In a recent post, “Hiring the ‘Goose that Lays Golden Eggs’ and Other Sales Myths,” Joe explored the reasons as to why it’s extremely improbable to bring a true sales star from another company to your team. Today, he gives advice on what you should actually be focusing on when hiring a salesperson, along with a few basic, but essential factors to look for that will give you the right candidate.

“Let’s be clear from the start. Under normal circumstances, no matter how well you vet a job applicant, the chances of a really good hire are probably 50/50. However, in the sales profession it’s more like 1 in 5 that actually pan out at any level, and even less that transform into all-star salespeople. So, really, the odds are not in your favor. Here are 5 basic, but key factors that I look for when interviewing potential entry-level candidates. And no, experience is not one of the 5. These candidates may mitigate the odds, most being applicable to any entry-level position, but are especially telling for sales candidates.


OK, I did say these were basic factors, but it bears mentioning nonetheless. Maybe sharp, sensical, or insightful may be better terms, but smart is probably the most accurate. Short of giving an IQ test, here is what I look for: a high level of preparation, engagement in the interview, and thoughtful questions. These actions are typically good indications of intelligence and/or sincerity. How they conduct themselves in our initial interview gives me an inkling as to how they’ll present themselves in a client meeting. Good eye contact and listening skills are paramount. As much as sales is about speaking, good listening will earn you more business in the long run. And by the way, a college degree isn’t an automatic indicator of common sense or great problem solving skills.

Likeability and Trustworthiness

Again, this should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised as to how many hiring managers overlook this in favor of past experience, accomplishments, and credentials. For clients to decide to give you their business, they must trust you. The first step is that the client must like you. Your new reps must be able to engage quickly and establish a rapport. While speaking with a candidate, I mentally go through what I call the ‘5-year-old litmus test.’ I ask myself, ‘Could I leave for an hour or so to run an errand and trust this person to look after a 5 year old?’ There are two possible scenarios I would come back to: I’d find the child with a coloring book and crayons, happily snacking on snicker doodles, or would I come home to a frantic person saying, ‘I only turned my back for a minute and…’ You get the idea.


Not to be confused with brash or cocky, but sales, especially in Manhattan, is not for the timid. After your initial meeting you should be able to discern whether this candidate would be able to make meetings with strangers and ask them for their business. Directly responding to basic questions with conviction is a good indicator, as are eye contact and body language.

Basic Business Acumen

There’s always a back and forth on price. Being able to react on the fly is critical. Oftentimes, the one who responds fastest gets the sale. The ability to quickly react to price changes while mentally calculating the effect on margins and commissions can make the difference between losing and closing a sale.

Motivated by Money

Seriously? Aren’t we all? Of course, but if the candidate doesn’t even hesitate when I ask the question, ‘What motivates you?’ and comes right out with the word “money,” that’s a good thing. Many don’t really even answer this question. Instead, they’ll talk about their work ethic, thinking that I want to only hear about how motivated they are. What I really want to know is what motivates them, and what drives them. Those seeking security, stability, and a work-life balance typically are not cut out for a sales career. Let’s face it, sales is a tough profession to break into and it’s not for everyone. But for a young person seeking the highest ceiling of income, sales is the shortest path.

These 5 key factors to look for in a candidate are very basic, and by no means guarantee success. But, you have to start with a candidate that has a solid foundation. Other traits and qualities are also important, such as work ethic, relationship building, and resilience, but you won’t get a feel for those until you get someone on board and begin observing he or she’s reactions and behavior.”

How important would you say these 5 basic, but key factors are when looking for a new salesperson to join your team? As always, tell us your opinion on LinkedIn and tweet with us!

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