The sales resume is often the first contact a hiring manager will have with the person who could become the next best performer on his or her sales team. However, with managers stating that one in five hires are “bad” or “regrettable”, the reality is that most have trouble distinguishing a bad salesperson from a good or a great one. To mitigate hiring risk and expedite the recruiting process, hiring leaders need to be able to quickly identify a great resume from a terrible one.
A recent survey from The Society of Human Resource Managers reported that an incredible 53 percent of the resume they reviewed contained false information – anything from altered job descriptions to inaccurate employment dates and false degrees. Moreover, we have found that more than eight in ten hiring managers have interviewed salespeople who have exaggerated their sales accomplishments and selling activities.
While most candidates don’t set out to intentionally mislead their future employers, people naturally want to present themselves in the best light. They may stretch the truth to cover up an unfortunate job choice or try to elevate their experience to be considered for a position for which they are not qualified.
To help you uncover great salespeople and easily identify resumes for the reject pile, here we dissect the anatomy of a terrible sales resume.
1. No quantifiable results
The best salespeople have a resume that states their accomplishments in a clear, concise manner, supporting their claims with quantifiable results and examples. Their resume includes concrete examples of key customer wins (logos), large deals, quota achievement, and/or how they started key channel partnerships that lead to a defined revenue number. For example:
- “Delivered 122% of sales target.”
- “Sold $2.2 million of software against a $1.7 million quota.”
- “Achieved a 25% cold call closing rate.”
“Great salespeople aren’t afraid to showcase their achievements, and they know that detailing their sales results on their resume is an effective way to separate themselves from average and below average sellers” – Brent Thomson, CSO of Peak Sales Recruiting.
If these statistics are not on a resume, that is a cause for concern. “If I don’t see these stats, I become suspicious,” says Dave Stein, author of Beyond the Sales Process. “I’ll ask the candidate to send me their performance against quota, year by year.”
What separates the top sellers from the rest, however, is that in addition to the metrics listed above, they list closing ratio, average sales size, repeat order percentage, and average sales conversion time from prospect to close. They also take it a step further by listing details on how their numbers compare to past employer averages or industry benchmarks. Put simply, the best candidates provide detailed number breakdowns, while the worst try to conceal their failures.
How to peel away the artificial layers
It is easy for candidates to inflate the numbers on their resume – how often do you see candidates list “Achieved 50% of quota”? But the majority of salespeople miss their targets – more than 60%. That’s why experienced sales interviewers ask for more details on specific numbers during the introductory, screening interview (click here to find download a list of the interview questions every great hiring manager asks a sales candidate). Should the candidate make it into the final phases of the assessment process, interviewing references that were in a supervisory role, and checking W-2s to verify the claims made by the candidate are proven methods to further reduce hiring risk.
Requiring candidates to complete a career history form adds another layer to the assessment process that employers can leverage to eliminate poor performers from the recruiting process. This is a lengthy account of the person’s selling history, requiring much more detailed information than can be found on a résumé. If a candidate responds that the information is on their CV or that they will fill it out if they go further in the hiring process, it may indicate they are not serious about the position, or they are trying to hide less than stellar sales results.
A career history form doesn’t come without its drawbacks, however. The form can discourage great salespeople from continuing through the hiring process since they are too busy focusing on achieving their sales targets than to be filling out lengthy application forms. Confidentiality agreements also hinder the usefulness of this from since it restricts candidates from disclosing key client acquisitions or specific deals. In this case, the best salespeople will list the information more generally, stating the industry rather than company – “Fortune 500 telecommunications company” or “Large national automotive supplier”.
2. Lack of awards and achievements
Annual top salesperson, top revenue, units sold, sales trips and other incentives are common awards given to top performers on a sales team – and the best salespeople are constantly winning. “The best salespeople on my team wear their awards as badges of honor”, says Eliot Burdett, CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, “They take every opportunity to showcase their accomplishments.” Salespeople who have earned these awards are proud of their achievements and will highlight these on a resume. If this kind of recognition is missing, this is not a great salesperson.
There are as many titles for salespeople out there as there are companies, with organizations of varying sizes selecting identical titles with vastly different responsibilities and success metrics. A VP Sales, for example, could be responsible for a team of 150 reps in a multinational company, or lead a team of 3 reps in a Fortune 10000 company. This makes it easy for salespeople to list a title on their resume that inflates their role and level of responsibility.
When sales recruiting, the best hiring managers look beyond the candidate’s title and examine the responsibilities listed on the resume. The actual level, experience, and success of the candidate should quickly become apparent.
A great resume for a Vice President of Sales, for example, would highlight responsibilities and success metrics such as increasing company revenue, increasing profit margin, team growth, and market growth, not cold calling stats and number of demos booked.
4. Too many non-sales responsibilities
Great salespeople are busy doing what they do best: sell. The best sales resumes focus on sales-related activities. Watch for non-sales activities listed such as:
- “Responsible for monitoring the day-to-day tasks performed by the sales team”
- “Fostered effective relationships between sales and marketing teams”
- “Participated in the restructuring of sales incentive packages”
If there are too many non-selling activities on a resume, this indicates the person has not been actively selling. Again, the best salespeople let their results speak for themselves.
5. Gaps in employment
Top performers are always gainfully employed and producing results. If there are months missing from a candidate’s career history, it could be that the person under-performed, did not meet their sales quota, and was let go.
However, there are also good reasons why a person may have months missing in their career history, such as time off to spend with a new child or caring for an ailing parent. A great candidate will be candid about these gaps and proactively address them to prospective employers.
“If their last three jobs were sole proprietorships where the candidate ‘worked’ for themselves, take a closer look,” says Stein. “Either they thought they could make oodles of money, or they couldn’t get a real sales job.”
Also, beware if a resume lists years only rather than month and year – this can be an attempt to hide periods of unemployment. If there are too many gaps, best to take a pass.
6. Too many jobs in a short period of time
While it can be good for salespeople to have diverse experiences in different industries and positions, be wary of those who have had many jobs in a short period of time. It may be that they were unemployed and took any position they could get at the time.
“When a salesperson has worked at five companies in a seven-year period, something is wrong,” says Mike Weinberg, author of Sales Management. Simplified. and New Sales. Simplified. “There are no unemployed ‘A’ player salespeople.”
There can be good explanations for shorter stays such as a company merger or acquisition, or company-wide lay-offs. However, since top salespeople only represent 10-15% of the entire sales population, the best are retained, even in these situations.
7. Too much superfluous language
Does the resume include vague or verbose language to describe simple tasks or “soft skills”? This usually indicates the candidate is trying to conceal a lack of results by making average or non-selling tasks appear more important.
Consider this example from an actual resume: “Generates a high volume of sales through implementing creative strategies and solutions to meet individual customer needs”.
First, “high volume of sales” should be documented as an actual number, either as a percentage of sales target or total dollar revenue against quota. Second, “creative strategies and solutions to meet individual customer needs” is vague and does not give concrete evidence as to what selling methodology was used and how the solution was tailored to meet the customer’s requirements.
Dave Stein also warns against resumes filled with too much “techno-speak”. “Architectures, programming languages, platforms, etc. Noise!” says Stein. “This is usually misdirection away from selling capabilities they probably don’t have.”
Our article “Words We’d Rather Not See on Resumes This Year” lists some revealing adjectives for which hiring leaders should be on the lookout. Some of the most commonly used include:
- Seasoned veteran
- Team player
One consideration that has to be made when assessing sales resumes is that the best salespeople are busy hunting new prospects and closing business and may not have the time to keep their resumes up to date. These are passive candidates who are happy in their current roles and not actively searching for a new position. The best recruiters understand this reality and question any gaps during the pre-screening interview phase.
8. College or University Degree
In his article “Secrets Buried in a Salesperson’s Resume” author and sales expert, Lee B. Salz points out that in the education section of the resume a hiring manager should look for the school attended, degree attained and the year. While it is true that some people may omit the dates in order to hide their age, there are those who may not have completed their studies.
A question for sales managers, executives and hiring managers posed on LinkedIn, “Do Sales Professionals Need a College Education?” elicited some interesting answers.
“There are many successful business men who never graduated from a college.”
“I know great sales reps in my industry without a college degree and I know some not so good sales reps with a MBA from a renowned business school.”
“Do you want people who can sell, or those who can spell?”
Your company may agree with these sentiments. Or, you may value post-secondary education for demonstrating the person’s discipline to complete a program of study, as well as learn valuable skills such as critical thinking, persuasive communication and maintain intellectual curiosity.
Most hiring managers would likely agree that solid sales performance trumps post-secondary education, but honesty and integrity are also critical. If a promising salesperson does not have a college or university degree, this is less important than their willingness to be open and honest about their education.
9. Professional Development
Many of the best salespeople have taken formal sales training or achieved a designation to continue to improve in their profession. It is easy to list training programs completed on a resume because hiring managers rarely check. Terrible résumés don’t list the date of certification completion.
Example of a Bad Sales Resume
Here is an example of an actual sales resume – the names and employment details have been changed.
Most of the points on this resume are vague and fail to give a clear indication of the actual task, responsibility, and performance against these responsibilities.
Here are some other observations:
- Extensive list of sales-related activities with no reference to concrete sales numbers and performance against quota
- Dates are presented as years, not month/year
- Superfluous language
- Vague education section
- Spelling mistakes
- Picture included
“The easiest way to determine whether or not the candidate’s claims are legitimate is through the interview process,” says Peak CSO Brent Thomson, “Ask questions regarding their accomplishments in multiple ways to assess whether or not the answer is the same. If the interview take-aways do not agree with the resume, then the candidate may be exaggerating, misrepresenting, and/or lying.”
Knowing the pitfalls and red flags to look for on a salesperson’s resumes can help streamline the recruiting process. It helps to reveal the stars and quickly eliminate average and below average sellers so you can fill your position with a salesperson with the competences required to hit aggressive growth targets.
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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