New Year, New Interview Questions to Ask In-Demand Candidates

It was invigorating to initiate the new year by interviewing Pete Primeau, President of Primeau Furniture Sales and former VP of Sales / Sales Manager for a name-brand mattress company. Over the years, he has honed strategies for interviewing sales reps and helped retailers succeed in increasing volume and profits.

Primeau’s storytelling style imbued this article with the nuances of the interview conversation. Read on to discover three questions that have yielded best results as well as his explanation why these questions are valuable to HR and recruiting professionals.


Question 1: Overcoming Objections

This first true-life example involved hiring a representative in Indiana who lived outside the territory. Primeau was concerned about the interviewee’s ability to effectively work the territory, so he asked, “You live two hours outside the territory. What are your plans to work the territory if you are hired?”

The candidate responded that he would drive in on Sunday night or Monday morning and work the territory until Friday night and then return home, emphasizing that he’d been doing just that for years.

Primeau further underscored his objections, expressing that he didn’t want to be responsible for the candidate’s divorce, and then assumed the demeanor of a prospect, sitting back to await the candidate’s comeback.

The sales rep candidate proceeded to smile and inquired, “Is that your only concern about hiring me?” This isolating of the objection was a great set-up to the candidate’s close, as Primeau confirmed that this was his only concern.

Value of This Question

The candidate then did “something only really good salespeople do,” said Primeau. “He brought me to a place where I had to say ‘yes.’ He repeated my question back to me and then asked, ‘Do you really care about my marriage?’ (to which I affirmatively replied), and with a big smile and full of confidence, he asserted, ‘If you really care about my marriage, please hire me because my wife only wants me around on weekends.’”

Both Primeau and the candidate understood what the other was doing, and it was a pleasant, solid exchange; the candidate turned out to be a high-performing salesperson.

[Related: How Small Businesses Use Glassdoor to Recruit]

Question 2: Overcoming Lack of Connection

The second example focused on a salesperson who proceeded to become one of the best salespeople and sales managers in the industry, according to Primeau. After navigating the typical interview questions, he threw a very tough objection at the candidate.  

Primeau divulged, “I’m just not feeling you are 100% right for the job. I can’t put my finger on it.”

The candidate replied, “What are you looking for?” and in response to the specific areas Primeau expressed as deficiencies, the interviewee repeatedly asserted, “I’m your candidate” and would illustrate why with an example.

Primeau described the candidate as a gentleman who was masterful, passionate and dynamic, and one who “never stopped closing until he sold me.” He thought, “This guy is the real deal.”

Value of This Question

Primeau’s goal in asking a person to sell in an interview was to get to the truth.

“It wasn’t an untrue assertion for me: I really was ‘not’ feeling it, but when he tried to sell, he was really good,” Primeau explained.

“A lot of people will fold their tents and not pick up the objections,” continued Primeau. “If (during the interview) they don’t answer the questions adequately as a salesperson would, they will do the same thing when handling an objection in the field. They will fold their tent and go away.”

The candidate impressed Primeau by leaning forward, fully engaged in the conversation versus backing down. Upon conclusion, the candidate reinforced the close, asking if Primeau was “100% confident that I’m the right guy for the job?”; upon an affirmative response, the candidate declaratively inquired, “Good, when do I start?”

Concluded Primeau, this candidate was not going to leave without closing the sale, which reinforced how he would behave when a store owner threw objections his way. “A normal run-of-the-mill order taker will stop when confronted with a vague objection. Great salespeople will use their skills and passion to close you,” said Primeau.

[Related: 4 Ways to Get Your Recruiting & HR Programs Ready for the Future]

Question 3: Future Choices

“Future choices” is an interview technique Primeau used to derive a candidate’s critical thinking. Posing the question as if the interviewee has been hired, you provide a scenario and ask the candidate what they would do, and why.

For example, Primeau would ask, “I’ve now hired you, and you get a call from the warehouse manager from one of your dealers regarding a delivery problem. You also get two more calls regarding the same delivery problem: one from the salesperson in the store and one from the store owner. You have three people calling you, so whom do you first call back?”

Value of This Question

While there are no wrong answers, Primeau explained that the ideal answer is to call the warehouse owner first, salesman second and owner last. The reasoning is you would want to gather as much information as possible, including level of culpability to avoid being blindsided, before calling the owner.

While inexperienced sales reps might instinctively suggest calling the owner first out of respect for the chain of command, a more experienced sales rep would strategically understand why such a choice is not ideal. As such, a candidate who reacts with the more ideal answer demonstrates critical thinking and experience maturity.

“Essentially,” explained Primeau, “my presumption if they’ve gotten this far in the process as an interviewee, is that they looked good, the resume looked good and they’ve passed all the tests all along. Now, we need to get them to demonstrate their skill level somewhere in the process. This will either confirm they are a great prospect for this job or will unravel this assumption based on missteps in their responses.”

“Almost all prospective hires will have a good resume and be proficient at answering stock questions. The only way I know to find out for sure if a salesperson is as good as they say is to make them sell in the interview.”