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  • Writer's pictureJuancho Otalvaro

Interview Preparation

90% of hires are based solely upon the interview, according to a Harvard Business Review study. In fact, 63% of hiring decisions are made within the first 4.3 minutes of an interview (courtesy SHRM). So, great preparation is a key ingredient to doing well in the interview and getting to the offer stage.

It is not the person who is most qualified that always gets the offer. It is the person that interviews the best that gets the offer. In many cases, the most successful people have the least experience at interviewing and they just do not know how to win in this situation. This documentation will help you prepare to win at the interview.

The On-Target Earnings for many enterprise software sales positions is around $250,000. If you accept the position, work there for 4+ years, and hit targets you will make over $1M. How well should you prepare for a Million Dollar Sales Presentation?

How to Excel at Your Interview

How to Prepare for the Interview:

  • Know your numbers. I have never interviewed a top sales performer who did not know their numbers. No hesitation (i.e. Performance against quota last 5 years, sales this year-to-date, new business vs. repeat business from existing customers, customer retention).

  • Deals won and lost. Be prepared to site examples and details of significant deals that you have won and lost. Often you will get asked for the details of the sales process of your most significant sales. The examples should be from the last couple of years.

  • Research the company (Hoovers, OneSource, Corporate Affiliations, D&B, Harris Info, Vault, etc.).

  • Public or private ownership. If the company is publicly traded, view their annual report on-line. It's a wealth of information.

  • What are some of the company's major divisions, and what do they do?

  • Locations, both domestic and international.

  • In the news. Check out recent press releases to find out what's been happening at the company.

  • Industry. What are the hot buttons in the industry for this prospective employer? What are the prospects for their industry?

  • Competition. Who are the company's leading competitors and what are the key differentiators in the market?

  • Try to talk to sales representatives who are in the industry.

  • Prepare a list of questions you have for the interviewer (See “Sample Questions to Pose to Hiring Managers”).

What to Do at an Interview:

  • Always try to arrive 15 minutes early for the interview.

  • Bring the phone number of the company, and/or the direct number of the person you are interviewing with.

  • Always have at least four clean copies of your resume with you.

  • When you introduce yourself to the interviewer, you need to have good eye contact, a firm handshake, and a bright smile. It is your job to put them at ease and help them feel comfortable speaking with you. Pull out your resume and hand it to them. This initiates the law of reciprocal response - they will feel compelled to give you something, most likely their business card.

  • Ask for permission to take notes during the interview (have a notepad and pen).

  • Practice a short concise answer to the opening question, "Tell me about yourself?" See section “Answering the Tell Me About Yourself Question” for additional information.

  • Only talk about what's being discussed, and don't respond to questions with overly lengthy answers. Stay focused on what is being asked. Ramping on for several minutes will lose the attention of the interviewer and you might just lose the job opportunity.

  • Have a list of questions prepared about the company, products, strategy, value proposition, differentiators, competition, etc.  

  • Bring documentation of your achievements, awards and recent sales numbers.

  • Be prepared to discuss the top reasons you are the best person for the job.

  • Don’t offer personal information that is not relevant to the job.

  • You will need to have a rehearsed and well thought-out plan to close the interview. Don't leave without receiving a commitment by the interviewer to proceed to the next step.

  • Immediately after the interview send a thank you to the interviewer (email will typically suffice).

Answering the “Tell Me About Yourself” Question

 “What do they want to know?” They want to know about you the candidate as a potential employee.

It will be an easy question to answer if you prepare a well thought-out initial marketing statement of yourself and your skills, which are applicable for the position. Candidates often respond with a narrowing question like: “What would you like to know?” But, it is extremely poor form to answer the opening interview question with another question. Yet, that is how candidates typically answer this question, due to its ambiguous nature. Though it seems to be a logical approach, you must prepare to do better. Candidates must teach themselves to answer this question with a three-part, pre-planned marketing statement that can more or less be reused from interview to interview.

Part one is a one-sentence summary of the candidate’s career history. For example, let me share with you a sales candidate’s opening sentence: “I am a ten-year veteran of Business Products and Engineering Services Sales with substantial experience in prospecting, business development and closing activities.”

You get the picture; your whole career needs to be condensed into one sentence that encapsulates the most important aspects of your career, the aspects that you want to leverage in order to make your next career step. Few candidates seem to be able to condense a career into one sentence, but it must, and can be, done.

Part two will be a one-, maybe two-sentence summary of a single accomplishment that you are proud of that will also capture the potential employer’s attention. It immediately follows your initial career summary sentence from above. This accomplishment should be one that the employer will be interested in hearing, one that is easily explained or illustrated, and one that clearly highlights a bottom-line impact. When done correctly this will build interviewer intrigue about the accomplishment so that they inquire further, giving you an opportunity to further discuss a significant career success. The above candidate’s accomplishment statement was: “I have been a top performer for my past three employers. I have met quota every year and have consistently ranked in the top 20% of the sales reps in the company. I have won seven President’s Club trip out of 10 years in which I was eligible. If you have performed additional responsibilities where you have not gotten paid, you may want to be able to articulate that accomplishment.

Part three, the final piece of the marketing statement, is probably the most fluid piece. It needs to be a one-sentence summary of specifically what you want to do next in your career. The reason this third part is difficult is that it needs to specifically address what you want to do next, and it needs to change from interview to interview to make sure it matches exactly what the individual employers will be interviewing you for. Continuing with the above example: “For the next step in my career, I would like to align myself with a company that promotes from within and pays for performance. I seek to join a substantial sales team and be involved in the expansion and growth of new product sales and marketing efforts while having access to the knowledge base that would come from a diverse sales group.”

With some simple revising, the candidate can make sure that each employer they interview with hears what they are looking for specifically. That revising is what makes the third piece fluid and sometimes challenging, as candidates don’t always see the need for being this specific from job interview to job interview. Most tend to be generalized, hoping that a shotgun approach will work. But it is the rifle sharpshooters, those who get specific in what they want from interview to interview, who get the best results. With some simple planning before an interview you will quickly realize the benefit of a targeted third sentence in these pre-planned opening statements, as employers feel you are perfectly suited to do just the job they are interviewing you for.

If you take the time to prepare this way as a candidate, it will be apparent to an interviewer that you are a prepared and serious candidate right at the beginning of the interview when you answer the “Tell me about yourself” question with this memorized, brief marketing statement, which combines a career summary, an exceptional accomplishment, and employer-specific career goal.

Clearly you can understand how the candidate who opens with this type of prepared response to the “Tell me about yourself” question will make a significantly better first impression than a candidate who responds by answering, “What would you like to know?” Plus candidates who prepare in this manner are typically more confident at the interview’s start, make a substantial and positive first impression, give a clear indication of their interest in making a career move, and force the interviewer to get past the icebreaker questions to the parts of the interview that will help both parties begin the process of seriously determining if this is a solid match. As you can see, there is a great deal of bang for your preparation buck.

Sample Questions to Pose to Hiring Managers

Note: These are SAMPLE questions only. You need to come up with additional questions on your own. DO NOT just print and use this exact list. If you and another candidate ask the same questions in the exact order we ALL look bad.

Questions About the Company/Industry:

  1. What the company strengths are in your eyes?

  2. According to my research, ___________, __________, & ______________ are listed as your competitors. Who is the strongest in your view and why?

  3. What drew you to the company?

  4. What drew you to the industry?

  5. What is the company's focus this year?

  6. What are the company's goals?

  7. What do you consider important in fitting in the company culture?

  8. What are the growth trends of the ___________ industry?

  9. Who do you feel will be the company's main competitor in the future?

  10. The company is seen as stable financially based on investor reports. What is your perception?

  11. What do you see as technological breakthroughs in the next few years?

Questions About Personnel:

  1. What are the characteristics of the best performers in your region?

  2. What was the previous experience of the best you have hired?

  3. How long have you been with the company?

  4. What has been your progression with the company?

  5. Where do you see yourself in the company in five years?

  6. What are the realistic chances for growth in the company?

  7. What benchmarks do you use in evaluating your direct reports?

Questions About the Position:

  1. What specific activities do you like to see each week?

  2. Can you elaborate on the initial training that I will receive and additional training during the first year?

  3. Do you anticipate geographic changes in the territory?

  4. How does our product differ from our competitors?

  5. Why is the position available? If a replacement, why is the person being replaced? If replacement for lack of achievement, what did the person do wrong or not do?

  6. What are realistic first year earnings for your top 20% performers as this is where my history has ranked me in my present position and this is where I will be earning if hired by you for this position?

  7. Are there any special characteristics that make the territory more challenging?

Questions About the Interviewing Process:

  1. When would you like to see the position filled?

  2. When is the next stage of interviews scheduled for?

  3. What other individuals will be involved in the interviewing process?

  4. Based on our conversation, do you believe I have the experience and skills to proceed to the next stage of the interview process?

  5. How many candidates are you interviewing for this position?

  6. How do I compare with your other candidates?

Telephone Interview Tips

Why Companies Subject Themselves and You to the Telephone Interview Process?

Telephone interviews can be one of the most uncomfortable pieces of the job-seeking puzzle. Still, most employers use them as a regular part of the hiring process. They resort to them because they are a necessary step, primarily for cost reasons. Without them, companies would overburden themselves interviewing candidates face-to-face who could have been disqualified from the process much earlier on.

It is this opportunity to become "disqualified" that is the major reason for the discomfort that you most likely experience during the process. It would be great if every hiring manager or human resources person on the other end of the phone were looking for reasons to hire you, instead of reasons to drop you from the process. Sadly, however, that isn't the case. Depending upon the nature of the person conducting the interview, these telephone conferences can become very uncomfortable.

Tips to Help You Improve Your Odds:

Is there anything that can be done to make the process, if not more pleasant, at least more productive? Is there something that you can do to achieve a higher percentage of success during the process? Remember that this process is the same as a normal interview, except in hyper speed - and without the element of "in person" communication. Here are some ideas to review prior to the interview, which will help you sharpen your telephone interview skills:

1.     The ability to speak succinctly about your past experiences and accomplishments will be critical. Many candidates launch into long, drawn-out answers to telephone interview questions. Because they do not have the sense of sight working for them, they are quite unable to tell if the person on the other line has gone to sleep!

2.     Smile over the phone. Believe it or not, smiling while you are talking will actually help you sound more "friendly" and open.

3.     Remember that the person on the other end of the phone may be just as uncomfortable as you are. Concentrate less on your feelings and more on how to make the other person feel at ease. Most people do not like the telephone interview process - remember that it works both ways.

4.     During the telephone interview, you are judged by the same criteria used in an in-person interview, i.e. self-confidence. Self-confidence is judged differently by phone than in-person (where eye contact, for example, can be an excellent barometer). You will be judged by a much more subtle set of factors - the sound and tone of your voice, preparedness, friendliness and enthusiasm, etc.

5.     Many people find that the most uncomfortable scenario in a telephone interview is the occasional "dead air" of silence during the conversation. Have a list of questions prepared about the company and the opportunity that you can refer to when caught in one of those dead spots. Although good communication seems to be up to both of you, typically that dead air will be your responsibility to fill.

6.     Although you are always judged on your ability to listen well, nowhere in the recruiting process do listening skills become more important than in the telephone interview. You'll find that your nerves will sometimes make this very difficult. I suggest that you close off all thoughts about whatever is going on around you and concentrate on the words and voice of the interviewer. Since so much of your success in this situation is determined by your comfort in the surroundings you are in during the call, make certain that you get yourself situated properly.

7.     Don't ever talk about issues related to potential compensation, company benefits or problems at your current employer when in the throes of an initial phone interview. This is solid advice for any first-interview situation. It’s surprising how often an experienced veteran launches into a diatribe about bad management at their current company.

Prepare yourself for a telephone interview:

Put these items near the telephone: copies of materials you have sent out (i.e. resume, cover letter, writing samples), information you have received from the company, a cheat sheet of research information on companies you have contacted, a list of your specific experiences and skills that you wish to communicate, a list of your questions about the company and the position, and pen and paper for notes.

It Will Matter to You:

Conducting a successful telephone interview is something that matters throughout your career. At all levels of the organization, the telephone interview provides a valuable service to the recruitment process. By its very nature, it is a tool used to help define the job and the potential that the field of applicants has to fit within those parameters. Don't make the mistake of not taking a telephone interview seriously. It is the first important step in the process and your goal on the telephone interview always should be to get to the next step, even if you are not sure how interested you are in the opportunity. You can always decide to back out after evaluating your telephone conversation, but you cannot resurrect a bad interview. SO GIVE IT YOUR ALL AND HAVE A GREAT INTERVIEW!

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