Sell Me This Pen!
Sell Me This Pen!
Gimmicks—video resumes, sending cookies to your interviewer, etc.—will not get you hired. But what about those situations in which the candidate is subjected to gimmicks, and is asked to perform parlor tricks for the interviewer? Yet another symptom of the lack of interview training on the part of managers, these types of questions are highly effective—at screening out top talent.

My client Jeff has 20 years of experience in b2b sales, selling into the C-suite. He most recently managed $120 million in revenue for his previous employer. He’s polished, professional, and approachable. He’s exactly who you want to be representing you and your company. Jeff can talk to anyone, about pretty much anything, so when he was presented with one of my least favorite gimmicks, he was ready with his response.

“Sell me this pen” is a tired, unimaginative, boring exercise in ignorance, and people interviewing for sales positions have been confronted with it for decades. Its purported purpose is to see, in action, how effective and persuasive the candidate can be. Can he convince me to buy the pen? Can he close the deal? When the interviewer asked Jeff to sell him a pen, Jeff knew he was done. Clearly, the interviewer lacked creativity, and worse, believed that the best way to approach a potential client was to lead with the product. Good salespeople know that you lead by identifying market pain. But Jeff decided to play along:

Jeff: “Can you tell me how you use pens in your current business?”

Interviewer: “I really don’t use them too often. I keep most of my notes in digital format.”

Jeff: “Do you feel that there is a gap that’s being caused by using strictly digital media?”

Interviewer: “No.”

Jeff: “Okay. Thank you for your time.”

The interviewer looked a bit shocked. Jeff explained that he had determined that the interviewer was not a prospect, and did not have any business issue that could be solved with a pen. So he decided to move on. What Jeff didn’t say was that he was done with the interview as soon as the task was presented. Gimmicks don’t get you hired, but asking candidates to perform parlor tricks is a sure fire way to turn them off to your company, and damage your brand. If companies want to attract and retain top talent, this is not the way to do it. Stop asking inane questions like “How many square meters of pizza are consumed annually in the US?”, “Why are manhole covers round?” and “What song best describes you?” There are many more examples, but you get my point.

If you are confronted with one of these, take it as a huge red flag. It says that the company has not invested in properly training its hiring managers in interviewing techniques, and that the hiring manager might not be terribly keen on new ideas or ways of doing things. Remember that the employers do not hold all the cards in this game, and that you are there to vet them just as much as they are assessing you. You do not, and should not, perform for them as if you were in a circus sideshow!