How to Nail the Interview by Treating it Like a Sales Transaction

“You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.”

Ever hear this piece of advice before a big job interview? In my opinion this is one of the most misleading job search tips you’ll ever hear.  It implies that an interview is a two-way street, when in reality, until an offer is extended, there’s no two ways about it.

The danger of missing this important distinction is that you may be tempted to broach subjects during the interview that should actually be saved for the offer stage – for example, talking about compensation or asking questions about what they can do for you and your career.  It’s understandable that candidates want to get these questions answered sooner rather than later, but raising certain topics during an interview can throw up a huge red flag for the employer and potentially cost you the job – no matter how qualified you might be.

Your number one goal in an interview should be to get to the offer stage.  Once you get the offer, the game changes and you become a player – until then you’re still waiting to be dealt a hand.  In order to get in the game, think of your interview like a sales transaction. Your goal is to convince your customer (i.e. the employer) that you can provide them with something valuable that they want to purchase (i.e. you).

Given this analogy, why not use some effective sales techniques and best practices to nail your interview?  Here are a few tips that can help you do just that: 

Tip #1: Remember it’s all about them.
One of the guiding principles of sales is that the customer cares about their business, not about yours. When they ask, “Why should I buy your product?” they’re not actually asking for a list of all the reasons why your goods or services are so amazing.  They’re thinking about themselves and how what you’re selling might fit into their worlds, make their lives easier, make them more money, etc.

Same goes for a job interview.  When they ask, “Why should we hire you?” it’s easy to think that the question is about you – but don’t be fooled!  It’s still about them. This is your opportunity to convince them that your unique qualifications meet their specific needs. Rather than saying “I have an extensive background in XYZ,” say “You mentioned you need someone to take XYZ to the next level – here are some of the ways I’ve done that before and/or I can do that for you.”

Tip #2: Do your homework.
No successful salesperson would walk into a pitch without first knowing everything they can about their potential customer. What are their unique goals and challenges? If it’s B2B sales, who is their audience and who are their competitors?  Understanding the answers to these questions helps the sales person anticipate what the customer needs – and how their product fulfills that need – before the pitch even begins.

Doing your homework on a potential employer may sound like Interviewing 101, but the key here is to do more than just learn the company’s products and services or the CEO’s alma mater. You need to read between the lines to think about how the position you’re interviewing for fits into the employer’s broader business objectives, so that you can connect your skills and expertise directly to their bottom line.

Tip #3: Ask the right questions – then listen up.
In addition to researching the customer ahead of time, a salesperson usually needs to do a fair amount of digging in the actual conversation in order to craft a customized pitch.  This means asking questions that get to the heart of the customer’s needs – then really listening to the responses.

As an interviewee, being an active listener can not only help you learn what you need to know in order to position yourself as the right “product” for the employer’s needs – it also allows the interviewer to do a fair amount of the speaking, which is usually a good thing. Research shows that interviewers are more likely to have a positive impression of candidates who let them do most of the talking.

Tip #4: Know that your reputation precedes you.
In today’s uber-connected age, if somebody is looking to buy anything of substance they are going to vet it online first – so you should consider yourself Googled before your initial interview. This means going beyond the basics of updating your LinkedIn profile and making sure your Facebook photos aren’t offensive.  Take the time to think through and craft your personal brand, and ensure it’s reflected across all of your social media platforms and elsewhere on the web.  If you know you have holes in your job experience, expect that the interviewer might know that and be ready to address the issue. In short, make sure the story you tell in the interview matches the one that employers might read online.


Once the offer is extended, congratulations! You’ve made the sale. At this point you can feel free to discuss your salary, growth potential, travel expectations, and anything else that might be relevant to helping you decide whether you want to take the job. Because, guess what? Now it’s all about you.

Learn more about SoFi’s Career Coaching program here.

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One thought on “How to Nail the Interview by Treating it Like a Sales Transaction

  1. jason lampa says:

    Great stuff Bob – extremely helpful.

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