Hire the Right Sales Candidate to Boost Your Profits

It’s difficult enough to lure potential employees from today’s talent pool, but hiring the wrong one can set your business back. Here are some tips to retool your hiring process.

Phillip M. Perry

Customers are increasing. Sales are improving. Profits are rising. It’s time, you’ve decided, to add a go-getter to your sales staff.

But how can custom integrators pick the right candidate?

The answer is critical to success. Hire right and the world’s your oyster. Great employees help your business grow by dealing productively with customers.

“The best people are self-motivated, talented and trainable,” says Mel Kleiman, director of Houston-based Humetrics, an employment consulting firm. “They hold themselves accountable and they take responsibility. Those are the people you want.”

Hire wrong, though, and the story can end up much different. Unproductive employees toss monkey wrenches into your operation and too often quit, leaving you in the lurch.

“You end up wasting a lot of time and money trying to recruit, advertise and cover shifts for the lack of a good hire,” says Richard Avdoian, an employee development consultant in the St. Louis area.

It’s much more cost-effective to interview well, establish a structured orientation, and maintain an ongoing training schedule so you are continually enticing people to stay. Here’s how.

Make a List, Check It Twice

Know what you want before you start looking. “The number one mistake is going shopping without a list,” says Kleiman. “Too often employers don’t have any idea about the qualities they are looking for in a new hire.” 

What characteristics make a star employee?

“Think about the best person who has held the open position in your business, or who you have seen holding the same job elsewhere,” says human resources consultant Rebecca Mazin, a co-founder of Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Recruit Right. “Then identify the characteristics that made that person so effective.”

There’s one personality trait that likely stands out above the rest. “The most important characteristic is enthusiasm,” says Alan Weiss, president of Summit Consulting Group in East Greenwich, R.I. “You’re better off hiring someone with enthusiasm and no expertise than expertise and no enthusiasm.”

Read: Pros & Cons of Rehiring ‘Boomerang’ Employees

Enthusiasm is something you have to buy out of the box, not add to the mix later, adds Weiss. Luckily, you can usually tell in your interviews if a candidate has the right degree of personal passion.

“Is the person passive and laid-back, just reacting to you?” asks Weiss. “That’s not a good sign.”

Look instead for someone who answers your questions with a story and a laugh, and then follows up with relevant responses. In other words, look for someone who is a master of the conversational skills so valuable when dealing with the public.

Says Weiss: “The behavior you see in the interview is the behavior you get in real life.”

Leading Questions Help Shed Light

Plan ahead for your interview process with some questions that can uncover qualities of star employees.

“Ask behaviorally based questions,” suggests Mazin. “Remember that past behavior is the best prediction of future performance. So rather than ask, ‘How would you handle a busy day?’ ask, ‘Tell me about a time when you had a busy day and you got everything done.’ Or ‘a time you were not able to do everything and what did you do about it?’”

Make sure to ask for specific examples, she says. Also, avoid the commonly used questions that are too open ended such as “What are your strengths?” suggests Mazin. “Any good candidate has a list of these questions and has prepared, canned answers.”

Here are some additional questions to consider that can yield informative results:

  • Have you been involved with groups of people? “If not, they may not be extroverts,” says Avdoian. “You need people who are not shy with others.”
  • In your last job, were the responsibilities you were hired for different from the responsibilities you have today? “The best applicants will say that their responsibilities were different,” says Kleiman. “Then follow up with, ‘How did you learn the new responsibilities?’ If they answer with something like, ‘I had to figure it out,’ that shows motivation.”
  • Try a role play. “Pretend you are a prospect and ask the applicants to converse with you,” says Avdoian. “See how comfortable they are. Dealing with the public is all about approachability and ease in initiating and conducting conversations.” And while you are talking with the applicant, look for these personal traits…
  • Do they make good eye contact? “Because of the Internet, more people today are limited in their social interactions, and some even becoming antisocial,” says Avdoian. “The person who is not comfortable talking with you and making eye contact may not be receptive with customers.”
  • Can they converse? “Ask open-ended questions and see how well they speak,” says Avdoian, taking a more productive spin on Mazin’s point of not asking candidates anything open ended that may lead to cliché responses. “Can they improvise on the spot? Can they give you two or three sentences that make sense?”

Finally, don’t rely on just one conversation.

“A single interview might be good or bad, but you need a greater opportunity to assess the applicant,” says Weiss. “I suggest a minimum of three interviews so you know what you see is indeed real. They can be brief, maybe 30 or 40 minutes.”

Get another viewpoint by scheduling one interview conducted by someone other than yourself.

Seek Out the Best Candidates

Smart interviewing tactics reveal personal characteristics that help the best candidates stand out. But how do you attract a great crop of candidates in the first place?

Start at home. You can even offer employee referral incentives.

“View people in your current workforce as recruiters,” says Alan Weiss of Summit Consulting Group, East Greenwich, R.I. “Tell them you are hiring and you would love recommendations. If you already have an enthusiastic workforce, they will find similar people.”

Next: 3 Tools to Help You Manage Those Darn Millennials

Expand your reach into community organizations.

“The best employers are always networking,” says Rebecca Mazin of Tarrytown, N.Y.-based Recruit Right. “Always talk with people and find out what they do. Keep alert for prospects through organizations such as your Chamber of Commerce, business associations, and the gym.”

You can also seek out creative ways to reach into the community.

“Even small employers can talk at local colleges.” says Mazin. “Or consider hosting student tours of your workplace. Identify prospects early and frequently, and keep in touch.”

Don't Forget to Sell Yourself

Remember that you and your integration firm are also being assessed during this process. Make a bad impression and your best candidates will go elsewhere.

“To attract the star employees, put together a 10-point list of why people should work for you,” suggests Kleiman.

Fill in your list by talking with key employees about why they like working at your business. Run through these workplace characteristics with candidates, says Kleiman. Then ask, “Which is the most important to you?”

The answers will not only “sell” the candidates on your business, but will also reveal each one’s main motivators. You can also create a favorable environment by introducing promising candidates to your current workforce.

“Seeing people obviously enjoying their work says more about the organization than anything you can tell the prospect,” says Weiss. “When people who work for you demonstrate that they love the workplace, it makes a big impression on the applicant.”

Smart hiring practices help your business grow as motivated, success-minded employees sell more by engaging productively with customers. Draw up a smart hiring plan using the tips outlined above, then work your plan.

“If you have a great hiring system you will hire great people,” says Kleiman. “So build a system that works.”

The right hiring procedures will lay the groundwork for success far beyond the lifetime of your next employee.

“If you hire the right people and let them grow, when they do leave your business they will act as ambassadors, speaking highly about you to other potential employees,” says Avdoian.

That’s all to your favor, he adds: “When it comes to hiring the top people, it’s much easier to be hunted than to be the hunter.”

Another hiring tool that helps? CE Pro's Job Board — Check it out here.