June 25, 2015

As any hiring manager will tell you, a job interview is not a foolproof method for determining whether a potential salesperson has what it takes to be successful. red-flags-bad-salespeople-1

That said, interviews are vital to the hiring process because they expose important information that goes far beyond a candidate’s answers to your questions.

Meeting a sales candidate in person can be very revealing if you pay attention.

While it might not give you all the information you need to predict a potential hire’s success, an interview can almost always tell you when a candidate is totally wrong for your company.


Here are nine red flags to warn you when to pass on a potential sales hire.


salespeople mut be on time1. He is late – Accidents happen, trains are delayed and directions to your office might be unclear. Ideally, your sales candidate will have allotted enough time to get to his interview that bad traffic will not make him late. If the universe conspires to delay him, he should at least call you to let you know what is happening and when to expect him. If he did not think to get your contact information before the interview, it might indicate an inability to think ahead on his part. Lateness on its own is not a total deal-breaker, but you should pay attention to how he handles and explains his tardiness and consider how future lateness could affect your clients.

2. He is unprepared – The job market today is competitive, so it is likely that most of the candidates you meet with will have interviewed at a dozen companies before coming to you. Expecting prospective hires to know the names of all the major players in your department along with up-to-the-minute company news is probably unrealistic. However, a potential hire should at least know what your company does and should be able to show that he has thought about the challenges that might be unique to selling your product. Try to include a question that assumes a basic level of knowledge about your company and see how the candidate responds.traveling salesperson

3. He exhibits nomadic tendencies – Candidates with unstable job histories should be considered with caution. There could be perfectly reasonable factors contributing to a potential employee’s short tenure at previous companies, but it is more likely that he is the problem. Ask the candidate to explain his job history, why previous jobs did not last, and why he thinks working for your company would be different. If he cannot answer your questions satisfactorily, move on. If you are on the fence about his responses, call up a few former companies for employment verification, which may be able to fill in some of the gaps.

4. He is blamelessSalespeople are confident by necessity, and prevailing interview wisdom cautions job seekers against revealing flaws, but a mature salesperson will have a level of self-awareness that will allow him to acknowledge his faults and still look attractive to an employer. “Tell me about the greatest challenge you have faced” is a helpful interview question to ask a potential salesperson. Pay attention to the candidate’s answer, and be cautious if he tries to pass blame for a challenge or weakness onto his circumstances or even another person (or if he follows antiquated advice to pass off a positive trait as a weakness, like “I care too much”).

salespeople talking about prior employers5. He bashes previous employers – Talking badly about prior employers in an interview is unprofessional and inappropriate, even if it is true. This goes along with number four, but a good sales candidate will be able to take responsibility and look at past challenges as learning experiences. A prospective candidate should know that employer bashing is poor form, and should talk about his past experiences with politeness (at least).

6. He has poor listening skills – Great skill in communication is critical for success in sales. Speaking well and being persuasive are the most obvious requirements for a good sales candidate, but both of those skills are secondary to their ability to listen. An effective salesperson will build relationships with his clients, make them feel like their concerns are heard and their needs are met. Clients want to do business with a salesperson that acts like a human, listens to their issues and helps them solve their company’s unique problems. There is nothing that screams “baloney” to a potential client more than when a slick, robotic, sales pitching machine saunters over and asks for their business without bothering to hear them first. If your candidate talks over you, consistently misunderstands your questions or (like a politician) answers the question he thinks you should have asked rather than the one you did ask, keep looking.

7. He lacks social awareness – Social awareness can be a tricky thing to spot in a highly structured interview setting. A good salesperson should be able to read a room, read a social situation and read a client. If a candidate says inappropriate things, lacks manners, makes the interview needlessly awkward or does not know when to stop talking, take note.

salesperson thinking8. He does not ask questions – Developing rapport with clients is the best way to make a sales relationship feel genuine and pleasant for the customer. A candidate should treat an interview like an opportunity to sell the thing he knows best (himself) and should make some attempt to find common ground with you by asking questions. Taking an interest in the person across the table is the best way for a salesperson to get a foot in the door with any client. In an interview, you are the client. If a potential hire makes no effort to engage in friendly conversation with you by asking questions, he probably is not right for your sales team.

9. He does not follow up – Following up with clients is essential in sales. Neglecting to email or call (or better yet, write an actual note) after an interview shows a lack of initiative and discipline that your sales team simply does not need. This is job search etiquette 101 – if he neglects to follow up, he clearly does not want the job.


Identifying these red flags can help you weed out salespeople that would drag your team down, but even salespeople that sail through an interview with flying colors can be wrong for sales. It is in the best interest of your company and the interest of any potential candidate to go further than asking the right interview questions or checking references before you hire.

Using sales aptitude testing in addition to a thorough behavioral interview process will save your company money by revealing which candidates have the Drive required to succeed; and it will save prospective salespeople the heartache of wondering why they cannot keep up in this tough industry.