30-Second Summary:

  • “Sell me this pen” as an interview question for a sales job was popularized on the big screen in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” by director Martin Scorsese.

  • Since the 2013 movie, hiring managers use a candidate’s response to this request to assess potential fit as a sales professional.

  • With the question, managers hope to shake out a candidate’s selling style and determine whether they will work well in their company’s environment.

  • Find out how the various answers and sales techniques can help you find the best salespeople for your company.

Can You Sell Me This Pen?

Popularized by Leonardo DiCaprio’s character—stockbroker Jordan Belfort—in “The Wolf of Wall Street,” the challenge to “sell me this pen” is now a go-to question in sales interviews. How has selling a pen turned into the gold standard for determining whether a salesperson should be hired?

Actually, it’s not about the pen at all; rather it is about assessing whether a candidate has the wherewithal to sell virtually any product to any customer. Is your candidate calm under pressure, or will they panic, freeze, or hem and haw? In short, hypothetically selling a pen can reveal whether or not your candidate can master the art of the sale.

Although there may be a variety of scenarios that meet your real-life business needs, you can be sure that this question will help you find sales associates with a can-do and positive attitude. Here are some things to look for when you ask potential sales candidates to sell you a pen.

Does the Candidate Listen and Get to Know the Buyer

Most experts agree that to sell something, salespeople have to first understand the customer. In fact, the best salespeople become the best by really listening to what a prospect conveys through their choice of words, tone, expressions, and body language.

To get to know the buyer, though, a good salesperson has to get them talking first by asking the right questions. When using the “pen” job interview question, a sales manager can quickly tell whether a candidate has the skills to gather the right information. Did they break the ice first by asking something about you? Then, did they follow it up with questions like why do you think it’s important to own a pen, how long you’ve been looking for a pen, or what kind of pens do you like? Did they stay focused and ask relevant follow-up questions based on previous responses? This shows that not only are they listening, but that they also don’t have a script they are following or an endgame in mind. They’re letting their prospect tell them what they need.

If the candidate jumps right into the sales pitch by describing the features of the pen and how well the ballpoint pen writes, that should raise a red flag that they probably aren’t yet skilled enough or inclined enough to listen or ask the right questions.

Does the Candidate Understand How to Show the Product’s Value

In “The Wolf of Wall Street,” when Jordan asks Brad to sell him a pen Brad simply asks Jordan for his autograph, to which he responded, “I don’t have a pen.” Success! Brad created a situation in which Jordan needed a pen. The best salespeople solve a problem that the buyer has, or show buyers how the pen (or product in question) can solve a problem they didn’t even know they had.

A good salesperson will find the buyer’s pain point, possibly even revealing one to them, then show how their product (the pen) is the best solution to eradicating that pain point. How candidates approach revealing a product’s value in relation to a prospect’s pain point shows their willingness to be flexible, creative, and even playful.

With so many candidates now aware of the “pen” question, you can mix things up by asking them to sell you a watch or another item. Doing so will pull them away from what they more than likely practiced before the job interview and show you how quickly they’re able to pivot and think on their feet.

Can They Close the Deal

The bottom line to asking this question is finding out whether your sales candidate can close the deal. Did they listen? Were they creative? Did they think on their feet? Were they persistent? Were they effective? Did they make you want to buy the pen?

An experienced salesperson will see selling through to the end, and they won’t flinch when it comes time to ask for the money, because they will feel confident that they’ve shown the value of the pen.

Why Yes, I’d Love a New Pen

“Sell me this pen” is not a trick question, and there is no one right answer! When used during the interview process, this question can help you whittle down your candidate pool. Those candidates who have the sales skills to successfully sell you a pen may be just who you are looking for to join your team.

While you may have specific needs for your sales team, the universal “sell me this pen” question gives you a glimpse into the candidate’s skills in sussing out and then meeting customers’ needs. Keep this question in your interview repertoire and watch your sales grow.

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