‘Why do you want to work in sales?’ Eight common sales interview questions and how to answer them

If you’re looking to secure a graduate job in sales, you should familiarise yourself with these typical interview questions – along with our advice for answering them.

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The best salespeople can push a conversation in a direction that benefits them without seeming like they have an ulterior motive.

The questions in this article are frequently asked by sales recruiters because they help to gauge whether you come as the whole package: someone with the skills, attitude, knowledge and outlook that suits the role and the employer. By following our tips on selling yourself in response to each of these questions, you should impress at interview.

Why do you want to work in sales?

In your answer to this question, recruiters will be looking to see:

  • that you know what a career in sales involves
  • that you’re enthusiastic about the prospect of working in this industry
  • that you have important aptitudes required for a role in sales.

After starting your research by reading our article on the fundamentals of a graduate sales career, use industry-specific websites and LinkedIn to inform yourself on what a career in sales involves. Decide what it is about this path that you’re enthusiastic about. Perhaps, for example, you enjoy working towards and achieving targets. Give an example to back this up – in this instance, you could mention a time when you were proud that you met/exceeded a target.

It’s also a good idea to refer to why you want the specific role you’re applying to. Remind yourself of the employer’s job description when planning how you will answer this and read the job description for the relevant role on TARGETjobs to get an overview of what it typically involves. Then, pinpoint what it is about the sales work you’ll be doing that you’re interested in and back it up with an example. If you’ll spend a lot of time using social media to promote products, perhaps you could talk about how you cultivated your impressive Instagram following.

Why do you want to work for us?

A strong salesperson is passionate about the company they work for, its products/services and the work they do as a salesperson. If this is genuine, the clients they work with are more likely to trust the salesperson’s positivity as authentic and be inspired to spend money.

Research the company. You could start by delving into the kinds of selling it does and thinking about why that style appeals to you. For instance, if it has a consultative selling approach (focused on collaborating closely with the client and figuring out their needs before encouraging them to purchase), you might talk about your enthusiasm for the opportunity to build strong relationships with clients rather than just having fleeting contact with them.

Showing that you want to work for the employer means going one step further, however. Find out what it is about the employer in its entirety that makes you excited about the prospect of contributing to its success – rather than just with reference to its selling style/tactics. Use its website, its social media pages and any news stories involving the employer to get an idea of what its values and priorities are, then pinpoint those you share.

Where you mention your enthusiasm for an element of the company or its selling approach, give an example to evidence this. For instance, for the ‘consultative selling approach’ example above, you could refer to a part-time job in which you enjoyed building strong relationships with colleagues.

Describe world-class customer service

It’s a good idea to include the below fundamentals to strong customer service in your answer to this question. However, if you know that the position you’re applying to will bring about additional requirements when it comes to customer service, mention these too.

  • Listen carefully to clients and understand their needs.
  • Communicate in a way that resonates well with the client – a consistently friendly and professional approach is important, but you will need to adapt your communication style (eg some clients will respond better to to-the-point and factual pitches and others to more emotive, energetic ones).
  • Be informed about your company and what you’re selling, ready to respond to queries and inspire confidence.
  • Know your competitors (all over the world for ‘world-class’ service) and what they’re offering, and adapt your offering/approach accordingly.
  • Go ‘above and beyond’ – if you can adapt a product, service or package to tailor it to the client’s needs, do so.

How would you sell…

The interviewer might ask you how you would sell one of the company’s products or services, or to sell something (they are likely to tell you what this is) to them. If so, you will need to consider the following:

  • Why the potential client needs the product/service. Make it clear how it will benefit their life.
  • The USP (unique selling point). Let them know why it is better than similar products/services they may already use or could purchase.
  • The cost or quality. Decide whether the thing you are selling is appealing because it is low in cost or high in quality and emphasise this benefit.
  • What mediums potential clients are likely to engage with. For instance, you could say that you would sell via social media, email, telephone or in person – and explain why. If the interviewer asks you to ‘Sell this to me’, you could mention at the end of your pitch that you would have sold via a specific medium if you had the choice.

Describe a time when you achieved a target

It’s a good idea to follow the ‘CAR’ method in your response to this question. So, provide context by explaining what the situation was (ie why you had to meet a target and what the target was). Then, discuss the actions you took to achieve the target. Finally, talk about the results – how you met (or even exceeded) the target and what the benefits of this were. Quantify with numbers if the example allows you to.

When choosing an example, consider what it reveals about your priorities. Salespeople are in the business of making clients happy, making money and ensuring the company and its products/services are portrayed in a positive light. If the example reflects potential in any of these areas (eg meeting a target of making a certain amount of money, making people happy or engaging people in a positive way – such as a post with a high number of likes), that would be great. If you don’t have an example that’s obviously relevant, don’t worry too much: recruiters are looking for potential rather than the ‘finished product’.

When have you shown leadership?

The best salespeople can push a conversation in a direction that benefits them without seeming like they have an ulterior motive. They can influence others and inspire them into action and, ultimately, into spending money. These are aptitudes that strong leaders have.

As with the previous question, describing a specific example in detail is a strong way to approach answering this question. So, follow the ‘CAR’ method here, too. Make sure your actions clearly demonstrate strong leadership (discover what this looks like here). Also, state results that are obvious achievements. Rather than saying something vague like, ‘The group of children in the swimming club I led were motivated and inspired’, be specific: ‘Although three were too scared to even go in the water when I began teaching them, by the end of the summer I had taught every child in the club how to swim breaststroke and dive confidently.’

Use at least one example of a time you demonstrated strong customer service. Mention any positive responses you received, too.

What is your greatest non-academic achievement?

Sales is a career area in which soft skills, along with natural flair (eg for influencing others), are important. These are often best demonstrated through non-academic experience. It’s a good idea to bear this in mind if you are asked the simpler question: ‘What is your greatest achievement?’ Unless an experience related to your studies is particularly relevant, try to choose one outside of this. You might take your example from a part-time job, work experience or extracurricular activity – eg involvement in a student society.

If you have not already been asked a question about meeting a target, giving an example of a time when you met or exceeded one is a strong way to show that you are target-driven. Perhaps you were tasked to sell a certain number of ‘extras’ in your part-time retail job and ended up selling more, for example. If possible, quantify with numbers.

However, this does not have to be the case. The term ‘greatest’ points you towards something you are passionate about. You should mention a target if one was involved, but don’t worry if the achievement you’re most proud of is a different kind. Most achievements will say something about your interests and dedication, which will help the interviewer to get an insight into you as a person (something all recruiters are interested in). Again, it’s a good idea to follow the ‘CAR’ method when answering this question.

What motivates you?

As with the previous question, one reason behind an interviewer asking this is that it will enable them to get a better insight into you as a person and to see whether your character is a match for the employer and role.

Accordingly, giving an answer that’s genuine is crucial for this one – recruiters are likely to see through one that you pick just because you think it will please them. If you can make a link between what motivates you and the company/role, do so. For instance, if you’re working for a company that designs and manufactures environmentally friendly products, you could say that the need to stop climate change motivates you and back this up with an example – eg your involvement in your university’s Green Party society. Alternatively, you might be motivated by key goals of a sales role – eg achieving targets or happy clients.

Whatever you choose as your motivator, give an example of a time when it led you to do or achieve something.

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