January 16, 2014

Manager Conducting Sales InterviewOne of the most important tasks facing interviewers is the need to probe candidate responses effectively. The candidate across the table is wearing a filter designed to make him seem as desirable as possible. Of course, our job is to penetrate that filter. To do so, we need to probe deeper into the candidate’s responses to our initial questions.

For example, consider this exchange:

INTERVIEWER: “Tell me about a situation you have faced that required strong organizational skills.”

CANDIDATE: “Oh, just last week, we had a presentation to a big prospect . . . there was a lot of preparation necessary, and I really needed to stay organized.”

We would not just leave it there and say, “OK, let’s move on.” We need to dig in further to find out specifically how the candidate’s organizational skills came into play. The inquiry would continue along the following lines:

INTERVIEWER: “How did you contribute to that effort?”

CANDIDATE: “Well, my job was to put together the PowerPoint slides.”

INTERVIEWER: “What was the most challenging aspect of creating that presentation?”

CANDIDATE: “Just getting it all done on time . . .”

INTERVIEWER: “Tell me more about that.”

CANDIDATE: “I got tied up with other things and needed to wait until the day before the presentation to finish them.”

INTERVIEWER: “What kind of feedback did you get from the prospect?”

CANDIDATE: “Not much . . . we ran out of time, and had to leave so the next vendor could get set up.”

INTERVIEWER: “So, if you could go back, and change anything, what might you do differently?”

CANDIDATE: “Probably make sure the slides were in on time to give us a chance to practice before the meeting.”

Each time the candidate responded, we dug deeper, getting more specifics, and learning more. In this case, we learned that the candidate may need to develop his time management skills. The most important thing to remember about probing is that every question we ask is like a ripe, juicy piece of fruit. All we need to do is keep squeezing until we have gotten all the information possible out of the initial question.

Dr. Christopher Croner and Richard Abraham are authors of Never Hire a Bad Salesperson Again and developers of the proprietary and patented sales test, The DriveTest™, for sales candidates. For more information, click here.