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Effectively Interviewing Top Sales Candidates

by Ashley Wesley MA., CIM., CHRP., CHRL., on Aug 23, 2018

Effectively Interviewing Top Sales Candidates

You have a list of sales candidates ready to go, but there's one thing standing between you and your new hire: the interview process. You have the opportunity to dive deep and see whether sales talent that looks great on paper can cut it in your organization. You get a negative 298 percent ROI if you hire the wrong person, so your interviewing skills need to be up to the task.

Focus on Organizational Fit

Traditional hiring methods for recruiting sales people spend a lot of time looking at employment history, skill sets and other technical details, but you already went through an extensive sales recruitment process. If someone didn't have the on-paper qualifications, they wouldn't be sitting in the interview chair.

You do want to spend some time on whether the prospective salesperson is a good fit for the job, but the bulk of your attention should be on whether they fit into your organization. The interviewing process helps you look for any inconsistencies in the potential sales hire's values and whether they're trying to say what they want you to hear. You leave too much money on the table if you bring on a disengaged salesperson, so it's time to examine for a value fit.

Start with Candidate Testing

Did you take the time to sell the company and position to your sales interviewees? Get strong buy-in to generate excitement for the job, and to see who's willing to go to the next step. There's no point in assessing a value fit if the sales candidate seems uninterested in what they're going to sell.

You have several options for testing sales talent and evaluating whether they're a good match for your company. Personality tests or a value-based profile test help you read a candidate, but they're not foolproof. Skilled candidates can game the system by trying to predict the "right" responses, so you need to supplement them with other methods.

Pair these tests up with a prescreen interview. You get valuable time interacting with the candidate online, in-person or through the phone. The screening tests give you additional data to compare to your personal observations so that you can reduce the chance of human error.

Use Structured Interviews

You've gone through the last seven steps and finally have a candidate that has made the cut. You're pretty sure that they have the right person to job and person to organization fit, but you need to make sure. After all, sales people have the gift of persuasion. It's why you want to hire the top talent, and it's also how potentially unsuitable candidates can hone in on exactly what you want to hear.

Avoid this outcome by using structured interviews. You're using the same process with every candidate, so you can objectively measure the recruitment performance and that of the interviewer since the environment is always the same. Each question should specifically address their personality and their values. In addition to this, you also need to test for coachability. For example, roleplaying exercises are an excellent way to see how well the candidate thinks on their feet and reacts to unexpected situations.

You don't expect them to be perfect, but you do want to give feedback and take them through the exercise again. Have they adjusted their behavior based on your recommendations? If they stubbornly stick to the way they did things before, or they get defensive about the suggestions, this is not a person you want on your team. Your sales people have to be coachable in order to be the top performers that you're looking for.

Ask About Past Successes

Previously successful sales people are the most likey to excel at your company, as they have the mindset and drive to get to the top of the pack and stay there. Ask questions about their performance in the past and where they fell among their peers. Stick with the people who were in the top 20 percent of performers. Anyone lower than that often lacks the base characteristics that the best sales performers cultivate and thrive with.

Can They Get the Job Done

Does the candidate have a Get It Done attitude? Find out whether they have an easy time meeting deadlines or if they end up going right up against the clock. A rush job might get completed, but many details are overlooked in the process. Are they passive or aggressive about tackling their work for the day? Finally, can they work together on a team? You don't want your sales department mired down in competition that hurts everyone's numbers because you bring on someone who's too competitive.

Watch Out for Biases

People are biased. It's just part of the human experience. You can't eliminate your innate biases that influence your thoughts and emotions, but you can recognize and compensate for them.

Once you finish the prescreening process, it's time to move your final sales candidate selections into the face-to-face interview phase. You need to discover whether anyone with a poor value fit made it past the first screening round, as these potential employees can cause a lot of damage.

Here are the personal biases you need to watch out for once the salesperson is sitting in front of your desk:

  • Similarity bias: Does a candidate remind you of yourself? You may run into similarity bias. You assume the recruit has the organization's values in mind because you do. Pay close attention to the words and actions of sales talent that are similar to you.
  • Ideal bias: Some candidates look incredible on paper and sail through the prescreening process. Everyone involved in the interview process is singing their praises, and that's when you enter dangerous waters. The universally accepted candidate may seem like the most promising option for your company, but that doesn't mean they truly have a value fit.

How to Address Interview Biases in Sales Recruitment

Documented guidelines on your business values and how to evaluate potential employees for a good fit reduces human bias and introduces consistency into the process. Everything is laid out in black and white, so there are no questions as to the interpretation of your values.

An effective sales interviewing process benefits you and the candidate. You reliability discover whether they're a good match for your company, and you limit the time investment on both sides if you learn that the value fit isn't there.