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Why We Love the “Fly on the Wall” Interview Question

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How One Interview Question Can Give You a Unique Point of View


When interviewing a sales candidate for your next position, there is one question you will want to add to your list of interview queries. It allows you to understand how a candidate reacts in real-life situations.

  • Does he or she get stressed easily?
  • Does he respond with anger or take time to put situations in perspective?
  • Is he a team player?

There is one specific interview question that can answer all of these sub-queries and more.


The Lead-In Sales Interview Question

When conducting an interview, you likely have a set of questions that are designed to bring out the good qualities and skills of a potential hire. Additionally, you most likely have another set that attempt to chip away at the less-attractive qualities that could raise red flags.

The “fly on the wall” question – as it is commonly referred to – provides a gentle way to uncover the latter without coming off too strong or overbearing.

In reality, it is actually a two-part question (in most situations). You start by asking the sales candidate:

“Can you tell me about a time when you have said something you regretted, perhaps with someone you worked with?”


Naturally, the interviewee will probably take a few seconds to gather his thoughts before proceeding. In fact, you may be asked to rephrase the question or provide additional clarity. You can adjust the question as necessary, but remember the point of the question.

You are looking to uncover a raw moment in which the candidate did something he regretted. If you sugarcoat the question, you will receive a lazy response that is of no value.

An alternative request that provides the same value is:

“Tell me about a situation in which a co-worker, assistant or peer did something to ‘rub you the wrong way’ and you responded in a manner that you wished you could take back.”


Another way to rephrase this could be:

“Can you tell me about a time when you handled a situation poorly, perhaps with someone you worked with?”


improve-hiring-sales-repsIn most cases, you will get a basic response that is framed in a way that prevents the candidate from looking bad. For example, you may get a response such as, “One time I was working on a project for a very important client and my assistant failed to mention that the deadline was moved up one week. I got pretty upset with her.”

After that response, you have something to work with. But the response is so vague and basic that you really do not know any major details about the situation. All you know is that the candidate was put in a situation where he responded out of frustration.

Was the situation handled appropriately? Was the assistant fired? Did it have a lasting effect on the sales team’s productivity or ability to communicate? An all-important second question will let you in on the details.


The Fly on the Wall Interview Question

The candidate tried to impress you by coming up with a situation, but you want to know if he is abusive, anger-prone, rash or has any other negative characteristics. As a follow up, you can say:

“I understand how angry that probably made you – it would frustrate me, too. If I were a fly on the wall and could have heard and seen your reaction, what would I have seen?”


By acknowledging the candidate had a right to be angry, you have established a sort of comfort zone. In most cases, the candidate will be willing to let down any guards that are in place and reveal some more concrete details. To truly understand why this question is important, let’s look at two completely different responses and how they could change your hiring decision:

  • Response 1: “I immediately went into my assistant’s office and fired her on the spot. In fact, I told her to pack up all her stuff and be moved out by the end of the day.”
  • Response 2: “I closed the door to my office, took a few minutes to cool down, and then I went to my assistant’s office and asked her how we got into this situation and how we could prevent it from happening in the future.”


Based on the first response, you can see that the candidate is a hot-head and has anger issues that could be detrimental to your office. However, the second response tells you that the candidate is levelheaded and calculated – the kind of individual you are looking for.

That is the value of the “fly on the wall” question. It shows you who a candidate really is, what his strengths are, and what weaknesses he possesses. It is a gentle way to let the candidate give you a visual description of a situation, as if you were in the room.

In the end, you have a much better idea of how the candidate works under pressure. Feel free to give it a shot in your next interview!


Implement a Sales Aptitude Test Before Making a Final Hiring Decision

Phone screenings and in-person interviews still leave a bit to be desired when it comes to getting a full picture of the sales candidates you are interviewing. Many candidates research potential interview questions and strategize their responses – but that doesn’t mean they actually have the Drive needed to close their sales once hired.

In order to gain a more thorough insight into your sales candidate, it is important to use an online sales aptitude test, like The DriveTest™, prior to the interview process. The combination of a well-constructed sales test and a behavior interview will give you a more comprehensive view on how a candidate will fit within your company.

To learn more about how The DriveTest™ can help you hire better sales reps, please contact us today. We would be happy to discuss your hiring needs as well as our sales aptitude test –– and its incredible capabilities.


Sales Hiring Simplified!

Hire top-performing salespeople with The DriveTest®. Get started now with one free test.

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