How Not to Hire Salespeople

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

To err in hiring is human – and very expensive. Many "standard" hiring procedures are actually common mistakes, so to hire more competent sales professionals, prepare to revise your hiring methods.

Here are four hiring errors managers often make. Eliminate them from your hiring practices to help you choose only the cream of the crop.

Mistake 1: Relying only on interviews to evaluate a candidate.

In a University of Michigan study titled "The Validity and Utility of Alternative Predictors of Job Performance," John and Rhonda Hunter analysed how well job interviews accurately predict success on the job. The surprising finding: The typical interview increases your chances of choosing the best candidate by less than 2 percent.

In other words, flipping a coin to choose between two candidates would be only 2 percent less reliable than basing your decision on an interview. Most managers don’t structure an interview beforehand and determine the ideal answers to questions to develop a scoring weight for the candidates.

Mistake 2: Using successful people as models.

Duplicating success may seem like a good idea, but the reason people succeed are not clear from just measuring the characteristics of top performers. More important are the differences between top performers and low achievers. For example, a comprehensive study of more than 1,000 sales superstars from 70 companies showed that the top three characteristics shared by high achievers were: (1) The belief that salesmanship required strong objection-answering skills; (2) Good grooming habits; and (3) Conservative dress – especially black shoes.

However, a study of the weakest performers at these companies revealed that the same three characteristics were their most common traits as well. The lesson: You must "validate" critical success skills by comparing large enough samples of top performers and weak performers to find the factors that consistently distinguish the winners from the "also-rans." Otherwise, you may select well-spoken, energetic candidates who fail quickly … but with style.

Mistake 3: Too many criteria.

Only through validation can you make more effective hiring decisions. The U.S. government originally used validation research to prove that employment selection practices predicted job success and weren’t discriminatory. Similar to a process that insurance companies use to predict accident risk or the likelihood of health problems, validation can dramatically improve your odds of hiring the right people.

Not only does it identify critical job success factors, it weighs each factor’s importance. Consider these two surprising and important findings from validation research:

  • The most critical factor for predicting success in any job is usually as important or more important than all other factors combined.
  • The most accurate prediction of success on the job is based on no more than six to eight factors. Add any more, and you risk diluting your criteria, watering down the prediction of success and killing selection accuracy.

To hire winners, decide on six to eight factors that separate them from losers. Ignore factors that are not validated, or you may end up hiring nice guys who finish last.

Mistake 4: Evaluating "personality" instead of job skills.

Certain personality traits – high energy, honesty, a solid work ethic – seem to practically guarantee success, yet they don’t. Many consultants and distributors of pre-employment tests maintain that certain personality factors help ensure management or sales success and offer psychological theories to support that belief.

However, solid statistical research from many objective sources shows little correlation between any personality factor and any specific job. Producers of competent and reputable "personality type" tests (like the Myers-Briggs) admit their tests are useful for self-awareness and training but not for hiring.

Only tests of job skills or knowledge are proven to predict job success consistently. You might enjoy knowing your sales candidates have self-confidence and energy, but knowing whether they can operate in seek mode and possess executive credibility is far more important.

Finally, discount the "book of business" the prospect is claiming to bring with him/her by, oh, maybe 90 percent, and you’re on your way to a good sales hire.

4 Mistakes: To hire competent sales professionals, avoid these common errors.

  1. Relying only on interviews to evaluate a candidate.
  2. Using successful people as models.
  3. Too many criteria.
  4. Evaluating "personality" instead of job skills.

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