“Sell Me This Pen” Interview Question (Example Answers Included)

By Mike Simpson

Sell me this pen; it’s one of the trickiest interview questions around. And if your one of the 5.7 million professional salespeople in the United States, there’s a decent chance you’ll encounter it at some point during your career.

Now, this question isn’t difficult because it’s unconventional. After all, this question made an appearance in The Wolf of Wall Street, so it obviously isn’t that strange.

Instead, “sell me this pen” is challenging because it usually puts interviewees on the spot. And, while there technically isn’t a wrong answer, it’s completely possible to miss the mark.

Does that mean you should panic? Hardly. All it means is that you need to be prepared. Join us as we take a look at the “sell me this pen” interview question and discuss how to tackle it.

Why Does the Hiring Manager Ask This Question?

As with all interview questions, the hiring manager is trying to figure out if you’re the right person for the role. And sales jobs can be surprisingly tricky to fill.

Many younger professionals don’t view sales as a viable option, mainly because highly performance-based (and possibly commission-based) positions feel risky. This limited talent pool means it can take eight days longer to fill a technical sales position than the average job.

Not only do hiring managers have to find interested candidates, but they also need to locate a job seeker with amazing sales chops. Successful sales professionals have stellar negotiation skills, are charismatic speakers, and are incredibly quick thinkers, and not all candidates shine in those areas.

Additionally, seeing how someone actually approaches a common sales activity – having to convince someone to make a purchase – is hard to assess from a resume alone. By asking them to sell them a pen, they get to experience the candidate’s capabilities firsthand. This makes it so much easier to figure out if the job seeker could actually meet the company’s needs.

Common Mistakes When Answering This Question

As with all interview questions, mistakes can spell trouble. Luckily, it is possible to avoid most missteps when you’re facing the “sell me this pen” interview question. You just need to know what they are and how to sidestep them.

One of the biggest ones is focusing too much on the “pen” when you prepare. While you may certainly have to sell a pen, the hiring manager might ask you to sell something else; namely, one of the company’s products or services. If you don’t know what the company offers, you won’t be able to pull this off.

You need to do a good bit of research. Look at what the company sells before your interview. If you don’t, you’ll be in a bind.

Additionally, you may have to “sell me this apple” or “sell me this phone.” Technically, any item can appear in the “sell me this” question. That’s why you don’t want to focus too much on the “pen” when you practice.

How do you prepare if you don’t know what item you’ll need to sell? By understanding the strategy for responding.

How you approach the question never changes. When you have a great process, you can sell anything. We’ll be covering the strategy part of the equation here in a moment.

MIKE'S TIP: Want to give yourself a tiny leg up with the “sell me this” interview question? Then, as you enter the interview space, take a look around. See what kind of items are within arm’s reach of the hiring manager. Why? Because they are all fair game. This gives you a moment to anticipate what you may have to sell later. While you don’t want to start figuring out a response too early, as it may distract you, it can make it feel like less of a surprise, and that may work in your favor.

Another big misstep is not having the right attitude. Even if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t let that come through. Enthusiasm, confidence, passion… that’s what’s needed to secure a sale. If you don’t feel it, fake it. Act as if this item is the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen and like you know precisely what you’re talking about, ensuring your mindset remains positive as you speak.

Finally, not asking your own questions is a massive mistake. You can’t figure out how to approach the sale if you don’t know anything about the potential buyer’s needs and priorities. So, do a little digging. Find out what makes the hiring manager tick. Only after that should you launch into your spiel.

Tips for Answering This Question

Alright, now that you know a little about what not to do when you have to tackle the “sell me this pen” interview question, it’s time for some tips. These can help you develop a great strategy for approaching any “sell me this” prompt, ensuring your response is on-target and effective.

So, without any further ado, here are some tips for answering “sell me this pen.”

You Have to Prove a Need

Have you ever bought anything that didn’t serve some kind of purpose in your life (even if it was just bringing a smile to your face)? Probably not.

Generally, people don’t spend money on things they don’t “need,” at least, in the grander sense of “need.” That’s why it’s ridiculously important to establish that the hiring manager has a need for what you’re selling early in your answer.

Get Personal

While you might rehearse a few potential answers, you might end up in an interview only to discover none of them will work. Why won’t that work? Because every hiring manager is different, that’s why.

The world of sales is highly personal. If you don’t focus on a prospective buyer’s unique motivations, needs, and priorities, they aren’t going to fork over hard-earned cash for what you’re selling.

Don’t Lie

Alright, we know that you want to make the pen look amazing. But lying about what the pen has to offer isn’t the way to do it.

Sales isn’t about deception; it’s about making something look awesome based on what it actually is. If you lie, the hiring manager will take notice, and it likely won’t work out well for you.

If you’re given an item to sell, and you need to know a bit more about it, take a moment to look it over. Examine its qualities and features. That way, when you begin, you can focus on what it actually offers.

How to Answer the Interview Question “Sell Me This Pen”

While the tips above can get you on the right track, it doesn’t hurt to refine your approach a bit more. Before we dig into a step-by-step process, there’s one thing we need to point out.

While most interview questions are asked, and then you give a full answer, “sell me this pen” doesn’t work that way. Instead, this interview question requires a back-and-forth.

Hiring managers understand that you need more information to sell them that pen. Get it! Don’t launch into a spiel until you do.

Alright, now that is out of the way, here’s a quick step-by-step process for forming a great response:

      1. Ask questions to qualify the hiring manager as a lead
      2. Get to the “why” part of the equation by asking more questions to identify the actual need
      3. Hone in on what the hiring manager looks for in that kind of item
      4. Explain the features that align with the need and preferences
      5. Identify and overcome objections
      6. Close, close, close

Still not sure exactly how to approach this dastardly interview question? No worries. Here are three clear example dialogs that can help you create your own amazing answer.

Overcoming a Pen-Related Challenge to Make the Sale

You: May I ask you a question?

Hiring Manager: Certainly.

You: How often do you use a pen?

Hiring Manager: I would have to say at least daily.

You: When are you most likely to use a pen?

Hiring Manager: Well, I use one during meetings so that I can take quick notes, but I also use them for signing new customer contracts.

You: Signing customer contracts? That’s certainly a momentous occasion. Has a pen ever let you down when you were signing contracts?

Hiring Manager: Yes, a few times.

You: What happened?

Hiring Manager: With ballpoints, you sometimes get that globe of ink, which is incredibly easy to smear. That’s happened a few times. Also, I’ve had issues with the ink not coming out evenly, leading some parts to be faint while others are darker.

You: I can certainly see how frustrating all of those issues could be. Luckily, I have the pen for you. This pen offers a smooth, consistent writing experience. No more ink globes or uneven coloring. It solves both of your major pain points, ensuring you can sign new customer contracts with ease. Can I put you down for a box?

Handling an Immediate Need with a Free Sample (and Then Making the Sale)

You: How long have you been in the market for a pen?

Hiring Manager: About a day.

You: What spurred your interest in pens?

Hiring Manager: My favorite pen ran out of ink yesterday, and I don’t have another one of those available.

You: Why was that pen your favorite?

Hiring Manager: It was incredibly comfortable in my hand, making notetaking during long meetings less of a chore. Plus, it was a gel pen, so the writing quality was always great. Nice and crisp and consistent.

You: Well, you’re in luck. I have this excellent gel pen right here. It offers the smooth writing quality you prefer and has a soft touch grip, making it pleasant for long writing sessions. Here, try it out for yourself.

Hiring Manager: That is nice.

You: Perfect. Why don’t you keep that one? That way, you aren’t stuck with a subpar pen before your new order comes in. Do you think two boxes would cover your needs for the rest of the year?

Hiring Manager: Yes, I do.

You: Great, how about I put you down for two boxes so that we can get your order on its way?

The Form with Function Approach (When Offered a High-Quality Pen to Sell)

You: Hello, that’s some very lovely stationary on your desk. May I ask what you use it for?

Hiring Manager: Yes, I use it to write notes to family and friends. I really enjoy the experience of handwriting letters. It feels special in comparison to sending an email.

You: I certainly agree. So, when you choose a pen, do you also want that to feel special?

Hiring Manager: In a way, yes. A simple bulk-buy ballpoint just doesn’t feel right for the occasion.

You: So, what I’m hearing is that you prefer a higher quality pen. One that enhances the experience of writing those letters.

Hiring Manager: Yes, I would say so.

You: Great. I have the perfect pen for you. Along with offering a smooth flowing ink that looks amazing on paper, the pen itself is so much more than a bulk-purchased ballpoint. It has an outstanding weight and a lovely surface, making it feel better in your hand. Plus, the attractive design gives it a special quality, turning letter writing into an event. Would you like to give it a try?

Hiring Manager: Yes, I do agree that this feels like much more than a basic ballpoint, and the writing quality is excellent.

You: Perfect. I can offer you that pen for $1, or I can offer it as part of a four-pack for $3.75. Can I put you down for one four-pack?

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, all of the tips above can help you answer the “sell me this pen” interview question with ease. Take advantage of everything above, and you’ll be able to craft a stellar answer in no time flat.

Good luck!

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.