This question has been a standard mainstay of alot of interviewers. I am pretty sure as a candidate, you must have got this question and its variations before.

I had an interesting chat with a pre-sales people manager who interviews day in day out and he told me he usually makes up his mind if this person cant cut it in the first 5 mins. Now being a Lou Adler – Evidence based hiring practitioner, I don’t cut the person off mentally at the 10min mark as much as I personally might not like the person. We have this shared practice that we need to be impartially and evaluate the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses for the role factually.

So I gave my take of not being too biased at the initial stage in case you lose a good candidate over a bumpy start.

What he shared in response was rather interesting.

“Most people will tell me where they started their career and give a reverse chronological update of what they did since.” Depending on how they phrase this, it is ranges from a B- to an A- type of answer. “Some start off with – I am so and so, how old and married with kids etc” which he says are common with the junior candidates.

So what is your version of a stellar answer? I asked.

He gave me a scenario – a top salesperson would understand where the customer pain points are, understand how his companies’s solution can work to solve those pain and address it in a value selling way. He goes in to tell the customer that he understands this and that is a common issue for e.g companies like them. In fact, they have solved quite a number of simliar problems here and here with these products they have. The relevant products A and B prob are a good fit for your this problem and product C perhaps for that.

Versus a sales person going into a customer call and start going through their product catalogue – we have this, this and that, pause and hope the client will ask more about the product. This is akin to the rendition of the revere chronological career to date answer.

I feel that there is quite a lot of truth in how a person answers this question shows his ability to think through what is needed, preempt the needs and demonstrates his experience and achievements that matches those needs and proactively ask for confirmation. Just like how a top sales goes in and does his pitch.