My first ever interview for a sales job consisted of one question and lasted less than a minute. How I answered that question, and what followed, was one of the defining moments in my sales career. It just happened to occur before that career had even begun.
I graduated from college without a plan for the future. In fact, I was about one day away from taking up permanent residence in my 1963 Mercury Monterey when I submitted my resume for a job opening listed at the campus career placement center for a position with a major computer manufacturer. The job was described as a marketing management training program which was a convenient fiction designed to romanticize and disguise the fact that this was nothing more than an entry-level sales position.
Two days later I received a call scheduling me for an interview for the following day. I was supposed to arrive at 1pm for an interview with Ray, the branch sales manager. Ray came out to the lobby to retrieve me. He just stuck out his hand and said “Ray.” No pleasantries. Just “Ray.” I shook the offered hand and he turned and returned through the door he had entered, holding it open for me to follow him into a conference room. There was small conference table with six chairs around it and he motioned for me to sit in the one closest to the door. Ray sat down in the chair on the corner next to me, opened his notebook and pulled out a copy of my resume.
I had done a little research into the company and had learned that the job involved selling minicomputers to business customers for accounting applications. Naturally, being young and stupid, I was completely unprepared and more than a little flummoxed when the first words out of Ray’s mouth were a simple accounting question. “Are expenses a normal debit balance or credit balance?”
I was so shocked by his question that my brain froze. I was the deer in the headlights. What had happened to simple questions like “Tell me about yourself,” “What are your biggest weaknesses?” or “How do you conjugate the irregular French verb être?” The frustrating part was that I knew the answer to his question, but it had escaped and hidden itself away in some dark recess of my brain, refusing my calls to come out and play.
I liked my car but the thought of collecting my mail there had me thinking twice about the consequences of my answer. I looked at Ray. He placidly looked back with a slight smile on his lips. “Oh, well,” I told myself. “At least I got the interview.” I shook my head and gave the only answer I could. “I should know the answer to your question. I took two semesters of accounting in school and averaged a B+. If you give me overnight, I’ll look up the answer and I’ll call you with it tomorrow. But I am not going to sit here in front of you and try to B.S. you with some phony answer.” It was an eloquent plea and I am sure Ray could hear the slight quaver in my voice as I sought some leeway. But apparently that was not to be.
Ray closed his notebook and without a further word, stood up and left the conference room, closing the door behind him. This whole interview had taken less than a minute. One minute!
I slumped forward in my chair and rested my head on the conference table. I could imagine the upcoming phone call with my Dad as I recounted how I had covered myself with glory on my first professional job interview. In fact, I was contemplating what size mini-fridge could fit in the front seat of my car when the door to the conference room opened and a tall, thin balding man stepped in and introduced himself. “Hi, I’m Brian. I run this branch.” He sits down next to me. “Ray tells me that he wants to hire you today.”
Integrity is an essential element of success in sales. And in life. I was fortunate that I learned very early on the rewards integrity earns.
Author, Coach & Advisor, Speaker, Andy Paul is a leading expert on the speed of selling and the author of the award-winning book, Zero-Time Selling, 10 Essential Steps to Accelerate Every Company’s Sales. He is also the founder of Zero-Time Selling, Inc. a sales strategy, consulting and training firm that specializes in working with CEOs and managers to optimize sales results and maximize the return on their investment in sales.