At the weekend, whilst out cycling and to take away from the fact that I am not as fit as I want/need to be, I tried to work out roughly how many sales people I’ve interviewed in the last 12 years. By the time I had included everyone for roles right through from grad to director the number was sailing past 500.
As I was counting, certain interviews came flooding back to me, and I remember thinking one particular thought; it was always the ones that tried to bluff or lie that really cocked it up (and provided the most amounts of amusement & frustration on recollection).
The thing is, every sales person, at one time or another, has tried to bluff their way out of a tricky situation; with their boss; with a client; with a prospect etc... The worrying thing is, the more bluffing works, the more people tend to do it, and in my experience there is no greater playground for ‘Sales Bluffing’ than at interview.
I have never hired someone that tried to bluff me at interview and got caught and I don’t think I’m alone. Just watch any one of the Interview episodes of the UK Apprentice to see just how much damage bluffing can cause.
And before I get accused of getting on my high horse, I will admit that I’ve been caught out bluffing at interview before. What feels like forever ago, I was interviewing for The Guardian newspaper and was asked whether I read the paper. I did not, but I didn’t think that would go down too well with the interviewer so I said of course I did. ‘Phew, dodged a bullet there’ I thought. Sadly not, as the interviewer then asked “So who is your favourite journalist?”
Balls! I admitted at this point I couldn’t name a journalist and only read the paper occasionally. It almost cost me the job. Luckily I was interviewing for a great guy who let me off my youthful idiocy.
Needless to say, everytime I then interviewed anyone whilst at the Guardian I would ask them the same question and caught people out on nearly every occasion.
We would ask if they kept abreast of topics in the news and if they said yes, asked them to give 3 major stories in the current news cycle. Some of the answers were hilarious!
I used this question after the Guardian with grads, as it was a great way to find out how switched on they were. I still remember one candidate telling me, there was something about Fox hunting but they didn’t know the details – they were actually talking about Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary resigning.
There are 3 areas sales people tend to focus their bluffing efforts on and here are my top bits of advice to anyone considering bluffing in a sales interview:
1. Your numbers: Firstly, if you work in a sales and you don’t have numbers and figures on your cv to show performance then you are already starting on the back foot. As an interviewer I will be suspicious if there are no numbers. Secondly, whenever I get a sales CV, I look at all of the figures in detail to make sure the numbers and %’s make sense against what has been said. I have sat in countless interviews and pulled interviewee’s up on the fact their numbers don’t add up or make sense normally by asking “Is this a mistake in your numbers, or have you been less than forthcoming with the truth?” I’ve never understood why people make up their numbers when they are so easily checked at reference time. So, make sure you have numbers on your cv, but more importantly make sure they add up and make sure they’re real.
2. Your sales knowledge: I always ask interviewee’s if they’ve had formal training or read any sales methodology books. In almost every case, the person will try and bluff and I pick them up on it. Some of the acronym explanations I’ve heard for S.P.I.N selling are truly mind boggling. If you’re interviewing for an experienced sales director the chances are they will have a basic knowledge of most common methodologies. So, make sure, if you say you’ve had formal training or have read certain books that you actually have.
3. Your job title: Nothing sends the suspicion alarm bells ringing more than a sales person with one years’ experience having the word ‘Director’ in the the title. It says that you have either made up your own job title, the company you worked for was miniscule, or your employer gives everyone Director titles to look impressive to clients which says a lot about where you have been working. Be proud of the job titles you’ve had, and if you want ‘Director’ in your title then earn it.
You might have noticed a theme in the above advice, and that’s honesty. I would always hire someone with great integrity and honesty over someone who had questionable numbers or job titles no matter how impressive they are.
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