Reading a sales candidate resume
Salespeople sell. Sometimes they sell themselves best of all. Resumes are not the only way to measure the value of a salesperson and arguably not even the best way. However, given the volume of resumes recruiters typically receive for a posted sales job, recruiters and HR departments need to understand how to read between the lines on a resume and be able to focus their time and attention on the candidates most likely to succeed.

Salespeople sell. Sometimes they sell themselves best of all.

Peak’s customers engage us because we are adept at recruiting salespeople with a unique ability to meet or exceed sales targets in a certain sales environment. We consistently meet our customer’s needs by leveraging a structured search process and a bias for proof. We seek proof that someone will exceed expectations in a certain sales environment by finding salespeople that have excelled in a similar sales environment.

With that bias in mind, and based on reviewing millions of sales resumes and profiles over many years, we can share some of our inside secrets on what we look for in resumes and profiles.

1. Key Facts

A big aspect of a salesperson’s make-up is the role in which they are currently employed. Who are they working for and what are they doing which will be found at the top of the employment history and not in the objective statement at the top of the resume, which is more about the things the person wants to be doing than what they are doing. We also want to know what the person’s past two roles were. Have they advanced in one career stream or bounced around in different roles and sectors?

2. Stay Objective

Halo effect, confirmation bias,  prejudice and other subjective factors are real issues in the employment world and often impair hiring success. For instance, according to MarketingProfs, “on LinkedIn profiles, recruiters spent an average of 19% of their total time per candidate looking at the profile picture.” This creates an enormous risk that the decision to advance a candidate in a hiring process will be influenced by factors other than performance and abilities. To counter this and other human errors that stand in the way of recruiting the best candidate, we focus on the data in the resume that supports history of production and success.

3. Show Me the Numbers 

In the profession of sales, results are critical. Anyone can call themselves an “over achiever” or a sales “superstar” but only a small percentage of the sales population can point to empirical results and sales volumes that demonstrate success. Conversely, if a candidate does not quantify his success in the resume, it may be an effort to downplay less than stellar results and this would be an automatic red flag for us.

4. Look for Winners

Strong sales resumes often have an “awards and achievements” section. That’s because great salespeople often win awards and can list significant achievements like important wins and large deals. It is another way to demonstrate results.

5. Are They an “A” Player?

World class companies are successful because they hire high quality people. Has the candidate made it onto a big league team and been successful. Have they been hired to represent marquee employers?

6. “You should hire me because…”

In addition to results, a resume should have a succinct sentence in the summary that captures the essence of the candidate. Sales superstars know that their role is to produce revenue, profits and growth and that you should hire them because they do this for all of their employers.

Red Flags

Since we know that on any search we undertake, there will only be a very small percentage of salespeople that have the right experience and abilities, we are often looking for ways to narrow the field of candidates and exclude people that we know will not qualify. Scanning for these red flags is an efficient way to discard candidates that are unlikely to help drive sales success.

1. Consecutive Short Stays

If the candidate has a pattern of staying at companies for one year or less, he or she is probably not making quota, or perhaps is repeatedly losing interest before building momentum. While it is true that some good people have bad luck and could regularly be in the wrong place at the wrong time (and finds themselves laid off more than once), optimally, we are looking for someone that selects employers where they will be successful and stays three to five years at most sales jobs.

2. Words. Words. Words.

When candidates provide lengthy explanations of their “soft skills,” it is a red flag to the recruiter. Coupled with an absence of numbers, this screams “no results.” Not quite as bad are the resumes that have a big section of keywords at the top which are meant to attract the eye of a recruiter searching a database for resumes – this may be a sign the candidate is a regular job seeker – proceed with care.

3. Responsibilities

A focus on “responsibilities” signals a mismatch. Candidates who write anything more than brief descriptions of the companies they worked for in the past and what they were responsible for (ex. supervised a team of colleagues, oversaw initiatives) may be focused on things that don’t matter to super star salespeople.

4. Gaps in Employment

Missing months in the job history, unless credibly addressed (ex. took hiatus to spend time with new child, launched a business) can indicate a failure to reach targets. Top Performers are always employed and making money. If gaps show up repeatedly, put that resume on the reject pile.

5. Long and Verbose

When sales results and recent roles are the only relevant information for assessment purposes, it is not necessary to provide extensive detail on jobs that were held 20 or more years ago. An unusually long resume would indicate that the candidate is unable to be succinct or has included many unnecessary details in their cv.

Eye-Tracking Study: How Recruiters View Resumes


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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