Wanted: Experienced Salespeople


So, you’re looking to hire a sales representative? Unfortunately, with this incredibly tight labor market, finding qualified talent, particularly in sales, is a significant challenge. That’s great news if you’re a candidate looking for a new sales position because many options are available. But it’s not so great if you are the hiring manager because hiring salespeople can be tricky and challenging and in this job market, competition is steep. If you are planning on filling an open position or adding to your sales team in the coming months, here are five tips to remember.

Start fresh. Don’t reuse or recycle. All too often, employers reuse an old job description, post it on Indeed or LinkedIn and wait for the resumes to come in. This approach is not going to work. In today’s labor market, talented people have their choice of job options. They’ll recognize if your offer is old and stale. Instead, think strategically about what skills and qualities you truly need, not just today but tomorrow, too. It’s important to assess future needs because the right hire can take you there and the wrong hire likely can’t. Most importantly, make sure your job post communicates your strategic vision. The goal of your job post is to get potential talent excited about your opportunity.

When developing your job post, make sure it includes the following:

  • Captures the true interpersonal qualities you are looking for.
  • Is creative and catchy—remember, you’re not alone in your recruiting effort so make sure your post stands out.
  • Quantifies the responsibilities and requirements of the job. Don’t make candidates guess what you’re looking for. Be explicit.

Stop recruiting and start marketing. Certainly, you will need to post your position online. But if that’s all you do, you’ll be lucky to find who you’re looking for. With the U.S. unemployment rate at historic lows, most of the talented individuals you’re interested in are currently employed. This means you need to find them where they are and convince them that your opportunity is worth checking out. You have to headhunt. Start mining your connections—both personal and professional. Get your employees, clients and friends in on your search. Structure your headhunting activities. Have your marketing pitch ready for those who express an interest in your position. If you’re looking to hire sales professionals, you need to be able to sell them on your opportunity. Cast a wide net. When it comes to recruiting, you must be willing to put a little elbow grease into your search to market your company.

Don’t “go with your gut.” Your personal instincts are not your best tool for making a hiring decision, particularly when hiring a salesperson who is skilled at persuasion. A better recommendation is to hire based on the one-third rule—one-third is the person’s work experience, one-third is the interview and one-third is how the candidate fares in behavioral testing.

Professional recruiters are true believers in behavioral testing because the results will provide insight into the candidates’ behaviors, motivators and values along with more data to evaluate them. How a candidate performs in a personal interview is really an indication of only one thing—how skilled they are at interviewing. Remember, they are salespeople and they are trying to sell you, too. Don’t be sold, be smart.

Be ready for sticker shock. In today’s talent-friendly market, if candidates are actively searching, they typically have multiple offers on the table. If you are actively recruiting, you must be ready and able to take decisive action on hiring. And be ready for sticker shock. Qualified professionals in the market today are expecting 15-20 percent more in compensation than they did in recent years.

The reason candidates are asking so much is because they can get it—if not with your company, then with your competitor. And if you want to know how much you’ll need to pay for qualified talent, just conduct a recruiting effort. Your candidates will tell you how much they want and that’s the best indication of what the going market rate is for your open position.

Stop looking for unicorns. As recruiters, we never want our clients to settle for inadequate talent. But sometimes, their bullseye for the perfect talent is impossible to fill. For example, if you are looking for someone with years of experience, willing to take $35,000 and live within 30 miles of your remote location, chances are that if we can’t find that person after months of searching, he or she doesn’t exist. We often must have these kinds of difficult conversations with our clients:

  • Your pay is too low for the experience you are seeking.
  • If you can’t afford experienced talent, you may need to consider less experience.
  • If there are only a handful of people within 100 miles of your company and none of them are interested in your position, you may need to consider remote workers.

No one likes to have these conversations, but after screening hundreds of potential candidates and not finding the unicorn, it’s unlikely that hundreds of unicorns will miraculously appear. Revisit your efforts to date. Have you made one of the mistakes listed above? If so, now is the perfect time to correct, redirect and start again. And remember to stop looking for a unicorn if a reliable workhorse will do.  

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Claudia St. John is president of Affinity HR Group, Inc., PPAI’s affiliated human resources partner. Affinity HR Group specializes in providing human resources assistance to associations such as PPAI and their member companies. www.affinityhrgroup.com.

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Send your human resources-related questions to ppb@ppai.org. Select questions will be answered in future issues.

Q To make sure we hire the right people, we bring in prospects to shadow an employee so that we can see whether the candidate has the right skills/abilities for the job and so the candidate gets a realistic representation of the job. Is there anything wrong with doing this?

A Absolutely not. I think it makes sense for each of you to assess whether the “fit” is right before you hire the candidate. That said, you should pay the candidate at least minimum wage for the time spent shadowing the employee. You can include the pay in the candidate’s first paycheck if he or she is hired, or simply cut a check if you decide not to hire the person. For added protection, you may also want to process a W4 and I9.

 Q Do you have any creative benefit ideas to recruit new talent?

A Here are some things you can offer: additional vacation days, reimburse student loan or credit card debt, allow your employee to work from home once a week, offer a sabbatical after five years of service, reimburse transportation or child-care expenses, pay for continuing education, and, of course, teach your prospective employees about any retirement benefits, such as 401(k). If you do get creative with your benefits, present them with your offer so the candidate can weigh the benefits as part of the compensation package.

 Q We are about to hire an independent contractor but want to run a background check on him before we hire him. Can we run a background check on an independent contractor and make the contract contingent on the results?

A Yes, if the contractor will have access to sensitive materials or if the nature of his work requires a clean background check then, yes, you can make the contract contingent on that. You should also include language in the contract around confidentiality of information and non-solicitation. But the most important component of your contract should be that the contract does not constitute an employee-employer relationship. Of course, it’s important to make sure that you are classifying the worker correctly—many independent contractors would probably be considered employees if the Department of Labor were to investigate the nature of the work relationship. To make sure your contractor is appropriately classified, check Fact Sheet 13 at www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs13.htm.

Q I’ve heard about “Ban the Box” legislation (a campaign aimed at removing from hiring applications the check box that asks if applicants have a criminal record) and we’ve removed all questions about criminal history from our employment application. Are we still allowed to ask about criminal history and run criminal background checks? If so, when?

A I can’t speak to your specific “Ban the Box” laws/regulations because they are all somewhat different, but usually they only require that you remove the question box from the application. If you are going to perform a criminal background check later in the process, you may want to let applicants know that on your application. We recommend that employers run background checks either at the end of their hiring process or after a contingent offer of employment has been extended—meaning that you’re offering them employment contingent on a clean background check. And remember, if you decide not to hire someone because of what appears in their background check, you may be legally obligated to provide the background report to them.

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