Sales Management | Sales Techniques

Upside Down Sales Recruitment – The Reverse Interview

Sales leaders have been drawn into mandated corporate techniques for recruitment interviewing. Often this approach is supervised by well trained human resource practitioners who instruct on fair and respectable candidate selection techniques like critical behavioural interviewing (CBI). CBI is based on the assumption that the past performance of a candidate will be an indicator of future performance, assuming similar situations. To some extent this assumption is true but of course the story of past performance is likely to be filtered by the candidate.

CBI interviews ask for a situation or task, then explore what action was taken by the candidate and finally consider the outcomes. So for example I might ask a person to tell me about a time when they had a teamwork challenge; how they dealt with it and what happened as a result. The savvy candidate will probably tell a story about a time when someone else in the team was creating problems and how they took the person aside and helped them; with the outcome being a return to team harmony. Of course we are dealing with sales people and part of their makeup is familiarity with sales narrative. I often wonder what really happened in the historical accounts. I wouldn’t be surprised if candidates conveniently reassign the characters in their stories. Perhaps the event happened but for the purposes of the interview they have inserted themselves into the role of hero. The bottom line is I have never been convinced that CBI is a particularly useful technique, especially not for the first round of interviews.

I can recall a time when I interviewed for a whole business unit of eighty and spent weeks in a stuffy room, eyes glazing over, filling pages of interview templates with detailed notes about how candidates dealt with communication challenges, cultural confusion, flexibility, problem solving, creativity and so forth. Many times I was accompanied by an HR manager and we’d pause at the end of the interview and look for reasons why a candidate’s story of events should or shouldn’t expel them from the selection process. It involved nit picking what was said by the candidates and comparing extensive hand cramping notes and then adding the person to the growing pile of rejects or the hallowed shortlist. To be honest, most of the time I found myself digging into my gut for inspiration rather than taking the candidate stories all that seriously.

Not surprisingly I look for people who I believe will excel at selling. I am not selecting people for inclusion in a tight office environment; my view is that sales people should be fundamentally outward looking and spend eighty percent of their time in the field with their customers. No two customers are the same, have the same cultural make-up, behavioural style or views about teamwork, creativity or communication. If I am recruiting with CBI for a match with customer type the task becomes impossibly complex.

My reverse interview approach is easy to grasp for the interviewer. He or she simply focuses on previous confirmable results and currently observable sales behaviours. Historical CBI questioning slips into second place. Here’s the premise – If you want the job I have advertised then sell me your product, which in this case is you and your selling skills!

Recruiters who are not familiar with worlds best practice selling will argue that this is theatre and does not constitute a proper interview, but they are wrong because best practice selling is anything but theatre and everything to do with interviewing, but the candidate is running the interview!   A candidate who knows his craft will give me everything I need to know about them and which I might otherwise have asked indirectly through CBI interrogation. I know this because the information I want constitutes my needs as the customer. The excellent candidate will facilitate an impressive reverse interview using their exemplary selling skills which I get to observe in action. As a bonus, this approach is far less exhausting for the recruiter and at the end of the process it’s very easy to sit back and answer one very basic but critical question: “would I buy from this candidate?”

Perhaps this reverse interview approach is a little controversial for some, but I can assure you it is a profoundly liberating experience and an excellent tool for first pass candidate selection; moreover the burden of “appropriate and fair” is completely in the hands of the candidate, so there is nothing for them to complain about. I’ll admit it would be a questionable approach in disciplines other than sales but we are dealing with sales people and reverse interviewing is entirely appropriate, if not preferable.

I understand that the term “reverse interviewing” may not get traction in some organisations and you might have to call it “task oriented” or “testing” interviewing. The latter techniques are not quite the same thing but they are concepts understood by professional recruiters. Other less mainstream descriptions of my approach are “conceptual interviewing” or “consultative interviewing” because the method calls on the conceptual and consultative selling skills of the candidates.

If you would like to discuss this sales recruitment reverse interview model in more detail I’d be glad to assist; send through your details and we can set up a time to talk.




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