Hiring candidates for entry-level sales positions can feel like a perilous endeavor. Most candidates lack sales experience, and that tends to make hiring managers nervous.
But while selecting inexperienced candidates may seem like a gamble, it’s not. Even if a candidate doesn’t have a sales record, there are still plenty of ways to evaluate his or her potential to sell. We recommend looking for the following positive signs:
1) Coachability and a willingness to pivot
One of the most exciting things about working with sales reps with no experience is the opportunity to teach them how to sell from the ground up. But to do that effectively, you need someone who is easy to coach.
There are several ways to evaluate coachability during the hiring process. First, you can ask candidates to explain their process for learning new skills and how they respond to feedback. If they’re able to provide specific examples of growth, that speaks well to their coachability.
You can also test this directly. At the end of one interview, you might provide the candidate with a suggestion for future interviews. Then, assess to see how well they implemented the feedback in the next round of interviews.
If you do a mock sales presentation as part of the hiring process, give the candidate constructive feedback and see how well they respond. It’s also helpful to note whether the candidate is able to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses honestly.
2) Relevant job experience in technical fields
A lack of sales experience doesn’t necessarily mean that the candidate doesn’t have relevant work experience. Keep an open mind about the kinds of experience you consider to be relevant. The job title isn’t as important as whether it involves transferable skills such as the ability to communicate effectively.
Look at past work and volunteer experience to see if candidates have experience in dealing with customers, explaining complex concepts to others, or selling products and services. This might not always be apparent on a resume alone, so make sure to give candidates a chance to discuss relevant experiences. That nonprofit summer job may have involved asking people to donate money towards philanthropic causes. These past experiences should weigh in candidates’ favor.
3) Familiarity with data analysis
Since modern sales is so data-driven, it makes sense to find candidates who are familiar with data analytics, or at least willing to learn. Pay attention to candidates who majored in fields that are heavy on math and data analysis, or who have relevant work experience. Ask the candidate about what, if any, coursework they completed in statistics and related fields.
Not every great candidate needs to have extensive experience in this area. But they should at least express a willingness to learn when questioned on the subject.
4) Great storytelling ability
Great sales reps know how to enchant listeners with stories and anecdotes. That doesn’t necessarily mean the story is New York Times bestseller-worthy, but it should be enjoyable to listen to and have a clear point. People who tend to ramble excessively may not be great at effectively using stories to land a sale.
During the interview, give candidates plenty of opportunities to talk about past experiences. Critically evaluate how well they’re able to complete this task. Did the candidate provide enough detail to help you get a clear picture of what happened? Was the candidate able to wrap things up in a concise manner? Did the story they told illustrate some kind of larger point? If the candidate was able to entertain and inform you, there’s a good chance they can do the same for a prospective customer.
Top-performing sales professionals always want to do better. They strive to top last quarter’s numbers and make it to the top of the sales performance board. At the same time, they’re not so caught up in the competition that they’re a bad team player or become a toxic presence in the workplace.
You can get a sense of a candidate’s competitiveness by reviewing past experiences. Participation in college sports is one indicator of a competitive spirit, but it’s not the only one. You may well find a smart, ambitious person who participated in the debate team or competitive chess. Ask questions that probe candidates’ motivations. If they convincingly talk about wanting to be the best in everything they do, they might be a good fit for sales.
6) Intellectual curiosity
New salespeople will have a lot to learn about the product, sales process, and business practices in general. For them to do this effectively, they must have intellectual curiosity.
There are many ways to assess this during the interview process. Strong candidates ask thoughtful questions at interviews and show up having done thorough research. They don’t just ask things that are apparent on your website, but go one or two levels deeper. They know they don’t know everything, but are willing to ask and learn.
Candidates should also show signs that they’re actively thinking about things even when they’re not on the job. Ask the candidate about the last three books they read and what publications they read regularly. If they struggle to answer, that’s not a good sign.
7) Good listening skills
Although many candidates pay more attention to what they say at an interview, it’s also important to pay attention to how well the candidate listens. Do they ask questions that build on things you’ve said, or are they asking you to repeat information? When you talk, do they seem to be absorbing your words or are they constantly trying to interrupt you?
If you use an evaluation system for job interviews, listening skills should be included as a separate skill. A candidate who can’t listen to interviewers effectively is unlikely to listen to prospects.