How Do You Hire The Perfect Candidate?

A few years ago when I was interviewing people for and interactive sales position under me I had no real idea what to ask them, how to evaluate them, how to decide who was the right fit.  So I started learning lessons on my own; a bunch of my clients were VPs in HR so i reached out to them to ask them their opinions on what to ask potential candidates.  Everyone was so helpful, one contact from Unisys emailed me a list of HR questions to ask.  Since I work in sales and not HR that list was very interesting to me.  I have always been intrigued by the dynamic between the company thats hiring and the individual thats getting hired, how they mesh and who has the upper hand.  At the time I was doing this I worked for a large corporation, someone from HR called me and said she could screen people before they got to me.  That seemed weird since I know what its like to be screened.  She sent all the applications over to me, some were screened and some weren’t. Not being a hiring manager, or working in HR it was very interesting for me to interview people.  I developed a style that probably has not been duplicated.  I first looked through all the resumes to decide who was qualified and who wasn’t, this was back in the day when there weren’t 1,000 applicants per job.  Once I decided who I wanted to meet, I think I narrowed it down to 5 or so, I would call and set up a time for them to come in and interview with me.  When the candidates got to my floor I got a call from security saying they were there, I sent my assistant out to get them and put them in the conference room. This was a crucial step because I would ask her how they treated her, what their attitude was and what her impressions were.  When you work in sales, everyone matters.  Of course the CEO is the most important, but many times its the secretaries or assistants who put in their 2 cents about a candidate for hire; thats why when you work in sales you are as nice to the CEO as the receptionist.  So, I would have the candidate wait a few minutes while my assistant would give me a rundown on their attitude, likability and the respect they showed her.

Once I got in the room, at first I did start asking all of the typical HR questions that one of my clients so graciously gave me.  Then I realized they really revealed nothing about the candidate. And I started asking my own.  I wanted to know what Websites they liked, why they liked them, what they liked about digital media.  All questions that can be answered looking someone straight in the eye.  My goal was to not only see what they liked but explain why they liked it.  Working in sales and doing well at it is a talent, not a skill.  So I was most concerned with how the candidate could articulate to me what they liked.  I could teach them about my product, thats the easy part, but having the ability to articulate whats good about a product and to ask clients the right questions to find out their needs is the hard part.  Someone who is good at selling can easily be taught a new product; someone that has the exact same experience of the position thats open is a lazy way to hire people.  Very few are good at sales, real consultative selling.  Even though there are a ton of sales people out there with the right experience.

The person I decided on was great, he was able to learn my product, and use his ability to work with clients.  Through lots of mentoring and review he has become an excellent sales person.  I am probably the only one that would have chosen him, but it was his ability I was looking to utilize, not his rolodex.


2 thoughts on “How Do You Hire The Perfect Candidate?

  1. Exactly. . .this is one of the things that they don’t teach in schools–you have to be a decent person, and a lot depends on personality, openness, and adaptability. Those things do not always show on a resume. Of course, experience and knowledge are a necessity, but all things being equal, the hire needs to go to the “best fit” in the office or the division. Humans really are social animals–and not just in sales positions.

  2. I agree with your method Andy. Every few years my current graduate student assistant graduates (yay for them!!) and I need to hire a new one. In the old days I conducted the interview on my own and had my own set of questions to ask. Now everything is done by a team and there is a set list of questions to ask. They are all so damn boring. I like that you ask what websites candidates like. I used to ask mine what was the last book they read for pleasure (most were knee deep in academic reading) and what they thought of it. This can tell me a lot about a person. Having a relaxed conversation helped me to determine if the candidate had a sense of humor and was willing to use it. It’s a MUST in my office. Too much nutty stuff happens on a daily basis. If we can’t laugh about it, we’re in trouble. Anyway, I think it’s time for you to write a book. Also check out ZIngtrain. Ann Arbor’s Zingerman’s Delicatessen literally wrote the book on customer service and customer service training. I think you could write the book on client/salesperson best practices.

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