Here is a story of how one superstar candidate who sold pharmaceuticals made the transition into a different role, overcame all objections before we could make them, and ended up getting hired by a sales manager who would never consider someone with her background.

Before working as a Talent Parter at Upsider, I recruited for a Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) company where we hired Territory Sales Managers. For context, they sold product into brick and mortar locations. We had an opening in Eugene, OR, and I remember my hiring manager explicitly telling me on our intake call, “I don’t usually interview pharmaceutical sales reps”. Selling into pristine doctor’s offices with air conditioning and nurses walking around in scrubs was not the same environment as run down retail stores with bullet proof glass. The environment and products were on complete opposite spectrums.

So, when I came across a resume for a “National Award Winning Medical Sales Professional” who spent her entire career in pharmaceutical sales, I was hesitant. But, her accomplishments and numbers spoke for themselves, so I thought it would be worth a phone call.

Boy did she WOW me.

On our first phone interview, she demonstrated all the desirable soft skills such as visible displays of excitement and clearly communicating specific examples of her accomplishments and work history. She used the word “fun” way too many times, enough to get the point across.

But what really differentiated her from any other salesperson I’ve interviewed before and what sealed the deal for me was when she told me that before our phone interview, for 2 hours, she had driven around town visiting several local retail shops to see to see where we had distribution, spoke with the business owners about what determined price points and display space, and even bought a few of our products to see what the packaging was like. (Did I mention she didn’t even use our product?)

Needless to say, she carried that momentum into the rest of the interview. Throughout each step of the process, she wrote personalized notes to each interviewer explaining her key takeaways, reaffirming how she could contribute to our success, and thanking us all for our time. She even CC’ed the hiring team, including the hiring manager’s superior on an e-mail that pointed out qualities about the hiring manager that made him a desirable person to work under and learn from. People love genuine compliments.

The research she put into our company and products differentiated her, making her far more desirable than candidates even with relevant experience. The icing on the cake — after she was hired, she sent me a handwritten card.

Talk about building relationships. Every step of the way, she went above and beyond to stand out as the best salesperson I’ve ever interviewed.

Are you looking for a new job or know someone who is? Share these 5 tips with them on how to have the perfect interview.


1) Smile and Dial

Trust me. A recruiter can tell the difference between someone who is beaming with excitement versus someone who is sighing on the other end of the phone like it’s the end of a long day. Even if it is a bad day, suck it up. You have to sell yourself in an interview like you’re selling a product to a prospect.

2) Quantify your accomplishments and contributions

Anyone who watches Shark Tank understands that an investment rarely happens unless the financials make sense. My star candidate was a top performer so she wasn’t afraid to mention her numbers. 167% in 2015, 140% in 2014, 155% in 2013…. need she say more?

3) Use Stories

Maybe you’re not an exceptional performer or you sell Galaxy Note 7’s so you haven’t hit any of your goals. You need to use stories to explain why things did or didn’t go your way. She told an awesome story about how she managed to wiggle in the back door of a client and had a doctor throw a shoe at her, yet she still somehow managed to close the sale 10 minutes later. Make people like you, believe in you, and relate to you, especially if you don’t have the results to prove it.

4) Prove you can do the job before you get the job (especially if you’re changing industries)

Hiring managers, as my founder Drew Koloski sometimes says, can have incestuous hiring tendencies, only speaking with candidates who have relevant experience. It’s easy to prove you can do the job you are interviewing for if you have done it before. For someone looking to change industries, you need to research and hustle.

Do a pre-interview project. For my star candidate, that meant buying our product, pitching the idea to the retailers, and selling the concept. If you’re a salesperson in HRTech trying to break into MarTech, go onto the companies website, create a presentation of their product, and reach out to potential clients. I guarantee if you walk into your interview with 3 potential companies interested in buying their product, you’re chances of landing the job will skyrocket from “lost in the abyss of resumes” to “negotiating a 30% raise”.

5) Be likable

People want to work with people they can sit with 10 hours a day. After her last interview, our star candidate praised the hiring manager and CC’ed his boss. A little flattery goes a long way. After I got my own handwritten note, all of a sudden I wanted to move to Eugene, OR.


Daniel Ahn is currently a Talent Partner here at Upsider and helps salespeople use data to better understand and advance their career.  To learn more and get connected with Dan – visit our home page.

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You are selling data-driven marketing software as a service (SaaS) to businesses.  You earn a $70,000 base salary and made about $160,000 all in this past year. Not too shabby for 3 years of sales experience (mom was so proud over the holidays). Your Average Order Value (AOV) is $18,000. Sales Cycle, only 38 days.  You hit over 125% of your goal the last two years since you graduated from the Sales Development Rep (SDR) program.  You doubled down early on and took a “blue-collar” approach by applying a tireless work ethic to prospecting.  You still use the skills you learned early on and continue to grind.  You cold prospect systematically, network, you are a leader, are creative – whatever it takes.  Your sales career is off to a fast start!

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Trump is campaigning (and still tweeting…) for a second term, wow did that go fast! Life is good because you leveraged your sales metrics via Upsider to finally landed your first true Enterprise Sales Director role at a big time company. You start right away, congrats! You are excited. Big time deal sizes, challenging sales cycles, C-level decision makers, a legit expense account. Onward and upward, baby!

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