We do A LOT of consultation throughout the hiring process without clients here at ATP.
This guide was inspired by our wonderful clients that want to put their best foot forward for each step of the interview process to make a remarkable hire every time.
With that in mind, every single step of your interview process for a VP of Sales is critical.
To make your life easier, this is a tried and true guide for how to think about the VP of Sales interview process, understanding which questions to ask, what to look for, how to command the conversation, and how to approach the scorecard.
How to Use the Scorecard
We know how full your plates are and how tempting it is to show up and just want to wing the interview, but that’s not your recipe for success to hire the cream of the crop or provide a thoughtful candidate experience.
According to the Harvard Business Review, the validity or predictive power of a typical unstructured interview is around 20%. That means unstructured interviews lead to a good hire in just 1 out of 5 cases!
Our scorecard is designed to get clear on the bits and pieces of what makes a leader tick, correlating back to the must-haves for your startup. Think less gut and more of a systematic approach to take the emotion out of the process that can negatively influence a big decision like this.
Step 1: Review the candidate profile to prepare
For example, at ATP, we’ve spent hours with candidates before they get to our clients, so we dig into the important nooks and crannies for them.
Our job is to bring back all sorts of key information that’s qualitative, quantitative, and everything in between – all the stuff that you can’t see on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. That way you can confirm or deny where you need to dig deeper.
Step 2: Think about questions you want to ask
This step is all about intentionality. When you are showing up to understand and care to do so it does 2 things:
- Reduces your margin for hiring error
- Creates an incredible candidate experience
Dig into all of the details you have about the candidate thus far and figure out what’s pertinent for you in each conversation you’ll have. I.e. What questions do you need answers to in order to ensure that they’ll succeed in the role?
If you need help coming up with questions, go back to the scorecard and your notes to look for the patterns of what’s missing.
Pro tip: Reverse engineer these questions to think about this from your point of view, asking questions that correlate.
Step 3: Jot those questions in the scorecard
Now that you’ve come up with your questions for each candidate, keep it easy and create some efficiency. Create a questions tab for each candidate and include them there. This keeps you from wasting precious interview time and keeps the conversation on track.
Step 4: Take notes
During the interview, take notes. The stories we tell ourselves later aren’t always rooted in the reality of the actual conversation.
You can type them in directly, use a notepad, record the interview… whatever method you want.
Pro tip: Give the candidate a heads up that you’ll be looking away to take notes while they’re talking, but that you’re doing this to make sure you capture everything they’re saying.
We’ve gotten feedback that when interviewers look away or seem uninterested, it results in the candidate feeling like they’re not being considered, heard, or understood.
Step 5: Use a 1-5 grading system
After each interview, go back through your notes and give each candidate a score from 1-5.
A score of 1 is a giant red flag and most likely a no. A score of 5 is a cream-of-the-crop candidate who exceeded expectations across the board.
This simple scoring system makes it easier to remember the conversation and ultimately, make the best hiring decision.
As you tally up the overall score, remember that nobody is perfect. If you can find someone that is 75% or stronger, hire them. Just make sure the 25% that’s missing is what you can live with.
Interview Pro Tips
- How to avoid ‘head-nod’ mode during a candidate response
Sometimes people can be a little long-winded. Let’s be real, we’re in sales, the majority of us like to talk about ourselves.
But when a candidate goes on and on and on… a great skill to have in your back pocket is the ability to gracefully reel them back in.
It’s also a great opportunity to look for an important tell. Can they hear what you’re saying and take the feedback in real-time to course correct? Just like you’d want them to with your team and buyers.
Try this next time it happens say something like: “pardon me, I don’t mean to be rude and I’m really interested in what we’re talking about, but we only have a short amount of time and I’m a little fuzzy on the details here. Can you specifically go back to X?”
You can also simply jump in and say, “can you help me understand X?”
It’s important to use intentional language here. Specifically is the key word here.
Notice that I’m putting the spotlight on me being unclear about something, NOT the inadequacy of their response.
That’s why you’re not being a rude jerk when you do this! You’re owning the fact that you’re interrupting them a bit because you’re seeking to understand them better.
Another common disconnect is people talking about their experience in the third person; i.e. “we did XYZ since launching the company 5 years ago.”
In this case, direct the conversation back to them and ask, “what was your specific role in that?”
That way, you’ll avoid the shiny object while gaining a better sense of what they actually did versus taking unrealistic credit for.
- If you ask a question and the person goes off on an unintended path…
Bringing people back to the conversation is an art.
My approach to this is to infuse a bit of humor in. It’s a great way to disarm people a bit.
Here’s an example:
“ I hate to do this because it’s going to feel like a round of speed dating, but I feel like we’re getting a little off-topic and are at risk of running out of time. Can we come back to X?”
Keep in mind that the person might be a little stunned, maybe even embarrassed, so try to meet them where they are. You can follow up your prompt with,
“don’t sweat it, I do this all the time too. So let’s get back to…”
I’ve seen interviewers be abrasive about getting the candidate back on track, but to me, it falls short and alienates the person. Issuing a command like “you’re not answering my question” isn’t going to lead to a fruitful conversation for anyone at the table.
Be polite, be specific, and you’ll be able to keep the interview on track.
And if this doesn’t work?
It’s a productive moment to reveal a lack of self awareness, ability to be specific, or the fact that they may not have really done the work.
- How to dig for more detail when you get a vague answer
If a candidate’s answer doesn’t go into enough detail for me to understand their experience, I try to ask the same question in a couple of different ways.
You can introduce the follow-up with something like,
“I’m confused, so let me ask my question in a different way because I want to be clear on what happened.”
As interviewers, sometimes we’ll over-qualify a question when we’re asking it, meaning that the question itself gets long-winded and asks for too much information at once. Back to specificity once again – be specific with your questions!
That said, here are some other follow-up questions you can ask to dig deeper:
- What did you take away from that situation?
- Why is that situation important to bring up now?
- What would you like me to take away from it?
- How would that experience apply to our business?
Another option is to ask them to explain the situation to you like you’re a fifth grader. That way they’ll (hopefully) present it in a way that anyone can understand.
If you’ve followed up a handful of times and you still don’t understand, eventually you have to cut the cord and move on. And there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s what the process is designed to do.
Keep in mind that candidates might frustrated and defensive if you ask for a lot of clarification. This is a good thing!.. If that’s how they react to a bit of digging then it’s a red flag that makes your decision easier.
- Pay attention to body language
When you start asking those deeper questions to understand someone’s true personality, pay close attention to body language.
- Are they leaning in with interest or nonchalantly sitting back in the chair?
- Are they making eye contact?
- Are they talking at you, over you, or to you versus with you to have a productive conversation?
- Are they self aware to acknowledge and diffuse unexpected surprises (dog barking, landscapers, door bell ringing…)?
The best interviews are when both parties are able to break things down together and have a genuinely fruitful conversation. You want to center the conversation around the role that you’re hiring for.
Do your best to put each candidate into that position and see how they react.
For example, many VP of Sales talk about a love of coaching. If you implement a coaching program at your company, ask them to peel apart how their own coaching process would look like if you were working together.
Dig into those details! You want to see if candidates can break out of the standard jargon and methodologies so you can get to the real stuff. Do they perk up when they talk about the how’s and outcomes? Or do they roll their eyes when they describe how much of a pain their team is? That’s how you see someone for who they really are.
You want to get them as close as possible to the practical, actual work as opposed to the theoretical or conceptual.
When you do that, you’ll see their true colors shine through, for better or worse, and you’ll have a much better grasp on the information you’re getting while increasing the odds for making a remarkable hiring decision.
If someone isn’t comfortable with you bringing them into the everyday reality of the role, or reacts with disdain, it’s a huge tell and should be duly noted on the scorecard.
Likewise, engaged enthusiasm, head nodding, and smiling are all wonderful signs pointing in a positive direction.
Keeping a close eye on body language, tonality, inflection of voice, and self awareness throughout the interview will help you gauge if a person is genuine, interested, and excited by the potential of working together. Or if they’re just going through the motions to window shop the best offer.
That old adage of “how you do one thing is how you do everything” rings true here.
Ultimately, people on both sides of the interview table want to be seen, heard, and understood. NOT to be sold a flimsy bag of goods based on half-truths and assumptions where it hurts a heck of a lot more later.
Using the scorecard as your North Star to guide you during the interview process to treat each interview with the respect it deserves will never work against you.
You’re going to potentially be working together for a long time, so prepare to dig deep.
Sure it takes more time. But wouldn’t you rather go slow up front to go fast for the long haul later?
After all, growth versus speed is the secret to the fastest growing sales teams.