Right now with a lagging economy, there are more sales reps on the street or looking for work. Many companies with open sales positions have a deluge of applicants, desperate to secure a job.

Successfully screening sales applicants is one of the toughest jobs at the best of times, but when there is intense competition for a limited number of open positions, candidates are more inclined than ever to “dress themselves up” in the role and tell you what you want to hear.

Here are some of the techniques we use to determine who is for real and who is posing:

1.    Match experience and abilities to the role – not all sales roles are the same. While there is a long line-up of people who want your job, desire alone will not allow them to be successful. You need specific proof from their past that they can effectively sell in a selling situation similar to yours, rather than theory on how they might sell for you.

2.    Be clear on reasons for leaving (RFL’s) – why did they leave their previous employment? There was a “restructuring and most people were let go” or “we decided to part ways” often means they were under-performing. Make sure you know whether they resigned or were terminated.

3.    Get real references – the most critical references are previous supervisors, who can speak to work habits and results, but we are increasingly seeing people present phony references. Make sure the references you call are actually who they say they are and did actually supervise the candidate in the past.

4.    Ask for proof of income – candidates who say they hit quota have documentation to back it up. Ask for this during the screening process as another way to ensure accurate information (note – each country has different privacy laws so make sure you respect the laws in your country about what information you are allowed to ask for).

5.    Beware of “excuses-itis” – there are always obstacles and the best reps find a way to overcome challenges and sell under any conditions. If you hear things like “the company didn’t support the sales org”, “the downturn killed our business” or “the product didn’t work”, proceed with caution. While these are sometimes actually true, it usually doesn’t impact the top performer’s results.

Tried and true methods such as benchmarking, candidate profiling and third party reviews also work well. Whatever your mix, the number of new reps at target within the first year, will give you an indication of whether your methods are working (see also our earlier post on Bottom Line Hiring the Jack Welch Way).


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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