...Interviewing Tips (Sales Edition)

We’ve been conducting interviews over the past couple of weeks for an outside sales position. I try to be sympathetic towards the candidates, seeing as how I’m only a few years removed from being on their side of the desk myself. I’m also well aware of the worst-case scenario of being a small business owner - knowing I could very well be back on the job interview circuit someday too.

Still, I can’t think of a single interview we’ve conducted where I didn’t have to suppress the urge to roll my eyes. With that in mind, here are my unsolicited, but hopefully helpful tips to anyone seeking a position in outside sales.

Don’t Look Like a Freak

I’m aware people often go through experimental phases with their appearance, especially during their formative years. I had a mohawk when I was 14, long hair throughout college, multiple ear piercings until my early 20s. The nice thing about all these expressions of my non-conformity is they were all easy to ditch when I was ready to conform to the role of a professional business person. All I had to do was take out the earrings and get a haircut.

I realize tattoos are all the rage now, almost to the point where getting one ironically makes you seem less like a counter-culture individualist and more like a blind crowd follower. I’m not opposed to tattoos, but I would strongly recommend, if you are considering one, to think long and hard about placement and the inherent consequences thereof. Because no matter how hard you try to cover it up with an expensive suit and tie, I can clearly see if there is a tattoo protruding out of your dress shirt and continuing its way up your neck. Seeing as this is a business to business sales position where you will come into contact with CEO’s of corporations, principals of high schools, college professors and high-ranking military officers, it is probably best your appearance not remind them of the guy who stole their car at knifepoint.

Don’t Tell Me Some Ridiculous Minimum Amount I Need to Pay You As a Guarantee Before You Could Even *Consider* Taking This Position

We are hiring a salesperson. By definition, that would imply the person who takes this position has far better than average skill at selling things. One of the reasons most sales positions are largely commission based is it tends to be a classic “win-win” situation for both parties involved. It’s good for the salesperson because he or she can continually increase his or her income the more he or she sells, giving him or her limitless income potential. It is good for the company because if a salesperson is getting rich as a result of earning high commissions, by extension the company is making a lot of money as well.

When you come into an interview for a sales position and say upfront you would be unable to accept any offer that doesn’t include a substantial guaranteed salary, all we hear is, “I have absolutely no confidence in my ability to sell anything, so what I’m going to do is try to bilk you out of as much cash as I can before you realize I suck at selling and fire me”.

Any reasonable business owner is cognizant of the fact it takes a few months for any professional salesperson, no matter how good they are, to build up a sales funnel and start closing orders. We are also aware that during this process you still have bills to pay and would need some form of income to do so. No reputable company would expect you to work strictly on 100% commission from day one. We would be more than happy to work out some sort of reasonable base salary to get you through those first few months so you don’t go into foreclosure on your house or get your car repossessed while you’re waiting for your first batch of orders to come through.

But if you tell me you absolutely, positively, in no way, shape, or form would be able to survive on anything less than $80,000 (or more) a year in guaranteed salary, all you are saying is you have serious doubts about whether or not you possess the skills required to earn that dollar amount in commission based on your sales. Therefore hiring you to sell for my company, while quite nice for *YOU* financially, will actually come out as a net loss to the corporation, which would just be dumb. Plus, if you are really, truly earning such a healthy income at your current job, why are you looking to leave? See, you’re probably a liar too.

Don’t Advertise the Fact You’re “Just Seeing What’s Out There”

My business partners and I sacrificed everything we had and took the biggest risk of our lives by starting this company. You are not going to endear yourself to us by acting blase at the opportunity to work for the company we built from the ground up.

If you are mostly happy at your current job and just sent out a few resumes to see what other kind of opportunities are floating about, that’s fine. I did this with some frequency when I worked for other people. It’s good not to be complacent. But consider our position: We are conducting interviews with several different candidates. Who do you think is going to interest us the most - the person who genuinely seems to buy into our company vision and really wants to be part of the team, or the person who stares at us blankly throughout the interview waiting for us to get to the pay and benefits part, then asks three-quarters of the way through, "So, what is it you guys do exactly?"

Don’t Think Any Employer Is Going To Fall For The “I’m Considering Other Offers” or “I Have a Lot of Other Interviews Lined Up” Line

Think of going out on a job interview as dating. If you were out on a date with a young lady you were hoping to end up in bed with, would you at any point during the evening say, “Just so you’re aware, I have several dates with other women lined up this week” or “Before you make me an offer to come up to your apartment, I should let you know another woman I’m dating has offered me anal and a blow job and is just waiting for me to accept”? Of course not. Why? Because a woman wants to feel special. She wants to feel like you are genuinely interested in her, not like she is just one of a few dozen women you’re playing the field with. By advertising the large number of women you are casually pursuing, you are not going to make this woman feel pressured into sleeping with you any faster to head off the competition, you are going to cause her lose interest in you and search for someone who is more interested in her specifically.

Same concept applies here. Of course we know you didn’t put all of your eggs in one basket and may have sent out resumes to other companies and may have even received a few callbacks. Your fallacy is thinking our desire to hire you is going to increase based on your rubbing our face in this fact. Trust me, our company would not be where it is today if any of us were of the intelligence level to where we would actually fall for this classic high-pressure, faux sense of urgency sales tactic.
That's all for now. I’m sure I’ll have more advice to offer as the process continues.
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