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HR Tips
Claudia St. John
April 2014

Five Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring Sales People
by Claudia St. John, SPHR
According to a recent survey by CareerBuilder, of employers planning to hire in 2014, most will be recruiting for sales positions. That’s great news if you’re in sales. That’s not so great news if you are the hiring manager because hiring salespeople can be tricky and challenging. If you are planning on hiring a sales executive, here are five mistakes to avoid:
  1. Don’t recycle your sales position.
    All too often, employers reuse an old job post, stick it on or and wait for the resumes to come in. Don’t do that.  This is a prime opportunity to think strategically about what you truly need – today and tomorrow. Are you transitioning from commodity sales to more strategic sales? Are you looking for someone to create a new book of business or someone to manage existing clients? Do you need a “fearless hunter” or an “interpersonal farmer?” Now is the time to assess what you will need in the future because the right hire can take you there and the wrong hire likely can’t. 

    When developing your job posting, make sure it:
    • Captures the true interpersonal qualities you are looking for.
    • Is creative, catchy and sexy – remember, you’re not alone in your recruiting effort so make sure your post stands out!
    • Quantifies the responsibilities and requirements of the job. If you want a candidate to have grown a book of business, describe by how much. If you want someone skilled at closing deals, what close rate is sufficient? What you put in the post should be how you will assess your candidates going forward.
  2. Don’t just sit and wait.  
    Certainly, you will need to post your position online. In addition to Monster, CareerBuilder and LinkedIn, there are great industry resources such as IIABNY’s LinkedIn Group. But remember that 70 percent of positions are filled using some form of personal connection.  With social media tools, you can start mining your connections. Twitter has become a very powerful tool for sales recruiting and LinkedIn also has the added advantage of allowing you to head hunt based on the experience and skills you’re looking for. If you have an open position, post it on all of your personal and professional networks and share it with friends, family and colleagues. Cast a wide net. When it comes to recruiting, you must be willing to put a little elbow grease into your search. 
  4. Don’t “go with your gut.”
    Your gastrointestinal tract is not your best tool for making a hiring decision, particularly when hiring a sales person who is skilled at persuasion. We recommend making a hiring decision based on the “One-Third Rule” – 1/3 on experience, 1/3 on the interview and 1/3 on behavioral testing.   

    If at all possible, have candidates take a behavioral style assessment prior to the interview. This will give you insight into their behaviors, motivators and values and will give you much more data with which to evaluate your candidates.  
  6. Don’t be sold in the interview. 
    How a candidate performs in a personal interview really is only an indication of one thing – how they are at interviewing. Remember, they are sales people – they are trying to sell you too! Don’t be sold, be smart. Here are some important interview tips:
    • Using the behavioral style assessment and your job posting, structure a behavioral interview, in which candidates are asked to describe how they have handled specific situations in the past.  “Tell me about a time when you had to significantly grow a book of business?”  “Tell me about a sale that was difficult to close?”  “What were some of your biggest sales challenges and how did you overcome them?” Remember, how they have acted in the past is the best indication of how they will act in the future.
    • Conduct group interviews. That way everyone on the interview team is witnessing the same phenomenon and when one person is asking a question, the other is listening and watching. Give each interviewer an area to cover so you are not going over the same topics and missing others.
  7. If you’re unsure, move on.
    Too often, hiring managers settle for the best of a mediocre group of candidates. Sure, recruiting takes a lot of time and it is quite tempting at the end of an extensive process to just go with the best of the bunch, but don’t do that. Having the wrong sales person is dangerous. 

Given the great tools and online resources available today, many employers are able to successfully recruit for top sales talent. Chances are, if you avoid the five mistakes above, you can too!

Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, LLC, IIABNY’s affiliated human resources partner.  Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as IIABNY and their member companies.  To learn more, visit