How to Hire the Best Sales Rep Candidates

BY Kevin Davis
Featured image for “How to Hire the Best Sales Rep Candidates”

There’s an old saying that the most effective strategy is to “hire the wills, coach the skills.” That means hiring interviews are essentially a test of how well you can determine whether a candidate has the right wills (attitudes). How do you evaluate wills or attitudes during an interview? The trick is to add methodology—meaning structure and consistency—to your approach to hiring. Here are 3 steps to get you started:

STEP 1: Take time before the interview to document what you’re looking for.

Start by thinking about the best sales reps you’ve ever known (perhaps you were once one!). Write down the adjectives you’d use to describe their attitudes. Were they driven? Entrepreneurial? Team-​oriented? Customer-​focused? Hungry for the big sale? Humble (sometimes labeled “coachable”)? Eager to learn and improve? Motivated? You get the idea.

STEP 2: Decide how you could evaluate these characteristics through the hiring process.

This is the hardest part because you have to think beyond the traditional Q&A interview. For example, it’s becoming more popular to do role-​plays during interviews. Set up a scenario for the sales rep candidate where you play a customer. Give them a few minutes to prep, then run the scenario. Afterward, discuss their approach and give them a few pointers on how to improve. Then, most importantly, redo the role-​play and see if the candidate acts on your advice—demonstrating whether they are coachable.

Also, don’t limit your creativity to the time you spend in a room (or on the phone) with a candidate. Consider sending the sales rep candidate on a ride along with one of your senior reps and ask that rep’s opinion afterward. It’s amazing what candidates will say to peers. This tactic will also help you determine the candidate’s interest in and motivation to learn about the job.

Here’s another suggestion: Have the person meet a variety of other staff (administrative, managerial, other reps), and see what impression they get of the candidate. This will help you evaluate how they will present themselves to your customers.

STEP 3: Leave room in any hiring interviews for the candidate to reveal their true personality.

 Here are some tips:

  • Ask the same question in different conversations, especially questions about sales results, number of months they were over quota, success and struggles they’ve had, etc. You want to see if the candidate will give consistent answers (which can reveal how honest they are).
  • Probe for complete answers and specifics. You want to hear about every aspect of a situation (what exactly was going on, what they or a customer did, how they assessed the situation, what steps they took, and so on).

Also, it’s important that you NOT tell the sales rep candidate what you’re looking for—that is, don’t use the descriptors you’ve just developed that relate to wills or attitudes.

Instead, ask open-​ended, behavioral questions. These are questions that force candidates to describe their behaviors and experiences, not just a particular outcome. That gives you more insight into their thought patterns and attitudes.

Here are two examples of behavioral questions:

  • Instead of asking, “What were your outstanding achievements?”—which just asks for outcomes, say “Give me an example of an outstanding achievement and how you made it happen.”
  • Instead of asking, “Do you consider yourself coachable?”—which is simple yes/​no question—say, “Tell me about a time when you implemented coaching advice you were given.”

Following these steps will help you compare candidates more objectively, which will help ensure you’re picking the right candidates to create a great sales team.