February 20, 2014

How to Ask the Right Interview Questions to Identify a Sales Candidate’s Listening Skills

Business Woman Interviewing Sales CandidateAt SalesDrive, we spend an extensive amount of time discussing how to effectively hire sales reps for your company.

While our focus is on helping you find salespeople that possess Drive and ambition, we also understand that there are others skills that matter.

At the top of this list is listening. Let’s take a look at how you can identify good listeners and avoid poor ones.


Top Qualities to Look for in Sales Interviews

When interviewing potential sales candidates, there is much to consider. Ideally, you should know exactly what you’re looking for prior to conducting any actual interviews.

This list of criteria may change based on the industry you operate in and sales needs you have, but it will generally contain some basic qualities:

  • Confidence. This is one of the easiest qualities to spot. You can recognize confidence – or a lack thereof – as soon as a candidate walks in the room. Look for a strong posture, steady voice, firm handshake, and appropriate eye contact.
  • Clarity. How well does the candidate speak, and are his or her ideas clearly conveyed? Clarity is everything in sales, and you want an employee who can turn thoughts into compelling words.
  • Creativity. It’s important that a salesperson possess some level of creativity. Asking questions that make the candidates think will help you gauge how they act in unique situations.
  • Passion. Passion is one of those characteristics that come out naturally. You can’t really ask specific questions related to it, so you will have to wait for it to come out in candid responses.
  • Listening. Listening is extremely important, and you want salespeople that can consider advice and respond appropriately. How do you gauge listening skills in a brief interview or a one-time meeting?


Key Signs of a Bad Listener

Sales Manager Reviewing ResumeAs important as discovering positive listening skills is, weeding out candidates who are bad listeners is even more crucial. When hiring sales reps, be aware of the following three signs of bad listeners:

  • Does the candidate interrupt you? A candidate can be a little nervous and overeager. However, a consistent habit of interruption suggests that the candidate puts his needs and agenda first. A good listener will patiently wait for you to finish speaking before providing a response. A bad listener will cut you off and follow his or her own initiatives.
  • Is the candidate a “motor mouth”?  If you have a long-winded candidate, see if you can get him or her to be more concise when communicating. Pause the interview and gently ask if the candidate has ever gotten the feedback that he or she can be long-winded at times. Gently remind about the time constraints of the interview process, and politely ask that the responses are shortened. Note whether the candidate can achieve this. If so, you know that he or she can improve with feedback about listening skills. If not, pay attention to this developmental need if this candidate is chosen.
  • Bad body language. You can tell much about a person’s listening skills by looking at body language. Good listeners will make direct eye contact with you while you’re speaking and acknowledge what you’re saying with nods, facial expression, or verbal agreements. A bad listener doesn’t maintain eye contact, fidgets, and is clearly disengaged and preparing for a chance to speak.


Interview Questions for Testing Listening Skills

One of the best tools you have at your disposal is asking good questions during the sales interview. While it’s best if the interview process takes on a conversational tone, there are times when direct questioning is best.

You’ll want to ask questions that uncover specific traits you’re looking for, and it’s best to go with unique queries that require candidates to be creative.

However, if you only had the chance to ask one question, the following should be your go-to. How a candidate responds to this question should tell you everything you need to know about their listening skills.


Ask the candidate, “Tell me about a time when you had to read between the lines to find out what was important to a customer.”  


Look for the candidate’s degree of cleverness in both identifying the customer’s real needs and asking sharp follow-up questions to go deeper.

If the answer is broad and vague, you can see that the candidate didn’t truly listen to the question. If the candidate spends the time to truly dissect the question, they likely have what it takes.

Creative questions that ask for specifics allow you to see how well a candidate can follow directions.


Our Sales Aptitude Test

The good news is that listening skills – unlike Drive – can be taught. Nonetheless, it helps to diagnose listening challenges from the start, so that you clearly understand the type of employee you are hiring.

For more information on The DriveTest™, contact us today. We would have happy to discuss our products and services and how we have helped past clients find long-term employees through the use of our proven sales aptitude test.

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.