Hiring is always a difficult task. After a couple of hours of discussion, the employer must decide whether or not this is the right person.  Maybe the company has job-specific assessments or special personality tests that will help decide if this is the right person?  Maybe there is someone in your HR department to handpick the right person?  Maybe, but only if the firm wants to add a mediocre salesperson to the team.

Having the right people is essential in today’s business environment.  The wrong people can alienate customers, drag down an otherwise good culture, and kill team productivity.

When hiring salespeople, choosing the right candidates becomes even more important because they will be interacting with clients. They can have a profound effect on the perception of the company in the marketplace, both good and bad. How can you ensure that they and the company have the highest chance of success?

There are three areas of an employee’s background and work history to examine:  (1) personality and behaviors; (2) experience and knowledge; and (3) cultural fit with the company and the sales team.

Personality and behaviors: This is who they are, what they believe, and how they act.  

Experience and knowledge: This is what they have acquired, including industry knowledge, people they know, technical expertise, etc.

Cultural fit: This means that they will naturally fit in with the norms of the company’s environment.


Personality and behaviors:  Look at the salespeople who are already successful in the role. What makes them successful?  Is it because they are naturally customer-focused?  Are they driven, assertive, and fast paced.  Are they strategic thinkers, can understand others’ motivations, and navigate their customers’ political structures better than most presidential candidates?  The point here is there are three to five key behaviors, beliefs, or perspectives that lead to success in selling products and services that need to be identified before interviewing applicants. 

Experience and knowledge:  No matter who the company hires, training is a must, as is ramp up time to understand company basics. Consider how much time is needed for new employees to start closing some business to meet the company’s financial goals and well as their own needs. The key is to understand what you need in this next hire.    People within your industry who have   been selling for a long time may have habits or approaches that no longer work in the industry or, conversely, they can contribute good judgment and expertise to your team.   Maybe someone with a little less knowledge of the industry is a good fit because the team can provide adequate training.   Identify three to five skills that the new employee needs to learn in order to be successful and to determine which ones you can provide training for as needed. 

No matter who the company hires, training is a must as is ramp-up time to understand company basics

 Cultural Fit – This is the most important area to consider.  When trying to change a company’s culture, a good way to do so is to hire people who have strong personalities and strengths where the current culture is weak.  If a good culture exists, ensure that anyone hired has the same fundamental values.  For example, a religious-based organization would not want to hire people who are offended by religious people or messaging.  They will not be happy and will not last long. Or, if there is a culture that values direct and tough feedback and hires people who cannot speak up for themselves, they would have a hard time in that environment. Of the three areas, cultural fit is the MOST important.


Here are examples of some criteria and appropriate interview questions:

Personality and Behavior Criteria:  Must be able to be the customer advocate within the company, understand customers’ business environment, and focus on long-term customer relationships while getting short term results.

QUESTIONS (allow the candidate to answer between questions):

· When did your customer not get something they expected from you or your company?  How did you handle it?  What was the outcome?  What did you learn?  How would you handle it differently?

· Why do customers buy your current products or services?  

· What is that one sale that you are the proud of? Why did they buy from you?  What did you do that had the greatest effect?  How would you use those skills in selling our products and services?

· What is the longest relationship you have had with a customer in your previous sales experience? How did that relationship start and evolve?  How many people and levels did you interact with to build and maintain that relationship? Who else in your company was involved with the customer?  Why did they call you?

· When did you turn around a current challenging customer relationship into a long-term beneficial relationship for you and the customer?

· Where do you see some short-term opportunities in our markets?  Where do you feel our long- term opportunities lie?

Knowledge and Experience – Must have basic knowledge of commercial building codes, read building drawings/schematics, and have existing building owner/architect/general contractor relationships in our market.  

QUESTIONS (allow the candidate to answer between questions):

· What relationships do you have in the area that you feel will help you here? Why do you think that?

· Provide a set of drawings for a small project to the candidate. Show me your process for estimating the cost of materials and the labor required for this project.

· What architectural or engineering firms do you think you will call on to drive more business?

· What would you need from us to be successful in this role?  How quickly would you need that?  How do you best learn new knowledge or skills?

Cultural Fit – Must be able to work with other salespeople on the same account, deliver additional personal accountability to the team, and handle working with technical delivery people.

QUESTIONS (allow the candidate to answer between questions):

· If you could design your next position, what activities would it include? Why?  What things would it not include?  Why not?

· What happened when your customer(s) thought they were going to get something different than what you sold?  Looking back, what could you have done differently?  How have you applied this learning to future sales scenarios?

· Describe what you have done at work for the last three days from the beginning of the day to the end.

· What happened when you had to rely on someone else in the sales process in order to make the sale? Why did it go well or poorly?  

· What do you value in an employer?


Always let the post-interview glow die before making any decisions, such as making a job offer. Engage in a long interview process with multiple candidates and focus the interviews on one of the three areas.  Have a prepared exit speech/message, such as, “We are talking with a few more candidates this week and will be narrowing our choices soon.  If you don’t hear from me by Monday – feel free to call me,” to help with any end-of-interview awkwardness.

Warning Signs:  Look for any of the following red flags, dig in deeper, and ask more questions as needed.  If several of these warning signs are present, consider other candidates.

· Vague answers that do not include any specifics of what they did, the decisions they made themselves, or the outcomes of their actions.

· Taking credit for other people’s outcomes.  Some salespeople do not realize that the big sale was won by actions others in the company made.  Watch for “we” in a lot of responses as it indicates that the candidate might not have been the person that drove the successful outcome. Ask further questions, such as, “Who came up with that idea?”  “What did you specifically contribute?”

· An external focus of control.  These people tend to believe that the factors they do not control have more of an effect than the actions they personally take. They may blame others, the company, or the product.  They may say they could not do anything differently or not be able connect lessons learned from past experiences.

· Inconsistencies or different personalities with different interviewers or among interviews. This indicates that the team has not talked to the “true” person yet or it cannot be determined who the true person is.  Take a pass on these candidates. They cannot make good connections with people, which will translate poorly to the customers.

· This candidate did not ask for the job or about the next steps in the process.  Understand this person also will tend not to ask a client to make a decision regarding the order as well. Follow through is vital.

Good Signs

· Consistency.  These candidates seem to be the same every time you interact with them as well as other team members who interview them.  There are not many differences between interviews on how they act and respond to the questions.  

· Thorough, candid answers.  Potential employees explain the details behind their answers satisfactorily and can point out specifics, examples, and how they have successfully used their skills, knowledge, and expertise previously.

· Effective presence. They present themselves in the way the firm wants its salespeople to present themselves to its customers.  This could be in their preparation for the interview, including their dress, hygiene, communication style, facial expressions, etc.

Desire for the position. They communicate to you why the company should hire them and why they will be successful in the role.  They ask for the job and inquire about the next steps    

In conclusion, cultural fit and personality cannot be taught ­ you need to hire those. Three to four interviews will most likely give you a better chance of successful hire than two interviews.  Never hire after just one interview. An empty seat is better than having the wrong person in that seat. Always interview multiple candidates for a role before making a hiring decision.