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Pay Attention To Pre-Interview Signs |  February 05, 2015 (0 comments)


Boston, MA--Over the past few weeks I have had occasion to reach out to a number of sales candidates to discuss sales position openings we are currently looking to fill. The formula, as you would expect, is pretty standard fare: I connected with a bunch of industry colleagues and told them what we were looking for. They, in turn, volunteered the names of some people they thought might be a good fit.   

These particular positions required candidates with experience, both in the industry and as seasoned travelers. The ‘experience’ requirement is obvious enough and the requirement about traveling might best be appreciated by those who ply their trade on a regular basis pounding pavements near and far:  you either love it or you don’t.

After making the initial outreach and hearing from a number of candidates I put on what I’ll call my ‘legitimacy meter’ to see if the candidates were made of the right stuff.

I have written time and again about the absolutely essential characteristics of great salespeople. There are lots of things that we would like to have but the absolute must-haves should always include drive, resilience and empathy. None of those qualities can be taught, so candidates need to have them before any hiring decisions are made.

We need to know that the candidates are serious about what they do for a living, and the pre-interview process itself can be very revealing to that end. A candidate who does a great job selling himself (or herself) before and during the interview does not necessarily have the right stuff to be a salesperson. If he does, that’s a pretty good place to continue your exploration, but a candidate who does not have enough drive to sell himself both before and during the interview is probably not going to be a very good fit for sales.

Back to my candidates: they had to demonstrate that they could sell themselves appropriately before I was willing to begin the process of uncovering whether they could sell our products. Alas, while I would love to tell you that I was pleased by their follow-up to my initial outreach, I confess that I was underwhelmed in the extreme with how poorly many of the candidates conducted themselves. Minimum effort and precious little initiative do not make good bedfellows when you are looking to demonstrate sales wiring.

There seemed to be an assumption--perhaps even a sense of entitlement--on the part of some of the candidates that things should come to them. To their detriment, it was a miscalculation on their part and a gift to me. Their lack of drive rescued me from further investment and prevented me from making costly hiring mistakes.

As Michael Jordan said, “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen. Candidates always have the opportunity to make it happen when they are interviewing. Whether they have the innate wiring to do that or not is another matter entirely—but beware the hiring manager who ignores those tell-tale early warning signs that they don’t, and pushes forward into dangerous territory, where the odds of an unsuccessful hire are about 60% percent. 

Peter Smith, author of Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions To Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent, has spent 30 years building sales teams at retail, and working with countless numbers of independent retailers as a brand-executive, to offer his counsel and advice on personnel matters. A graduate of Boston College, he has served on the Advisory Board of Caliper’s Global Conference and is a contributing panelist on the KR Executive Group’s Talent Blog. Smith has worked for Tiffany & Co., and was executive vice president of brand development for Hearts On Fire, where he authored the Menu For Success, a roadmap for retail success. He is currently executive vice president of Schachter & Co., a division of Leo Schachter. Smith’s book is available in print or Kindle digital edition on 

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