August 8, 2013

Every hiring manager has encountered that one sales candidate who was confident, charming and surely a perfect fit for the position during the interview, only later to turn out to be a poor performer on the job.


Predicting how a candidate will perform once hired, based only on a simple in-person interview is no easy task, even for the most experienced hiring managers.

After all, as they say in the entertainment world, “Every actor can give one great performance.” The same is true for an interview.

So how can we increase our chances of hiring a salesperson who will perform long after the interview process has been completed?


The Problem with Unstructured Interviews

With hundreds of articles floating around the internet about how to ace a sales interview, it is no wonder people who are not exactly right for a sales position can make themselves appear seemingly fit for the job.

There is a wealth of information available about how to dress, act and even answer specific questions during an interview that can make nearly any person seem like the perfect candidate.

With enough research on how to perform well, anyone, whether a good salesperson or not, can be successful on a job interview, especially an unstructured one.


Sales hiring managers who are conducting unstructured interviews set themselves up for deception by great interview performers who may not be able to actually sell effectively on the job.

This common type of interview has no set questions and no plan of attack when it comes to probing a candidate for specific skills and talents required to perform well. It basically consists of a conversation with another person to see if there is compatibility.

It is a misconception that an unstructured interview is sufficient to identify the right candidate for a job. To make matters worse, many hiring managers are often overconfident when it comes to judging candidates who will be a good fit for their company.

In fact, some interviewers can be so sure that their initial reaction to a candidate is accurate that they decide within 15 seconds of meeting him/her whether she will be a good fit for the position. This is hardly enough time to properly introduce each other and begin the interviewing process, let alone decide whether the candidate will be a top performing salesperson.

During an unstructured interview it can be hard to see past first impressions, to truly gauge what a person’s job performance may be in the future.

This is especially true when dealing with salespeople. Their entire career is based around convincing others to see things their way. This is no less true when it comes to convincing an interviewer that she is the right person for the job.

Many interviewers assume that they will just know in their gut whether a candidate will perform well in sales. Unfortunately, in such a short period of time, this is nearly impossible. In addition, coming to a conclusion about future job performance based on appearance and manners alone can be dangerous.

Other common mistakes made during an unstructured interview include:

  • The Halo Effect – This type of interview bias occurs when something about a candidate creates a favorable position with the interviewer, such as good looks or having graduated from an Ivy League school. This favorable trait then prevents the interviewer from remaining objective during the rest of the interview and effectively gauging whether the candidate is qualified for the job.
  • Asking predictable questions – Although this may seem obvious, asking generalized, open-ended questions provides very little insight into a candidate’s real potential. You will not be able to get a complete understanding of a person’s potential by asking her for a list of her strengths and weaknesses. Again, anyone can effectively prep for an interview by practicing their answers to predictable questions.
  • Lack of preparation – Not taking the time to identify the qualities and skills that are required to succeed in the position is a recipe for disaster. Also, make sure you review the candidate’s resume to get an idea of her previous experience before the interview.
  • Focusing on “Can Do” instead of “Will Do” – An extensive resume with impressive education and experience is great. However, during the interview it is best to focus on things such as how she has accomplished her goals in life. The “Will Do” includes attitudes, motivations, personality and problem-solving skills. These are the things that make a great salesperson in the long run.

These are just some of the main issues that can arise during an unprepared, unstructured interview. Unfortunately, these interviews occur frequently and can create many problems in the long run when a company’s “qualified candidate” turns out to be an underperformer on the sales floor.


The Solution

Obviously, eliminating the interview process altogether is not the solution. It is important to have the face-to-face interaction with potential salespeople that will be representing your company’s brand, should they be hired.

However, the way in which you conduct candidate interviews should be structured and include behavioral questions that allow you to systematically judge your candidates’ sales potential. Of course, interviews should also be consistent from candidate to candidate.



Additionally, hiring managers can learn a lot by testing a candidate’s personality through the use of a sales personality assessment before the interview process even begins. Identifying key skills and personality traits, such as Drive, before the interview takes place, can effectively curb unconscious biases that may otherwise arise later.

By testing and thoroughly interviewing your potential new hires, you will be able to better predict their future job performance. This will save you valuable time and resources, as well as the frustration of having to replace an unqualified, underperforming salesperson.