There’s a lot of nonsense spoken, and written, about interview questions. A recent LinkedIn post about how “great” the “sell me this pen” question is, had accumulated 36,513 likes and more than 2500 comments at the time of writing this.
Of course, it’s not a great interview question – unless you want to hire someone to sell pens!
It’s not a great interview question because it tells me nothing reliable about the candidate. People will say it demonstrates sales skills, or it shows how quickly a candidate can think. But is there any experienced sales person who has not heard of this question or been asked to “sell me this pen” in a job interview?
So, if you do ask it, how do you know the answer you get is honest and genuine? How do you know it’s not well-rehearsed, crafted from hours of research, or from reading long LinkedIn discussions? And the same applies to all of the stock interview questions like “Tell me about yourself?”, “What’s your greatest weakness?” And so on.
There are countless “Great answers to interview questions” books and online resources. If you’re a large firm or business, the chances are your standard interview questions are posted on Glassdoor or elsewhere for all to see. There are many chances for candidates to practice their responses to typical interview questions.
You will learn nothing useful about your candidates with these stock questions. If you want the truth from your candidates, my advice is to avoid them altogether.
If you ask someone to sell you a pen in an interview, the chances are you’ll end up with someone who can only sell themselves.”
Instead, ask probing questions that give candidates the chance for you to learn, and for them to demonstrate: what they have actually done; how they did it; what they are capable of; how much they understand the task you have in mind for them – and how they will do it; how well they know themselves (don’t underestimate the importance of self-awareness); and how they will fit with your organisation and culture.
Designing and asking great interview questions is not rocket science, but neither should it be a game, or child’s play for the candidate. But if that’s a challenge for you, then hire someone like me to help you. Getting it wrong is very costly, whether for a sales role or any other appointment.
And if you do ask someone to sell you a pen in an interview, the chances are you’ll end up with someone who can only sell themselves, rather than your product or service.