Why it’s Hard to Identify Killer Sales People in an Interview and What to Do About It

Sales people sell, that’s what they do. Even the worst sales people reach into their bag of sales tricks on a regular basis, regardless of the fact that no on is fooled by their bumbling. It’s in sale people’s DNA to always be on, to be selling. And this is a problem for hiring managers and recruiters. The humble ones admit they’ve been “had” more than once and are constantly honing their bullshit detectors and their talent identifiers. The egotistical ones, they say they’ve never been “had” and know how to sniff out the bullshit. This is only true because the bullshit they are smelling is their own. We’ve all been sold by the wrong candidate at least once in our lives and it sucks. Hiring the wrong candidate can be devastating personally AND to the sales organization. The financial costs can be upwards of two, three or four times the annual salary of the candidate. With stakes so high, it’s not a surprise many hiring managers are terrified of the hiring process. There is no panacea to ensuring you get the right guy or gal every time, but there is a one approach that will get you most of the way and that is to get comfortable making the candidate uncomfortable. Here’s the deal. Our job is to identify the best person to deliver the results we need. Our job is NOT to identify the person with the best skills or the best resume. Therefore, if our job is to identify the best person for the job, it’s incumbent on us to push, challenge and question candidates and their work philosophies. In other words, we have NO obligation to play nice, kiss their ass and accept what they say at face value. Getting comfortable making people uncomfortable is hard. It’s not in most of our DNA, but it’s critical in the hiring realm. Making people uncomfortable doesn’t mean being a gratuitous ass, it means pushing and challenging candidates. It means creating an environment where the candidate has to go deeper with their answers. It means they have to defend their choices, approaches and methodologies. It means they have to clearly articulate how and why they do the things they do. Here’s what’s happening. When you ask  your candidate to describe the best deal she ever won, listen intently to their answer but then go deep. Don’t stop with their first response. Ask why they chose the approach they chose. If you see an alternative, ask why they didn’t go the other route. Suggest you think their approach may not have been the best option and tell them why. See how they respond. Ask them what they would do different and why. Once they’ve answered that, suggest there is something else they should have considered doing different and ask why the didn’t recognize that as something to evaluate. The objective of all the questions and pushing is so you can understand exactly how a candidate thinks and how strong their metacognition (thinking about thinking) is. The key to challenging candidates isn’t to put them on the hot seat, but to uncover how they think. The hot seat is inevitable. 😉 Do they make deliberate well thought out choices, or do they fly by the seat of their pants. Is there a rhyme or reason to their approaches. Are they aware and conscience of how they do their job and do they bring that awareness to the job? Are they capable of making pivots? Are they life-long learners? Does their approach to solving problems have a solid foundation, etc? When a candidate is challenged to go deeper, the real candidate comes out. When put into a position to articulate not just who they are and the “skills” and “experience” they possess but to eloquently and thoroughly describe HOW they do what they do and why they do it, the real candidate bubbles up and the veneer is wiped away. Don’t just stop with work examples. Don’t be afraid to ask a candidate to share a personal goal or something they’ve accomplished personally they are most proud of. Winners or “A” Players are “A” Players in and out of the office. They will have plenty of stories to share. Their ability to deliver and shine goes where ever they go. If you have a true “A” Player, it will start to become evident quickly. They’re unflappable. They’re unflappable because they know who they are, why they do what they do, what they stand for and why they’ve been successful. They’re not selling, they’re simply stating the facts. Sales people sell, that’s what they do. To separate the wheat form the chafe you’ve got to go deeper. You have to be OK asking the tough question. You have to be willing to make your candidate uncomfortable. Then and only then does the interview actually start. Are you comfortable making your candidates uncomfortable? You should be.