Auditions & Role Playing

Here’s an interesting way to find out if a sales candidate really knows how to sell or is just telling you he does. Anybody can talk a good talk, but can they walk the walk. Here’s a neat way to find out.

Get the candidate to audition for you.


An audition is simply an extension of the role-play. Give the candidate some product information and ask him to come to the next interview prepared to “sell” the product to the interviewer. It needn’t be one of your company’s products or services that would require them to do research; it could just be something neutral.

If you go with the non-company, neutral product route, you might give the candidate a cup (somewhat expensive), a key ring (relatively inexpensive or even cheap), and a calendar (moderately priced), along with the following scenario:

“You’ll be making a presentation to the owner of a flower shop that wants to reward repeat customers and encourage additional business. The owner has a limited budget and hasn’t used advertising specialty items before. Which of these three items would you suggest? And, if suggesting more than one, in what order would you suggest them, and why?”

The resulting presentation should give you some idea of how creative the person is and how well attuned he or she is to the prospect’s needs. It doesn’t really matter which product the person proposes as being the best one just as long as he or she can properly justify (sell) it to the prospect (you).

The advantages of this approach are:

  • it gives the candidate time to properly prepare for the “sales call”
  • it gives you a better idea of the type of questions the salesperson uses to qualify a prospect (or to see if he qualifies at all).

The disadvantages of this approach are:

  • you don’t get an opportunity to see how fast the candidate is on his feet
  • it requires an additional meeting.

The advantages outweigh the disadvantages… trust me!


While I’m not a big fan of asking the candidate to “sell” me something like a pen, a coffee cup, a glass or whatever, there is value in doing so. Most salespeople don’t like role-playing at the best of times and a job interview is certainly not the best of times.

That said, over the years, I have come to realize that the use of role-playing, properly done, has merit.

The advantage of this approach is that it gives you an opportunity to see how fast the person can think on his feet. This puts a great deal of pressure on the other person and, if he survives the ordeal, he probably deserves the job.

The disadvantage of this approach is that too often the interviewer doesn’t really know what to watch for. If the candidate doesn’t “sell” the way the interviewer “sells,” the candidate fails the test.

Nevertheless, the “sell me” exercise can often give you interesting insights into how sharp a person is.

I remember one time when I was interviewing a candidate in a restaurant and I asked the fellow to “sell” me an ashtray. I should point out that this took place a long time ago when smoking was still allowed in public places.

In any event, he began by extolling the many benefits of the ashtray, one being that it was virtually unbreakable. At that point he demonstrated by dropping the ashtray on the floor where it shattered to a hundred pieces.

The salesperson looked at me and calmly said, “We need to tighten up on our quality control a bit.”

Now that’s fast!

I hired him