Forget the resumé.
If you’re hiring salespeople, you already know that no two interviews are alike. The objective is to find talent with both tangible and intangible characteristics that will easily segue into their role at your company. Every candidate has a different backstory, expectation, and range of talents, and the quicker that salesperson becomes productive, the better the situation is for everyone. As the sales leader, it’s your job to ask the right sequence of questions during the interview in order to understand what drives this person, how they operate in a professional setting, and how they respond to challenges, all of which are strong indicators for success in a selling role.
The ideal candidate will have the willingness, intelligence, passion, and skills necessary to develop a successful sales career under your coaching. But how do you pull these characteristics out of the candidate during the interview process?
I’ve interviewed hundreds of salespeople in my career, and it’s a difficult task. To add to the gravity of this decision is the fact that making a bad hiring decision costs thousands of dollars and invaluable, unrecoverable time. In order to find the ideal salesperson, there are several central attributes that I look for, and I’ve found three that are the most important to me. I call them the Three Cs: character, chemistry, and competence. These three characteristics can be assessed in an interview by asking the right questions and actually listening (to improve your listening, read this) to the responses the candidate gives.
When I hire people, I always look at the person’s character first. You want to hire a salesperson who isn’t afraid to be real—a person you can trust to get the job done and who holds themself accountable when they mess up. In order to evaluate a candidate’s character, you need to know where they are coming from, how they arrived, where they are, and where they see themselves ending up.
For me, an indicator of strong character is when I can hear a candidate, confidently, talk about mistakes they have made and what they’ve learned from them. If I ask a candidate, “What’s your biggest weakness?” and they provide a response that resembles, “I work too much,” or “I’m too competitive,” then the interview is over. Those aren’t real weaknesses. I’m looking for something like, “I struggle managing conflict,” or “I tend to wait until the last minute to finish my reports.” These are real opportunities to improve.
Looking for chemistry highlights the importance of compatibility—to work with someone and to work with a team, we’re going to have to jive, not just in a relationship, but also with our habits, goals, and work ethic. You aren’t looking for someone who just wants another job. The best salesperson will care about what they are selling, who they are working with, and how they are getting it all done.
Discovering chemistry with a candidate provides valuable insight that can prove beneficial to the organization and goes beyond their basic qualifications and/or typical answers to standard interview questions. I like to ask a candidate what was the last book they read. If they can’t remember, then we aren’t going to work well together. I’m not judging them for not being a reader, but rather observing that I believe leaders are readers, and I’m looking for leaders.
Competence is the attribute most hiring managers look for first, but it ranks last for me among the Three Cs. While your best candidate will impress you with what they initiate on their own and how they take responsibility for their own professional growth, it doesn’t mean that they have to know everything right out of the gate. If you have solid character and we have great chemistry, then competence is something I can teach you. The right talent will train themselves—they will put in the long nights studying or on the phone with other team members until they master their craft.
I understand the importance of hiring quickly; not having a full team makes it difficult to reach your growth goals. But making a bad hire can be a costly mistake, which is why I always say, “Slow to hire, quick to fire.” Better hiring is achieved by process not intuition. An ironclad hiring process is detailed in my book Revenue Harvest.
Your ability to determine if a seller is going to perform is linked to the quality of your interview questions. Here is my go-to bank of 70+ sales interview questions.