The Real Scoop on Nailing a Job Interview

*written by a sales manager- not an HR pro
How to answer two tough interview questions

When you have a big interview, anticipating what questions will be asked of you is a big challenge. People reach out to me all the time for help with interview prep. Every hiring manager and every sales manager has their own interview form that they go through, has their own information that they’re looking to ask. You can search online and you can find pages of results for how to prepare for an interview. These articles will give you ideas on what questions you may need to be ready to answer, the best responses to them most commonly asked questions, and so on. What I have found is many of these articles or many of these blogs are written by HR professionals. Don’t get me wrong, HR professionals are vital to an organization for may reasons. But they aren’t the decision maker because they’re not in sales management. Only a sales manager is going to be the person who has the final say in a candidate. So doing an internet search isn’t going to give you the answers you need. You need to do research ahead of time and talk to people who know that decision maker. That takes a little bit of grit, social networking and making phone calls to existing employees on the team. And we can walk through all those steps at a later date. The problem I’m going to address here today is there’s two questions I feel— as a sales manager— everyone should know how to answer (that people often get wrong).

The Adversity Question

“Walk me through the greatest adversity you’ve ever overcome.” When I’m asking the candidate this question, I’m looking for this candidate to display their ability to deal with adversity and demonstrate a level of grit. I’ll even go a little bit further and tell the candidate they can choose to explain something professional or personal. It’s essentially whatever you feel comfortable with sharing with me. I do this because I’m encouraging them to rock my world with this answer. Because if the greatest adversity you’ve ever overcome is not hitting quota at your last sales job, or having a customer tell you no, frankly you’re not going to make it to the next phase. That’s because I want people who can find a way to share a personal story and relate it to their professional life. Because in reality any adversity you face in your personal life can be related to your professional life. You have personality traits and skills that help you survive personal adversity, and those are the same skills or personality traits you will use when you face professional adversity. This is this one moment that you can really make an impact on an interview panel. I won’t share any of the stories of adversity that have been shared with me out of respect for people who’ve interviewed with me, but I will share some of the stories that I have shared personally when I have been asked this question.

My Adversity Response

When I interviewed for a position in sales leadership, I shared the most challenging adversity that I had ever gone through in life. It was when I had to make a decision to terminate end-of-life care for my father. Yes, that’s a really morbid discussion. And it’s typically something that, if you don’t tell the story correctly,  could change the mood in the room. It’s incredibly personal, and I don’t share it with many people. I share it in the “Catapulting Commissions” book, but I don’t typically have the conversation one-on-one. But in the interview process, I shared it because I wanted to demonstrate what personality traits were essential in this personal tragedy that are also essential in my work life. And here’s what I said. I said the most challenging adversity I’ve ever come through was having to make the decision to terminate end of life care for my father. With all honesty, there was nobody there with me at that time to make that decision. I was my father’s next of kin. And I had multiple conversations with the medical staff about what to do. Here’s what I knew in that deeply personal moment, that also just happens to be relevant to my professional life. I knew I had to make a decision. I knew how to make a decision fast. I knew the decision wasn’t going to be easy. At the end of the day, I evaluated the pros and cons. I looked at all the risks. Most importantly, I made a decision without second guessing myself. And the reason I share that story with you, Mr. Interviewer, is I believe a position in sales leadership requires those same traits. You have to be able to make difficult decisions. You have to make difficult decisions quickly. And when you make a decision, if you second guess yourself, you’ll never be able to move forward. In this response, I made a strong impact by sharing how my handling of a personal adversity is relevant to my role as a sales professional.

A Challenge For You

So I’m going to challenge you. Find an adversity story that you can share that can show your ability to overcome adversity and how that will apply to your new career in sales. That’s the first question that’s going to be asked of you and how to answer it like the pros, how to answer it to show you’re ready for the job. Don’t answer it with a very weak adversity story because you won’t move on in the interview process. We get weak adversity stories all the time. “I sprained my ankle before a homecoming game in high school.” Weak. “I missed quota the last fiscal month of the calendar year and I didn’t make it to President’s Club and I was really, really disappointed, and I was embarrassed when I came to my next sales meeting.” Weak. You need to choose something powerful that’s going to get the interviewer’s attention and then relate that story to the job you’re applying for.

The Street Smarts Question

The second question is a two-part question. Part one. Give me your definition of street smarts. Now, when I asked someone to give me their definition of street smarts, most people have a similar answer. It’s some level of situational awareness, emotional intelligence, knowing your surroundings. That part is pretty simple. Here’s where people mess up. After that question is asked, I follow that up by asking for an example of when the candidate was street smart in business. This is your time and opportunity to demonstrate a heightened level of emotional intelligence and tell a story when you made a decision independently of your sales manager, independently of your regional director, independently of your colleagues or coworkers. What I want to hear is you’re capable of making the decision on your own, analyzing the situations around you, analyzing the scenario around you. A simple way to answer that question is follow SAR, S-A-R: Situation. Action. Result. For example, you can tell a story of being in a position where you realize your prospect was not really giving you a clear objection. For example, I was selling my bookkeeping service to an auto mechanic. As I am walking him through my sales process, I realized he didn’t have a lot of questions. And because he didn’t have a lot of questions, I had this sense that we weren’t connecting. My instinct told me that maybe he wasn’t fully understanding. So I pause for a second and here’s the action I took. I said to him, “is any of this making sense to you or is this kind of going over your head? I got to be honest with you, it kind of goes over my head at times.” My prospect paused and looked at me with a sigh of relief and simply said, “yeah, actually, it is. I’m a great auto mechanic, I’m not really good at the bookkeeping and finances. I know I have to get it in place because my CPA and my attorney all said I need to find an external bookkeeper. Your company offers that service. So I don’t really understand everything.” And so I follow that conversation by being totally honest with him. If you’re only making a decision based on price today, I got to be honest with you, I’m not going to hit that. But I can spend some extra time and help simplify this and take away the sales spiel and truly educate you on why you should have a bookkeeping services. Would that be helpful? My prospect took a step back and said absolutely. The result of that story was at the end, he ended up signing a long-term commitment, and he’s one of my most loyal clients to this day. Do you see what I did there? Situation (a prospect who seemed confused); action (reading that situation and addressing the confusion);  result (closing a long-term deal).

Now, there’s a lot of scenarios you can use to identify street smarts. Find the story that you can use to demonstrate your ability to be street smart and articulate it in a manner of situation, action, result. And dig deep to find your personal adversity stories that you are comfortable sharing. In all situations, do your best to keep it brief but thorough. I know that may seem like and oxymoron. I get it. But you need to hit the most important points without droning on too much. If your answer is so long-winded that the interviewer is thinking about the next question, you’ve lost them. Sales interviews are challenging for everyone. Everyone has their own methodology. Everyone has their own questions. If you are in a position where you’re interviewing for a sales job, reach out to me. I’d love to help you out. Essentially, that’s my passion. I enjoy helping people achieve greater results than they anticipated. I enjoy help people break into this wonderful industry of highly compensated sales professionals.

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