Without an effective sales hiring process, you’re going to churn through rep after rep.

Given enough time, you’ll hire a dud. We’ve learned the hard way. In our last round of hires, we actually had to fire someone on their first day.

Like a big pain in the neck that never should have walked into your office in the first place, dud. Shining resume, experience galore, and they’re terrible.

That’s the bad news.

The not-so-bad news is that these situations can be brought to a minimum, but only if you add some barriers. Putting things in the way that will stop bad candidates from slipping through and steps that will shoot red flags up along the way.

In sales, it’s all the more important.

Sales development reps (SDRs) on the team (typically) enjoy certain amounts of self-management. Only time and results are indicators that a new person isn’t working out.

Unfortunately, good performance and showing up can be accomplished by someone who is unethical—making the interview process so vital for a healthy sales team.

Never hire someone who knows less than you do about what he’s hired to do. – Malcolm Forbes

Our post today will pull back the curtain and detail our 7-step interview process for hiring SDRs.

Sales Hiring Process Step One: Application “Easter Egg”

sales hiring process

Disney/Pixar is the king when it comes to putting hidden references into things, otherwise called “Easter Eggs”.

They’ve foretold pretty much every upcoming movie with small, almost unnoticeable glimpses in previous films.

How does this relate to hiring? Good question.

Don’t just have prospects fill out an application. Start the interview process from the onset by weeding out anyone who doesn’t pay attention to the details.

Do this by putting in a secret “easter egg” into the form or page for potential hires.

For instance, if you are having interested parties email you, have them write a specific subject line in their email. How about an example:

“To apply email me @ __________. Be sure to put “I eat spam sandwiches” in the subject or I will not reply.”

There will be many emails that have no reference to spam—guaranteed.

If you have an online application, put some small, but noticeable requests (noticeable to those who pay attention). How about, “Instead of your High School, put your favorite movie of all time in its place.”

Note: Obviously, don’t take away necessary information to find out their favorite movie. And don’t make it too good of a hidden requirement. You don’t want qualified people to not figure out your complex riddle.

Doing this one thing will work wonders in weed eating. If they don’t pay attention now, it’s likely they won’t start when they get the job.

Reading into every detail that leads communicate is vital to the nurturing/qualification process.

Sales Hiring Process Step Two: Phone Screening

sales hiring process

If a prospect replies (with the egg) and they seem like a good candidate, don’t schedule a sit-down just yet.

Even if you’re desperate for someone to fill the sales role for your rapidly growing business, jumping the gun can cause a lot more problems than ensuring a quality hire. Get them on the phone for a 10-20-minute screening call.

In sales, they’ll be on the phone a lot.

Our interview process is built to gauge interviewees in every aspect of their day-to-day responsibilities. This can take time, but it’s time well spent.

One great question that is also a great tell comes from RecruitLoop (here’s their favorite seven phone questions).

Ask candidates: Can you remember applying for this position?


Job seekers apply for jobs, and good on them for it.

However, if a person applies for ten positions they may not remember your weird Easter egg. Unless, they take some time to get prepped for the phone call.

If they do their prep work before their interviews, they won’t be “on the market” for long.

sales hiring process

SDRs have to have their stuff together before they talk with leads. If they already do this by prepping for phone interviews, they are likely worthy of a full interview.

Sales Hiring Process Step Three: Face to Face Interview

sales hiring process

If they’ve made it through your first two mini rounds, it’s worth your time to meet them in person.

While it’s important to understand that you will be trying to find specific information by asking questions, there is something WAY more important.

So, questions are important. In fact, they’re more important than you may think.

Interviewing is not just about their answers—especially in sales.

  • How does the person conduct themselves? Calm, nervous, pretentious?
  • What style of language do they use? Poor English, common/normal, super smarty-pants?
  • How succinct and clear are their answers? Talk your ear off, wordy, concise?

In order to find these things out, you have to ask questions that are virtually impossible to be answered by a simple “Yes” or “No”.

Here are a few sales specific questions to give you an idea:

  • How do you personally approach handling objections on a sales call?
  • At what point is a lead no longer worth pursuing? (This one can give you great information while telling you how your interviewee handles themselves.)
  • What is your least favorite part about sales?

If the person you ask gives you a simple one sentence answer to these, they may not be worth pursuing further.

Sales Hiring Process Step Four: Assessment Test

sales hiring process

Now it’s time for qualified candidates to move further down the gauntlet.

Depending on the type you use, the test may tell you how good a person fared (1-2 is not a good fit, 3-4 is decent, a 5 is great).

There are companies that help you with this, or you can come up with your own.

Doing this will help you get answers that you may not have been able to get in the interview. Most of these tests present similar questions in different forms to dig into how your candidate really thinks.

It’s also the easiest step for you. However, you will have to make a judgement call.

If a person lands a 2 out of 5, but has passed with flying colors until this point—you’ll have to decide.

This potential dilemma may warrant a policy. For instance, if a person scores less than X; they don’t move on. If they score Y, it’s up to the manager.

Keep in mind that this test isn’t just semantics. Your SDRs and BDRs will need smarts to prospect and handle sales tools (lead gen software, CRMs, etc.)

Sales Hiring Process Step Five: Written Test

sales hiring process

Yep. You read that right.

We take our interviewees back to their school days and make them answer a couple of questions in written form.

The reason is really simple. SDRs send tons of emails.

In order to succeed in today’s sales environment, you have to know how to communicate well via the written word. Your candidates may fly through the process and woo you and anyone else with their charm.

But put them in front of a question and a computer to type their answer on and all that charisma turns into spelling errors and poor grammar.

Or, it just doesn’t make sense—there are really many ways this can go wrong.

Which speaks to the importance. It’s nothing crazy, just a couple of questions that require them to write a coherent answer.

Here are our written test questions.

  1. What is something you learned in school that will help you in this role? Why?
  2. What is something you learned in school that was a waste of time? Why?

Note: Ask them these together and you’ll see their written voice and how they view learning.

The next step is where things get crazy…

Sales Hiring Process Step Six: Coaching Test

sales hiring process

How can you tell if someone is coachable?

An interview process, no matter how long, isn’t really sufficient to see how someone handles criticism and direction.

How do we get past this issue? Easy.

  1. Take their answers to the written test.
  2. Sit them down with the print out in front of us.
  3. Break out the red ink pen and critique their answers.

Brutal, we know. It doesn’t stop there, either.

We are intentionally hard on their answers to the point of trying to rub them the wrong way a bit.

While it’s not as bad as hazing; it’s constructed to make the candidate feel uncomfortable and see how they react.

Chances are, they won’t have to deal with this level of intensity (from us) once they show up for work. But it does let us know how they hold up under pressure, which is an incredibly valuable asset in a career where you are told ‘no’ so often.

It also shows you how they take correction—an aspect that can make or break a good team.

Sales Hiring Process Step Seven: Reference Check

sales hiring process

You finish step six, and you’re even surprised that someone can make it through. That said, it’s not quite time to have them fill out the I-9.

Call their references.

Seriously, there are times that even we think that this isn’t a necessary step.

Whether it’s the one boss that loved them, or their grandma pretending to be the head of sales at a software company—whoever’s on the app is a lock.

Not necessarily.

There are too many times that a candidate makes it all the way here, but their reference makes us uncomfortable. The most important part about this step are the questions you ask. There is one that can’t be left unanswered:

Answer honestly, would you hire [name of interviewee] again?

We’ve heard some answers, but for the sake of privacy and respect we’ll leave it unsaid.

Just take our word for it and ask the question to all of the references you can.

It’s Your Turn

We’ve shown you a sales hiring process we use to build our sales team.

Let’s make this even more beneficial.

Add your favorite interview question, step in your process, or helpful indicators of both good and bad candidates.

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