Need to start saving with a new ATS? Learn how to calculate the return on investment of your ATS Calculate ROI now

Hiring a sales team? Avoid these 4 candidates

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

Hiring a sales team

Do you seem to fall flat day in and day out when you hire sales reps? Hiring a sales team is no easy feat. Your candidates looked good on paper – or even seemed great in person – but once they actually started working for you, they became a walking disappointment. So what’s going on here? Maybe you didn’t catch the red flags when they came up.

There are many different red flags to look for when hiring a sales rep. But keep an eye out for these four in particular, and you’ll avoid many headaches down the road when looking for salespeople:

The “great interview” rep

The “great interview” rep is the candidate who absolutely crushes your recruitment process. They’re the ones who just ooze charisma. They answered the “sell me this pen” challenge with a well-executed response showing they had done their homework. During a role-playing activity where they pitched one of your products with you as an executive buyer, they dropped a great joke on you that fit perfectly with your brand narrative. You even laughed, when you normally don’t during that phase.

So, it’s a no-brainer for you. After walking them out of the office, you head straight to HR and tell them to take the job ad down. You’ve found what you’re looking for.

But not so fast…

You’re interested, of course – that’s your job – but it’s also your job as the interviewer to keep the interview on track by asking pointed questions and making sure those questions are answered. You might have been blinded by the glare of the hypothetical sales pitch, be it about the “pen” or one of your company’s products.

They’re good at pitching when it gets to that stage, but can they open and close? Can they generate something out of nothing with an uninterested audience? Can they stay on track, drive the conversation from cold call to lead to conversion, and meet quotas? Sales isn’t just about the pitch – it’s also about organization, lining up leads, picking up the phone and asking pointed questions, being on time, following up with additional requested information, identifying new opportunities… and of course, closing deals.

When evaluating sales reps, keep in mind that they are still here as a job candidate, and your mission is to hire the best sales rep. End of story. They can impress all day if they want, but will they bring business to your bottom line? It’s all about the results in the end.

The “wandering” rep

You’re looking through the applications, and you see a resume that has five, seven, or more entries, all for Sales Development Representative or Business Development Representative positions. Perhaps there’s an account executive or two in there. You’re interested – clearly, they’ve been around the block a couple of times. And nowadays, tours of duty are more normal than career-long jobs, especially in sales. Plus, many of the companies they’ve worked for are in your industry. Perfect, they look like a good fit.

But not so fast…

High turnover is one thing, but if you see in their resume an oddly consistent turnover around the 11th month of every job they’ve worked in, that’s a very telling red flag. The life cycle of a sales rep job involves two or three months of onboarding, plus a couple of quarters of selling and approaching or reaching sales quotas. The expectation is that they’re comfortable meeting quotas well before one year in the company. If they haven’t succeeded in bringing revenue to your company by the end of their first year, then hard decisions have to be made – including letting them go.

That’s what’s going on when you see a resume full of “11th-month stints”. You don’t want to spend all that time onboarding someone only to have them fizzle out in the 11th month. But before you take a pass on them, know that coincidences do happen and perhaps they just had a bad streak with companies who either didn’t succeed in the game or didn’t onboard them properly. Make sure you ask for their side of the story if you do see that 11-month trend.

The “big company” rep

You sift through your resumes and you stop at one: wow, this candidate’s worked at a couple of multinationals or startup unicorns, and their sales numbers are just off the charts. They’ve brought in amazing revenue for their company. They blow everyone else out of the water. Of course, you want star reps like that in your organization.

But not so fast…

These sales reps are potentially passengers on a ship much bigger than themselves. They don’t have to work as hard to land the sales – there’s a refined marketing machine working to bring in hardcore leads, and the company brand is powerful enough that all you have to do is produce the business card, and watch leads’ eyes light up when they see who you represent.

Take a deeper look at their sales numbers, and inquire as to how their numbers stack up against their peers in that same company. Also, ask about their numbers at other companies and see how those numbers line up. If they don’t, then you’re interviewing a passenger, not a pilot.

The “right place, right time” rep

Again, just like the “big company” rep, this candidate’s numbers are stellar. And they’re for a smaller company, or a more niche startup where it’s harder to sell. Their numbers look great, and they tell you in the interview that they actually doubled their required quota in the last quarter. Perfect, you think – it’s time for them to double down on quotas in your own sales team.

But not so fast…

Ever heard the saying, “a rising tide lifts all ships”? It’s possible this rep just happened to catch the wave as it was rising, and reaped the benefits. Perhaps the company they were working for just landed a massive funding round, opened an IPO, got some major exposure in the mainstream media because of a breakthrough in their product, or launched a new product to great acclaim – all things that inevitably lead to a spike in sales. And this sales rep just happened to be there when it happened, but it doesn’t make them great sales reps.

Again, look at it in context. Ask about their sales numbers in other quarters or with other companies. If those numbers are not impressive or, worse, if they insist on talking only about their aforementioned success, perhaps they’re a one-hit-wonder.

A convincing sales talent pool

Every good company has a well-oiled sales machine – after all, that’s what brings in revenue – and you need to make sure you have the right nuts and bolts to keep the engine running smoothly. It’s all about finding the right fit and the right talent in the end. You can’t afford to suffer with less when hiring a sales team.

There are always going to be exceptions to the rule, but remember, when hiring in sales, you’re also assessing candidates who can be very convincing about their capabilities. They’re skilled at selling – that doesn’t change when they’re selling themselves as a candidate. That’s fine, but be mindful of the associated pitfalls when hiring a sales team. Keep this cheat sheet at the ready so you don’t end up sending job offers to the wrong sales reps – your bottom line will thank you.

Source and attract more candidates

Workable helps you build and promote your brand where your next candidates are. You’re always top of mind, whether they’re actively looking or not.

Start sourcing

Having trouble finding the right candidates?

Use AI Recruiter technology to find top talent, and easily post to more than 200 job sites with one click.

Find your stars

Let's grow together

Explore our full platform with a 15-day free trial.
Post jobs, get candidates and onboard employees all in one place.

Start a free trial