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Common Questions and Answers
A group of men is sitting around a table at a diner. One produces a pen from inside his jacket, saying to one of the others, “Sell me that pen.”
“Why don’t you do me a favor,” his friend replies, pen in hand. “Write your name down on that napkin for me.”
“I don’t have a pen.”
So goes an exchange from the 2014 blockbuster The Wolf of Wall Street, based on the true story of famed entrepreneur Jordan Belfort.
What this scene does well, and very simply, is to illustrate the importance of supply and demand. But is this fictitious approach the best way to handle this interview question in real life? Let’s find out.
At a Q&A session at Oxford Union some years ago, one quick-witted student turned this question back on Jonathan Belfort himself: “Can you please sell me this pen?”
In his response, Belfort clarified the purpose behind asking this question.
When an interviewer asks someone how to sell a pencil in an interview, they’re less interested in hearing them try to market the pen and more interested in seeing how they get to the root of a prospect’s needs.
As Belfort himself puts it in his answer, the “one rational thing you can do when someone says, ‘sell me this pen’ … is to start asking them questions.” That is, questions to find out what they want and why.
The reason why this question is so popular in interviews is, naturally, because it is highly effective—but in what way?
What does your answer to the “sell me a pen” question tell the interviewer about you as an individual and as a salesperson?
Well, when explaining how to sell someone a pen, you reveal a few things about your personality and motivation. Namely, interviewers can get a sense of:
The ideal salesperson is someone who ticks all of these boxes.
Now that you have a better understanding of the purpose behind this interview question, let’s think about a few pieces of general advice to help you pass this test with flying colors.
One piece of obvious advice is to answer the question. In the likely scenario that you are not a pen salesperson yourself, you may not see how the question applies to you.
But remember, the question isn’t really about pens in the first place.
Secondly, ask a lot of questions. This shows that you have a real understanding of the importance of your customer’s needs.
And finally, carry yourself with confidence; ‘umming and ahhing’ your way through a response is unlikely to net you any points.
We’ve explained what the purpose of this question is.
We’ve explained why it’s so effective. Now, we’re finally about to address the question posed in the title of this article and explain how to answer “sell me this pen”:
If after reading the above advice you still find yourself unsure of how to answer this question, then this section should help.
Here are some great questions to ask your client if you’re not sure of how to sell a pencil or pen in an interview:
Once you’ve isolated your client’s pain points with these questions, transition to pitching your pen with their answers in mind.
Having discussed what types of things to include in an answer to a “sell me this pen” type question, we’ll now explain what you should avoid:
Below, you can find a few examples of statements you should avoid using when answering this question in an interview:
When thinking about how to sell a pen for an interview, why are these answers so bad?
Well, the first bullet point speaks for itself. But as far as the second and third options go, they are both very vague and generalized and don’t tackle any specific pain points.
While this may sound like a cop-out response, there is no single best answer to this interview question.
After all, the interviewer wants to get a sense of who you are; they want to understand your personality and your motivations as a salesperson.
When thinking about how to sell something in an interview, therefore, you should think about how to personalize your response to showcase your best qualities.
That being said, there are a few guidelines you should follow when answering how to sell a pen. Be genuinely curious, asking questions to get to the root of the problem.
Keep your pitch relevant to your client’s pain points. And, finally, show the client you care about their experience with your product.
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