Interview Question: “Sell Me This Pen”

Tips for Answering "Sell Me This" Interview Questions

Hand pointing with pen on table
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To get a sense of your sales skills, interviewers for sales jobs and marketing positions may ask you to demonstrate your approach to selling a product as part of the interview. The hiring manager wants to learn about how you sell, and what strategies you use to close the deal.

If you take the time to prepare to sell something (you can use the same or a similar strategy for anything you're asked about) in advance, you'll be ready to successfully answer the question during job interviews.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Interviewers ask applicants for sales, marketing, and related jobs this question, and other questions about to your ability to sell, because they want to identify whether candidates can sell, and what sales techniques they use.

In addition to showing your ability to sell, your response is an indicator of your ability to think on your feet, which is essential in this role. Your answer also demonstrates your communication skills.

It's not always a pen in this interview question. Apples or pens are traditional picks for this question, but interviewers may ask you to you sell any product on the spot, including one that the company makes. The interviewer's goal is to find how well you can sell.

If you're interviewing for a sales- or marketing-focused position, you should be prepared to pitch a product or service.

How to Answer "Sell Me This" at a Job Interview

You might be asked to sell the interviewer a pen, a pencil, a stapler, an apple, or some other everyday object. As with other hypothetical questions, there will be no right answer, but the employer will be interested in the sales process that you follow, your verbal communication skills, and your enthusiasm and creativity.

Illustration by Melissa Ling. © The Balance, 2018

Here are some strategies to follow as you answer this question:

  • Be Positive and Enthusiastic. Make sure that you are positive and excited about the product as you introduce it. You might say something like, "I am excited to tell you how this pen can help you to write in a legible, attractive, and efficient manner." The nonverbal elements of your presentation will be as critical as your words, so make sure you pitch the product with an enthusiastic voice and facial expressions. Animation can help you to convey excitement and underscore your confidence in the value of the product.
  • Emphasize the Features the Interviewer Will Value. An essential phase of the selling process is getting to know your customer, so you might try asking the interviewer for some clarification about his or her potential uses of the product.
  • Don't be afraid to ask a few questions. The more you know about your interviewer's needs, the better your pitch will be. Play off the interviewer's responses to emphasize some features of your pen that might help them with their activities. For example, if your interviewer mentions taking notes at meetings as a priority, then you might say that your pen has a fine point and non-smearing ink which would enable her to take legible notes. If your interviewer was frustrated by pens that didn't write on certain surfaces or quickly ran out of ink, you could emphasize how freely the ink flows from your pen and the large capacity of ink available.

Asking questions will allow you to personalize your pitch, and go beyond just listing out features of the pen.

  • Be Ready to Sell. Some interviewers may not play along with your effort to assess their preferences. So be ready to sell the product without their input. Emphasize features of the product and benefits that the customer will derive from owning and using it. Think about your own experience with the product and the possible experiences of other users as you craft a response.
  • Probe for Reservations About the Product or Service. Eliciting and overcoming objections to a product is a critical element of the sales process. After making some statements about the benefit of the product, check back with the interviewer to determine if they have any concerns that would stand in the way of a purchase. You could ask, "After hearing my pitch, is there anything that would stand in the way of you purchasing this pen?" If the interviewer mentions something like the cost, then counter with a statement such as, "I have been authorized to provide you with a 20% discount if you order three cases or more of our pens. We also have a money-back satisfaction guarantee." You can also talk about the competition. For instance, you might say, "I know you mentioned that oranges are another favorite snack. Comparatively, apples are easier to eat, without causing sticky hands from juice or needing to be peeled. Apples are the perfect on-the-go snack." 
  • Make an Attempt to Close. Salespeople who are willing and effective closers are in the highest demand. Don't hesitate to ask the interviewer for her business at the end of your presentation. Make an enthusiastic final statement that includes a request to serve the customer.
  • Don't Be Afraid to Employ Some Creativity. Interviewers won't expect you to be 100% factually correct when coming up with an answer on the spot, so feel free to be creative with your response as long as your assertions are plausible and delivered convincingly. Remember that confidence in the quality of your product is fundamental to effective sales.

Examples of the Best Answers

To help me to understand better how my product might help you, I would love to learn more about how you use a pen during your daily routine. When do you rely most on a pen during the day? When was the last time you used a pen? What was satisfying about the experience? What was lacking or frustrating?

Why it Works: You'll need to follow-up with a "sell" once you hear the interviewer's response, but starting your answer with questions indicates that you realize an essential part of being a good salesperson is understanding the customer's needs, and using listening skills.

My customers are finding that our apples make an excellent healthy snack for families on the run or to pack with your children's school lunch. Our apples are fresh and crisp since we source them weekly from local orchards. We only sell apples that are grown organically without pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Our apples are loaded with beneficial fiber, vitamins, and nutrients so, in addition to being sweet and tasty, they are great for your health.

Why It Works: This candidate is prepared to make an off-the-cuff persuasive argument in favor of the apples that mentions different positive qualities (customer appreciation, health, tastiness, and so on). This answer is confident and reveals the candidate's ability to make a strong sale.

I would love to be your preferred provider for the highest quality pens. I will work hard to justify the confidence that you would place in me and our product and make sure you are thoroughly satisfied with the product. Can we move forward with your first order?

Why It Works: Ultimately, an interviewer wants to hire a salesperson who can land the deal. This candidate makes a strong close! No need to shy away from a confident conclusion to your attempt to sell the widget — that's a quality interviewers seek. 

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

  • Take the question seriously. How would you handle the selling process in real-life? Do your best to show the strategies you'd use in your response.
  • Keep trying. Maybe the interviewer won't be receptive to your attempts to ask questions or make an emotional appeal. Keep talking (and keep up your confidence). Respond as you would if a client was challenging or quiet during a cold call.
  • Don't forget to close. Do try to actually land the deal. The good news is, this isn't real life. So you can offer great deals to help perused the customer (that is, your interviewer) if you think that'll be a good tactic.

What Not to Say

  • I'm not comfortable doing that. You have to answer the question. So any response that tries to avoid it — by saying you're not comfortable responding, or this isn't reflective of how you'd sell in real life — isn't very helpful.
  • Go beyond describing features. The interviewer knows what a pen does (or why people eat apples). In your response, aim to make a connection — either an emotional appeal or some kind of connection to the interviewer's needs. You can always guess as to why the interviewer will benefit from the pen — that's probably a better tactic than just listing features.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

Your response will reveal many of your relevant skills. Interviewers will be looking for how you handle tough situations, your communications skills, and your ability to land a deal.

Use your preferred tactics. Yes, this situation is a bit strange. But you can still use the techniques you'd use in a real-world sales situation.

Be enthusiastic. Maybe you dread this question. Don't show it! Be upbeat and engaged in your response.