A recent Glassdoor report found that the average corporate job listing receives 250 applicants. Competition in today's business world is stiff, and finding ways to establish distinction as a candidate has never been more important.

Interviews are an important opportunity for hopeful hires to set themselves apart from their peers--particularly in sales. Unlike product or design roles, salespeople don't have portfolios to showcase the quality of their talent. Interviews present an opportunity for applicants to demonstrate one of the most critical components of sales success: personal engagement.

Of course, no applicant is ignorant about the importance of an interview, and many people respond to the pressure by vigorously promoting themselves at every opportunity. This is a mistake.

In sales, "telling" is only fractionally as important as "listening" and coming to understand exactly what the buyers' pain points are and what they need. Interviews should go the same way. If interviewers are looking for traits that will ultimately lead to sales success, they'll be paying as much attention to how well applicants listen as to what they say. If you're in sales and considering applying for a new job, be prepared to listen as effectively as you speak.

How to Show When You're Listening

There's a reason modern selling emphasizes "engagement" rather than just "pitching;" conversations are more effective at drawing people in than one-sided monologues. In an interview situation, you as the applicant are essentially selling yourself.

The simplest way to create engagement in an interview setting is to ask smart questions. Almost every interview will include a segment during which the interviewee gets to pose questions to the person interviewing and that's your chance to stand out. There are a few points to keep in mind during this part of the conversation:

  1. Choose questions that highlight your interest in this particular company and product. This will show you've done your research and that you're passionate about the industry. Passion and curiosity are great traits to have as a salesperson, and are therefore great traits to have in a sales interview. Putting the organization rather than yourself at center stage will win you points early on
  2. Always listen to the interviewer's response completely and ask follow-up questions if possible. One of the worst things you can do during this part of an interview is rush along through a list of pre-prepared questions without stopping to really take in the answers. It's also an incredibly common mistake for people self-conscious of being evaluated. Even if you think you completely understand, ask clarification questions anyway. You want your interviewers to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are present and respectful of their opinions.
  3. Resist the urge to brag. If you have strong accomplishments that you're proud of, those should be comprehensively listed on your resume, so that possible employers have them even if they never come up in conversation. Furthermore, if an accomplishment is listed on your resume, there is no need to repeat it if it isn't relevant. Any interview that's done properly should include plenty of opportunities to talk about your value as a worker. So when the mic is handed over, there's no need to ask questions about how your special skills might be best utilized or compensated. Instead, ask questions from genuine curiosity about the field, like "What are the top challenges [Company] prospects face?" or organizational questions that are of interest to you, like "How are leads assigned?" Interviews are a chance for you to learn and you'd be remiss not to take it.

It's okay to ask questions at other times throughout the interview as well, within reason. Your mannerisms and attention should be consistently attentive and respectful. It sounds obvious, but far too often people's eagerness to prove themselves outweighs their attention to remaining focused. In a recent study of executives published in the Harvard Business Review, one quote given was:

"Frankly, I had never thought of listening as an important subject by itself. But now that I am aware of it, I think that perhaps 80 percent of my work depends on my listening to someone, or on someone else listening to me."

The truth is that listening is a major part of working successfully in the business world. Being able to listen effectively is a major asset, and it should be just as much a part of any job interview as listing your strengths.