Photo: DonkeyHotey/cc/flickr

When it comes to political elections, we’re often faced with imperfect choices. But we can’t defer our decision. We have to live with the choice we make on Election Day, whether we choose to vote for someone we are wholeheartedly enthusiastic about, resign ourselves to supporting the least worst option, or choose to abstain.

The nature of politics being what it is, it’s becoming increasingly usual for all of the limited number of candidates to have very obvious imperfections.

Whether we vote or abstain, we have to live with the consequences. But – thank goodness – we’re not forced into having to make the judgements when hiring sales people. We can take as much time as we need, without being forced to make a final decision on a single pre-determined date.

We may have to accept imperfections in our politicians. But we’d be very foolish to recruit any new sales people if we have any significant reservations about how whether they are likely to fit in, or how they are likely to perform…

Recruiting sales talent is typically hard. The pool of available candidates can often seem unsatisfactory. And if there’s one thing that even an incompetent sales person has learned how to do, it’s to sell themselves at an interview.

But the potential consequences of making a bad hire are so substantial – many studies suggest that the impact is a substantial multiplier of the fully loaded annual costs of employing someone – that we simply cannot afford to give in and accept a candidate that we have any significant reservations about.

Fortunately, there are a number of proven tactics that can help to eliminate the most common hiring errors. One of them is to expose the candidate to a wide range of people within our organisation – including other members of the sales organisation – and seek to get consensus support for hiring the successful candidate.

The questions we choose to ask will inevitably have a significant impact on the effectiveness of candidate interviews. It’s important that we get beyond the glib, easy-to-answer, easy-to-fake questions and adopt the sort of forensic, peel-away-the-levels-of-detail approach we might associate with a legal cross-examination – but maybe in a somewhat friendlier atmosphere than that of a courtroom (or a bad-natured election debate).

Hiring is clearly too important to leave it to one person’s gut feel. And whilst the impressions that candidates make must inevitably contribute to the decision to hire, it’s vitally important that we back up our feelings about a candidate with testable evidence.

Traditionally, this evidence has come from references, but candidates are unlikely to suggest unbiased referees. Reaching out directly to people the candidate is connected with, when done with the appropriate discretion and at the appropriate stage, can help.

But there are alternative sources of evidence that can be even more effective. One is to subject all short-listed candidates to a structured, role-based assessment that probes for attitude, ability and aptitude and is benchmarked against proven high-performers in similar roles.

Another is to subject the candidates to realistic role-plays that expose them to typical customer scenarios and give them the opportunity to show how they would approach the common challenges that their fellow sales people have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Taken together, having multiple interviews and interviewers, using forensic questioning, taking lateral references, using role-based psychographic sales assessments and holding realistic role plays can seem like a lot of work, and it is. But I’d encourage you to consider the alternative – making a bad sales hire and suffering the consequences for months or years.

Will this approach always result in hiring a “perfect” candidate? Maybe not, but at least we’ll be recruiting sales people based on a better understanding of the candidate’s potential limitations – and (hopefully) have a clear plan to address them and to enable our new hire to fully realise the potential we see in them.

Photo: DonkeyHotey/cc/flickr