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10 Questions to Ask When Hiring an SDR

SDRs are some of the most critical hires you can make in a B2B sales team.

Especially so if you’re working at a startup or scaling company, when the brand awareness isn’t there and you need to find customers, fast.

The role is tough. It requires a lot of different sales skills.

The best SDRs work at the coalface of sales every day. They’re at the forefront of B2B lead generation. They seek and research leads, outreach by email, hammer the phones.

They need to be good communicators, but also good at admin and time management - not always an easy task, when they have dozens of cold calls to make per day and scores of sales emails to send out.

Most importantly, they need to be resilient. The SDR will face a ton of rejection, more than they’ll face success.

How can you find people with all these qualities?

For most sales leaders, it all starts with the interview. You have to ask relevant, searching questions that’ll help you determine if the candidate is a good fit.

Interviewing at Cognism

For this article, we interviewed Harry Brown and Catherine Gardner, our Sales Team Leaders.

They’re in charge of the SDR recruitment process at Cognism. We asked them what they look for in an SDR candidate, and the top 10 questions they would ask during an interview.

“A good SDR interview should be like qualifying a lead,” Harry told us. “You have to qualify the candidate. Are they a good fit for your company? It’s not about asking questions simply to progress the interviewee to the next stage or not - you have to pick up on other things as well.”

Catherine agreed:

“There are things you have to look out for during the interview. Their tonality, are they articulate, do they have confidence when speaking to strangers? Are they able to think on their feet? Some of our top questions aren’t the usual ‘sales interview’ questions. Some candidates are thrown off by those questions, but the best ones aren’t. That’s a good indicator that they’ll be able to handle the pressures of a fast-moving sales job.”

“The big thing we look for at Cognism is, do they fit into the company culture?” Harry said. “Are they going to fit into the team, will they work well with others? A good sales team is like a family and especially at Cognism, we have a very diverse group of people working for us. It’s very important that we maintain that culture.”

With all this in mind, Harry and Catherine selected their top 10 questions to ask when hiring an SDR. They also gave us their thoughts on why you should ask them.

By the end of this blog, you too will know the right kind of questions to ask during an SDR interview - and how they will help you land the perfect candidates for your sales team!

Intrigued? Then read on…

10 SDR interview questions

1 - What do you know about the role you have applied for?

Harry said:

“This is a good first question to ask. As the SDR role is heavily weighted towards cold calling and outbound sales, it’s important for prospective candidates to know exactly what they’re getting themselves into.”

“This kind of work, day in day out, isn’t for everyone. It can be very gruelling and there can be long periods where all you get is rejection. We want to hire people who will be happy in the position.”

2 - Why are you interested in a sales role?

Catherine said:

“Along the same lines of the first question, we want to interview candidates who know exactly what they want to do. This question helps us understand both what they perceive a sales role to entail, helping us align candidates to our sales strategy, and what motivates them.”

“Understanding what motivates a new starter early on is the most important factor in ensuring their success in the role.”

3 - What do you understand about our product or service?

Harry said:

“A lot of candidates for our SDR positions will be sent to interviews by recruiters. We know exactly how we have prepped those recruiters.”

“Asking this question helps us to separate those candidates who simply recite from the recruiter’s hymn sheet and those who have actively done their own research on what we offer.”

4 - What do you know about the company journey?

Catherine said:

“At Cognism, we pride ourselves on our company journey. Similar to question 3, knowing a candidate has gone out and made the effort to learn about the company can really set them apart from the rest.”

“What we’re looking for in SDR candidates are high achievers. We want people who see a sales target and want to do even better. Those who do the bare minimum preparation are unlikely to want to achieve above and beyond the targets we set for them.”

5 - What’s your ideal workplace culture?

Harry said:

“Retention is usually something that’s difficult to maintain in entry-level sales roles. At Cognism, we’re very proud of our 98% retention rate. One of the main reasons for this is that we align candidates and our company culture during the interview.”

“This question helps us to do this. It also shows candidates that we care about their working lives and gives us a chance to really sell the business to them!”

Cognism's Senior Video Marketer, Emily Liu, shares 10 top tips for being a successful SDR, straight from Cognism's sales team! Press ▶️ to start watching.


6 - What traits does your ideal leader embody?

Catherine said:

“Following the same lines as question 5, we want to understand exactly where a candidate sees themselves and how we can align the business with them. What kind of support would they be looking for?”

“It’s a good question because it also helps us to review our own processes. Are we missing out on something that we should be providing to our new SDRs?”

7 - Without being too personal, can you tell me about a time you’ve overcome a challenge?

Harry said:

“All too often in sales interviews, candidates state classic characteristics that they believe to be important without backing it up with evidence. I ask this question to understand how a person has demonstrated resilience.”

“It’s a vital trait that every SDR must have, due to the highs and lows of the job. Asking the candidate for a real-world example will help you as an interviewer determine whether they genuinely possess this quality.”

8 - What non-sales skills would you like to work on during your time at Cognism?

Catherine said:

“Rather than asking a simple strengths and weaknesses question, which candidates often prepare for, ask this question! It’ll help you judge if the candidate is able to think quickly. Another important SDR trait!”

“When you’re cold calling, you’ll be speaking to people from all walks of life, from receptionists to CEOs. You’ll be asked difficult questions with no preparation. This question will show you if the interviewee has what it takes to face that.”

9 - Do you have any questions for me?

Harry said:

“It seems basic, but it’s always important to give candidates the opportunity to ask questions about the role, company and expectations. The best interviews I’ve conducted have had a near 50-50 split of me asking questions vs. the candidate asking questions. It should be a two-way conversation.”

“You need to sell the role to the candidate as much as possible. Especially if they’ve come from a recruitment agency, as chances are they’ll have a high number of interviews in any given week. You want to be memorable.”

“The more buy-in you get from the candidate early on, the greater the chance that they’ll stay on and find success at your company. That’s a win-win situation for both parties!”

10 - If you could do this interview again, is there anything you would do differently?

Catherine said: 

“At the end of the interview, just as we’re preparing to part ways, I always ask the candidate to reflect on their performance. It’s unrealistic to be 100% amazing during an interview, and we find that candidates often leave us wishing they had done something more.”

“This is a question you can’t prepare for, so it demonstrates if the candidate can think on their feet. It also gives them the opportunity to display their analytical ability. We want candidates who are accountable for their own actions, strive to do better and learn from every experience.”


So those were Cognism’s top 10 questions to ask during an SDR interview!

Thanks to Catherine and Harry for their thoughts. We hope you found it useful. Try out some of our questions and see if they help you with your sales recruitment decision-making.

For more insightful sales content, follow Cognism on LinkedIn 👇

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