How Startups Can Lose Sales Recruits During The Interview Process

startup sales recruiting

As a recruiting platform focused on helping startups hire top sales talent, we converse with candidates on a daily basis about how they are evaluating their job offers.

In a competitive hiring market, such as the one we are in, the playing field for the interview process have been leveled. Startups need to treat each candidate like future family members — this mentality increases your offer acceptance rates and the value of your brand in the community.

We have reduced the list of drop-off reasons from candidates to three main categories: timing, interview experience, and compensation. While some nuances are specific to startup sales, we recommend you consider the concepts on a broader level, as they can be relevant in the recruitment of all roles regardless of company type.

Timing

It is extremely important to understand where a candidate stands in their interview and decision-making process — do not wait until you have made a final hiring decision before having this conversation with your candidate. We recommend outlining the interview process with the candidate from the get-go so they have an idea of what to expect and raise concerns, if needed.

As for the interview timeline, efficiency is the way to go since it shows the candidate you value their time. You should try to limit your interview process to 3 total meetings — an in depth phone screen, a first meeting, and a final pitch — as candidates can get frustrated with multiple round interviews where they meet one person at a time. Rescheduling interviews and adding more interviews to the schedule are other moves that elongate the hiring process and increase the odds of losing out on a great candidate.

The Interview Experience

Whether you realize it or not, you are creating an everlasting impression of your company for the candidate from the very first communication and every correspondence there on out. Three simple ways to create a noteworthy interview experience are: facilitating positive communication, including leadership in the hiring process, and promoting mutual discovery between the candidate and the company.

  1. Positive Communication: Courteous, considerate and candid communication can build trust quickly and separate you from competing offers later on in the process.
  2. Include Leadership: A major selling point for a candidate looking to join a startup is exposure to the executive leadership team, and an opportunity for rapid career advancement and personal growth. If a 30-person startup cannot get their founders to attend a final round of interviews, it can be a warning sign to a candidate. Make sure your executive team is not only present, but is actually focused on engaging in a meaningful conversation — a 15 minute interview with a founder who is preoccupied on their smartphone is counterproductive.
  3. Mutual Discovery: With each interview, do not talk down to the candidates — make the tone of the interview conversational with the goal of mutual discovery. Give the candidates a comfortable environment to ask questions throughout the interview and pitch the opportunity as you go along.

You are losing out to competition if you are waiting until you have made a hiring decision to “sell” the candidate on the role and the company.

Compensation

The two common sore areas for candidates when it comes to startup sales compensation plans are the OTE (on-target-earnings) and equity incentives.

Generally speaking, if a candidate has concerns about the OTE, it is because they do not understand or believe in your commission structure. Make sure your commission plan is fully baked. A simpler compensation structure is fine as long as you address how revenue generated is commissioned (e.g. how churn impacts performance and what sales goals leads to attainment of quota). If you can provide conservative, baseline and stretch scenarios to demonstrate how the payout would work, you will make the OTE a lot more tangible.

While ultimately each startup has their own comfort level with providing equity compensation details, we recommend you error on the side of being more transparent. While stating a “500 shares option grant” may be sufficient for some candidates, it is a bad way to start the conversation for a candidate who knows 500 shares provides little insight to the overall equity stake.

Being upfront about what is being offered is a great way to build trust for startup career opportunities. Chances are, they will eventually find out anyways so it is better for you to add context up front as to how you justify the grant and control the messaging.

Final Words

There is no downside to providing a candidate with a great interview experience. Even if you end up passing on the candidate, a positive interview experience will create an everlasting impression about the brand (and the appeal of your team) for their future job prospects, their friends, and their referrals. With the three aforementioned tips on how startups lose sales recruits during the interview under your belt, you can keep recruits interested in your startup.

Originally published on Building the Sales Machine by CloserIQ Founder/CEO Jordan Wan.

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Founder & CEO of CloserIQ. Previously Sales Strategy & Management @ZocDoc, Head of Analytics @PayPerks and Trading Strategist @Bridgewater Associates. MIT Bachelor’s & Master’s in Computer Science. CFA Charterholder.