Your palms are sweaty and there’s a sinking feeling in your stomach. You’re about to walk into a job interview and you’re feeling completely unprepared. You’re ordinarily confident during a sales pitch – why are interviews so tricky?
Feeling nervous before a big interview is normal. Many successful mid-career professionals who I help place feel this way. When it’s been a few years since you’ve interviewed for a new position, brushing up on interview best practices can help you feel comfortable, confident and ready to land your dream job. Here’s how to channel your fears into effective preparation:
The fear: You’ll ramble and your answers will sound disorganized.
The solution: Practice your answers using the STAR method.
Don’t panic when you hear questions like “Tell me about a time…” or “Give me an example of…” These questions are asking for a short anecdote about your work experience. Organize your answer using the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Describe the challenge, describe your responsibility, describe what you did, and quantify the outcome.
For example: our sales were down 10% from last year, I had just been promoted to sales manager and needed to motivate my team, I put together a new incentive structure and talking points, and my team exceeded our sales goal by 20%. Brevity matters: don’t lose your audience on a lengthy tangent. Drill down to the essentials and keep your answers in the two minute range.
The fear: Your accomplishments won’t sound impressive.
The solution: Quantify and contextualize your successes.
Don’t assume a hiring manager will understand the ins and outs of your current role. It’s your job to provide enough information that they can appreciate what you’ve achieved. Do so by quantifying and contextualizing your success. For example, rather than saying, “I exceeded my numbers,” provide additional context. How many people at your company also exceeded their numbers? How did the company perform overall? How did the industry perform? Extra details, when appropriate, can make a huge difference. It’s much more impressive to say “I was the only regional sales manager to exceed my target goals three straight years and I did this even as industry sales dropped by 8%.”
The fear: You won’t say the “right” answer.
The solution: Know your numbers.
People sometimes think interviews are a quiz and that there’s a “right” answer for everything. The truth is a little more complicated. On one hand, it’s important to be an authentic version of your professional self. There’s no benefit to squeezing yourself into a position that’s not a good fit. Even if you get the job, you’re setting yourself up for professional frustration.
On the other hand, there is a formula to a successful sales interview and it comes down to numbers. Percentage growth, revenue size, and territory size are all critical. You’ll almost certainly be asked about these figures, so get ahead of this question and prepare your numbers in advance. Then, you can focus on letting your authentic self shine through.
The fear: Your job history is confusing.
The solution: Know your reasons for leaving past jobs.
Don’t worry: most mid-career sales professionals don’t have perfectly linear career trajectories. Maybe you started in a different industry or a different role, like operations or marketing. Maybe you’ve taken a few years off, worked part-time or stepped back from regular travel. Companies value candidates who aren’t jumpy. If you’ve switched positions several times in the last few years, this can be a red flag to a prospective employer – they don’t want you to leave them, too!
I recommend preparing a short, two-sentence answer that addresses a career pivot and then refocuses on the job at hand. For example, “After five years in operations, I moved to sales and my expert systems knowledge has been a tremendous asset for prospective clients. Since I understand their challenges and they trust my recommendations, I grew our systems sales by 18% in just one year.”
How a Sales Recruiter Can Help You Prepare for Interviews
Think of your recruiter as your interview ally: we’re here to help you be successful. Since we’re in close contact with hiring managers, we know what they expect and any idiosyncrasies that can impact interview performance.
Here’s an example: I work closely with an HR representative who always insists on a short screening call with candidates. The HR rep doesn’t discuss much on these calls and she often leaves people with the impression that she isn’t interested in them as candidates. As a recruiter, I know this low-energy approach is just her style, and I prepare candidates for that. It’s part of the process and it’s not indicative of their hiring prospects. In fact, I had one candidate who told me, “I think that went really poorly,” and she sailed right through to the next round.