Are You Asking Candidates the Right Questions?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Once you’ve selected the top candidates who have applied for your open position, you’re ready to figure out which one will be the best match. Asking candidates the right questions can help you decide who to hire. These days, candidates prepare well for interviews and they can practice the answers to common questions to improve their standing. To see how well a candidate can think on their feet, you’ll need to come up with some uncommon questions.

The Common Questions

Candidates who have been through enough interviews have prepared their answers to common questions. They have probably tweaked their standard answers to make sure the strengths they mention match the skills which are mandatory to do the job you're trying to fill. 

Good attention to detail is usually one of the strengths employers seek. You can pose a common question in an unusual way to learn more about your candidates.

If you asked your candidates to take a sales skills assessment, the results indicate whether these individuals possesses plenty of attention to detail. When a candidate boasts about this attribute, dig deeper. Ask them about a situation when their attention to detail made a difference for their current or a previous employer. Their answer will show if they share your definition for this attribute and how well they work with team members and their managers. 

The Uncommon Questions

At some organizations, managers ask sales professionals to prepare a presentation and pitch the company’s product. Our research shows that 26% of sales managers ask top candidates to participate in this type of job simulation or audition. Another approach, as Josh Bean in his ZenDesk post on interviewing points out, is to ask a candidate to review their resume for you. In this case, they’re speaking about a topic they know well. They should feel confident about what they are saying. This strategy gives you the opportunity to see how they conduct presentations. 

You’ll also be able to view them in terms of fit. Is their style appropriate for the clients your company usually sells to? Do they take the time to explain any terminology that most people aren’t familiar with? Do they seem approachable and relaxed, yet enthusiastic? And when they pause, ask a question. Make sure they reactive positively and answer the question.


Candidates will tell you they are highly coachable. But their assessment results may suggest otherwise. Don’t assume that a candidate with low coachability scores is problematic if they possess other strengths. 

Use the interview as a way to find out more. Josh Bean highlights a Glassdoor report from a candidate who was asked “about a time you failed and what you learned.” This kind of question gets to the heart of coachability. A candidate who admits to failure is showing you that they have humility. And if they can explain how they changed their behavior as a result of the experience, they are indirectly telling you that they are coachable.

Don’t let your candidate give a general answer about how they learned to follow up with prospects sooner after they lost a deal to a competitor. Ask them for specifics and hopefully you’ll hear about how they thought they were close to getting a huge deal signed and then their contact told them that only the supervisor had signing authority. And, unfortunately, the supervisor had already decided to go with the competition. The lesson learned in this case was that the sales rep always finds the right person to talk to at a prospect organization before they start assessing the chances of close a deal.

Asking Candidates the Right Questions

As you refer to your candidates’ profiles generated from the sales skills assessment they complete, you’ll also get ideas about which interview questions to ask. In fact, some assessments will suggest interview questions based on any work or behavioral tendencies flagged as an area that might need additional attention. When the candidates answer your questions, watch their body language. Asking candidates the right questions during interviews will lead to making better hires in your sales organization.