What NOT to Say When Being Interviewed for a Sales Job

Until recently, I had not been a part of a salesperson job interview for some time. I always enjoyed interviewing salespeople, and I jumped at the opportunity when a client asked me to sit in on his meeting with a prospective employee. He was seeking my opinion of the interviewee and even asked me to offer up a few questions of my own.

A favorite question of mine, one a colleague used to ask a lot, was “What books have you read lately?” I always found that knowing what books a person reads can tell you a good bit about that person. Reading takes time, and most people will not spend that time reading a book on a topic they don’t care much about. Knowing what some reads helps me understand, at least a little, about what’s important to them.

So we’re five minutes into the interview, and I’ve heard a lot about the prospective employee’s experience. I’ve heard a lot about where he’s worked, who he has worked for, and how much he has sold in his 30 years in real estate. Feeling I was getting a bit of a history lesson as opposed to a current capabilities report, I asked a slight variation of my favorite question. I asked “What was the last sales book you read?”

“Uh. Well to be honest, I don’t remember.”

I appreciated the honesty, but really? You don’t remember? I asked a few follow-up questions to be sure that the interviewee wasn’t just a little nervous and giving me his answer too hastily. But alas, he really couldn’t name the last sales book he read, or any sales book he read for that matter. I asked him if there was a sales trainer he looked to for guidance, and I got nothing. That indicated to me that there was no other shorter form sources, like a blog, he turned to either. It may sound like I’m beating up on this guy a little bit, but I’m trying to make an important point.

Depending on your location within the country, most people would tell you we’ve been in a tough market for about three years or more. What I was really being told by the applicant was not only could he not remember the last sales book he read, but in the last three years of a challenging market, he wasn’t doing anything to get better. The market, by most standards, had gotten phenomenally worse, but he hadn’t gotten one percent better. I wondered at what point in his career had he decided that he knew enough.

I do believe that if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. Professional athletes do not stop improving and practicing after they get the job. Attorneys do not stop keeping up with the law after they graduate. Professionals are students of their craft and recognize the need for continued study to maintain their value and relevance to both their employer and their client.

If you don’t have the attention span or the time for books, get your inspiration where you can – blogs, tweets, e-books, YouTube, wherever. Just. Keep. Getting. Better.

Dennis O'Neil

Dennis O'Neil


Dennis has spent over 19 years using the internet to sell and market new homes. He blogs about internet marketing for home builders here, wrote a book about technology's impact on the sales process, and is a respected speaker on advanced internet marketing and the online sales process.

  • scottwolf

    I could'nt agree more with your point. I too ask this question. Not only to see what type of self improvement books a potential new hire reads but what they may read off line that helps them relate to the various buyer types that we deal with in sales outside of business. You know the part in sales to get through the 4 minute mile / barrier. I am dismayed at how many people don't have that answer! While this is off message somewhat but to your point most people I interview are unable to tell me 5 goals that they has set for themselves – amazing?!?

  • http://www.dennisoneil.com Dennis O’Neil

    Thanks for your comments Scott. With today’s competitive job market, employers have lots of choices about who they hire. Now more than ever, an applicant needs to be a student of their profession.

  • http://www.dennisoneil.com dennisoneil

    Thanks for your comments Scott. With today's competitive job market, employers have lots of choices about who they hire. Now more than ever, an applicant needs to be a student of their profession.