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Thought For The Day

Recruiting Superior Sales Talent: Step 4 Interviewing

© The Gulas Group 2010

To hire a superior sales talent, conduct short, intense interview sessions. First make sure the candidate has completed the formal sales screening process and is hirable. Next, get an experienced administrative staff employee to conduct a brief but structured phone screening. The philosophy of using senior administrative staff for this step in hiring a sales candidate is because they have the intuition to know if the person on the other end of the phone sounds professionalenough to be allowed to talk with senior executives.

The person conducting the phone interview is instructed to score specific characteristics from the call. The scoring is placed onto an electronic spreadsheet and filled in during and after each call. Some of the suggested characteristics the administrator is listening for are presence, rapport, ability to articulate ideas, warmth, experience, meets qualifications, meets the technical aspect of the job, has the it factor for accessing senior executives, and confidence, not arrogance. Each characteristic is then weighted, totaled, and used as part of the final scoring of the candidate, as well as who will be scheduled for the next phase of the interview process. After the candidate has successfully made it through these initial filters, move on to the next phase.

The next phase of the interview process is for the administrative personnel to schedule candidates who did well enough to qualify for a phone or in person first interview session. The person conducting this second interview session must leave their "need for approval" behind for this part of the process. The idea here is to schedule a fast paced interview where the goal is to apply pressure on a candidate similar to the pressure they will experience in the field if they were out cold calling. You are not there to sell your company at this interview session. The introduction to the candidate sets the stage so I recommend you be very "matter of fact" in your tone and give the impression you are rushed but not rude. You may say something to the effect:

"Thanks you for taking time to visit here today. Due to some unforeseen issues, we will not be able to use the entire time allotted. In the short time available there is so much to learn about you. The consequence of our short stay is the questions will be fast paced to fit our time. You should not get upset by the pace."

At this point your pre-planning should have come together in four general areas and many specific questions within each area. The four general areas I prepare for are:

1. Resume 
2. Assessment 
3. Behaviors, including intrinsic motivators and cultural fit 
4. The Opportunity and Close

Before we briefly discuss what each of the areas is composed of you should understand a couple of things. First, construct a scoring matrix to rank your candidates. Second, it is best to keep the candidate on the defensive. This is not your day to show off your bonding and rapport skills. Be respectful and very adult, but make sure you understand your emotional quotient score and do not get emotionally involved. Third, remember the philosophy here is they are auditioning for the sales role. You should have in mind TV shows such as "America Has Talent," "American Idol," and" Dancing with the Stars." And just like the TV shows, it will be best to have different judges scoring the candidate with specific interview questions around the four general categories. Having these various judges will definitively allow your company to follow the guidelines set by the EEOC.

Within the Resume portion of the interview you should be looking for specifics generated from their resume statements. Here is a question that speaks to that rule:

You indicated that you developed and implemented a ...... what exactly was your role in the development?

- How did you implement it? - Was it successful? - What were the actual results?

I construct my questions with a general topic and several follow up questions as the one above. Here's a tip make sure you only ask one question at a time.

I usually break down the assessment portion of the interview under these headings:

- Compatibility - Skill Sets - Excuse Making (if present) - Interview Tips (questions from screening; I choose one to three with relevance)

You should then construct questions from each of the headings above. Here is an example of how to construct a question about excuse making (if it is present).

One of my concerns while reviewing your report was that you have a tendency to blame circumstances for any lack of results rather than taking responsibility. I am concerned about this because our culture requires our employees take responsibility. Describe how you will adapt to our sales philosophy regarding excuses?

There are numerous issues under Behavior and Motivators you must explore. The initial way is to create a spreadsheet of crucial observations that you will score on a scale of one to five. Some of the observations will be about warmth, energy, experience, overall self presence, and numerous others. If your candidate does make it past this initial first interview, then I suggest you then conduct a behavior and motivators screening to use in subsequent follow up interviews

To wrap all this up, you need to describe the opportunity from the 30,000 foot perspective, then close by compiling a list of tough final interview questions. Construct a scoring system where you can rate the answers on 5 to 10 basic interview questions such as "why do customers trust you?" on a scale on one to five. Next, as part of the close, you work on building a script to describe the opportunity at the 5,000 foot level and list who you are searching for and why salespeople have failed at this job. The magic here is to ask the candidate to explain why they will not fail at the opportunity you just described.

I also provide my clients with a final scoring matrix and coaching along the way to ensure compliance to the interview process.

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