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More often than not, when we're in the middle of an interview, questions come up to test how we would react to hypothetical situations. Some are quite common, while others are more challenging to answer.
These questions are meant to show the interviewer what type of person you are. To add to that list, we have the infamous question: ‘Sell me this pen.’
Below, we will walk you through some steps that will help you tackle this question head on.
Why hiring managers ask this question
This question is related to sales positions most of the time. It's meant to show the hiring manager your ability to sell a product. It's an easy way to demonstrate your ability to sell anything, even something as small as a pen.
Your approach and body language will play a major part in this demonstration. The interviewer wants to see how you can stand out amongst all the salespeople out there and understand why they should hire you.
There’s a lot of components that go into the perfect salesperson, and a set of skills that need to be constantly refined. It’s also a great way to showcase your skills beyond your CV.
Sales are one of the most important roles within any company because that's how most of the revenue is generated. Therefore, the hiring manager needs to ensure that any new talent brought on board has what it takes to sell any product or service.
Your answer will also help the hiring manager understand your overall sales process and style. There is not right or wrong answer here; it’s all about how you approach any type of sales environment.
Tips for planning your response
Answering this question successfully is all about preparation. You should be prepare for your interview anyway, but it's important to practice specific job-related examples, too. You want to appear to be the expert in your field and have the best responses ready. Here’s a few tips to help you plan your response if this question is asked during your interview:
1. Build rapport
The first step is to build up rapport. Ask the interviewer professional questions about what they do, how tough their job is, and find ways to be relatable to them.
At the same time, try to get an idea of their personality and bring an element of emotion into your answer. Finding common ground is important when deciding which approach to take with your answer.
2. Be confident
You don’t want to seem like you are trying too hard to sell the interviewer that pen. The goal is to have an engaging discussion with them. Keep your tone level and try to keep your nerves in check. The key is to make the person feel comfortable and to capture their attention with your presentation and approach.
3. Bring up the pen naturally
Use an anecdotal story, or something related to the interviewer’s job and tie it in with the selling points you come up with about the pen. Bring it up naturally in conversation and showcase how the pen is essential to that person or their job through a tailored response.
4. Highlight its usefulness
Start talking more about the pen and all its features once you have made your introduction.
Mention all the different ways the pen can have an impact and focus on any especial features or elements. Always make sure it's relatable to the rapport building stage.
You don't want to overexplain features, or simply list them out one by one; you want to focus on the features that make sense in this situation.
5. Stay relevant
Keep your answer relevant to the pen, the person you're trying to sell it to and the overall usefulness it has to them. You want to build a picture of why the interviewer needs the pen.
6. Close the deal
Hand back the pen, and close that deal. This is the most important part, and it needs to be paired with a strong concluding point.
By building up rapport, relating the pen to the interviewer and tailoring your pitch to their needs, you should have shown your ‘client’ (the interviewer) how they got the best possible deal.
By incorporating the above tips, you’ll be able to come up with an authentic answer of your own. That said, tips are all well and good but seeing some example answers will certainly help.
Take a look below:
1. Using emotional connection
Interviewer: Sell me this pen.
Candidate: This pen reminds me of one I used to fill out my application for college. I was the first one in my family to attend and it was one of the most important moments of my life. What was an important moment for you?
Interviewer: When I bought my first home.
Candidate: Isn't it great in this day and age when something so miniscule can bring back a multitude of memories from big moments in your life?
Interviewer: Sure, why not, remembering the big moments is great.
Candidate: Exactly. That’s why you need this pen, so you are ready for that next important milestone in your life.
2. Using work as a relation
Interviewer: Sell me this pen
Candidate: Work is crazy right? So many moving parts to juggle.
Interviewer: It sure is.
Candidate: Don’t you find it frustrating how much you have to sign to keep the engine running?
Interviewer: Yes, and sometimes I cannot even find a pen.
Candidate: Glad you said that! Take a look at this pen. It’s got a durable body and a great weight to it. The writing works at all different angles, and the pen itself can be refilled, so you don’t have to worry about finding a replacement.
Interviewer: Wow that’s great!
Candidate: Feel that in your hands. This can be yours today, so you can focus on keeping this ship moving without worrying about having a pen at hand. Are you ready to invest in a great quality pen that matches your work calibre?
3. A combination of both
Candidate: When was the last time you needed to use a pen?
Interviewer: I used one with the previous interview.
Candidate: Were you satisfied with its performance?
Interviewer: It was okay, and it did the job.
Candidate: Have you ever been in a situation where your pen didn’t work properly, hence hindering your performance?
Interviewer: I had a meeting with my manager last week, but my pen gave out and I wasn’t able to take notes.
Candidate: That doesn’t sound good – when it comes to work, we should always be able to rely on our equipment and tools. Your pen should be working as hard as you are.
Interviewer: I guess you’re right.
Candidate: Take this pen. It is built to last and will never fail you during those critical meetings. By investing in this pen your are investing in a tool that will guarantee your success at any meeting. Are you ready to make the switch?
Interviews can be complicated. There are so many different directions they could go.
Being asked to ‘sell me this pen’ during an interview can be nerve-wracking, even for a seasoned salesperson with plenty of experience on their back. That said, you don't want your nerves to get the best of you and to fall into the pitfalls of the common interview mistakes. Everything from your posture to your hand movements to your tone will be noted while you are giving your answer, so you must be confident at all times.
Even if it doesn’t lead to a role, use your experience to learn and refine your approach for the next one.
A key measure you can take is to research the company in advance and get a better understanding of their interview practices. This will also help you gain more insight into the company, role and manager you could be working with, which will definitely amp up your performance at your upcoming interview.
Join the discussion! Have you ever had to answer this interview question? How did it go? Let us know in the comments section below.
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 15 August 2015.