The Single Biggest Challenge to Hiring Sales People


Any sales manager or sales VP who doesn’t have a proven method to identify particular candidates’ lies, exaggerations, and misrepresentations is destined to have a very difficult time building a stable and high-performing team.

A Bit of Background did research on the subject of lying a while back. A number of other firms have done similar research. This is, in general, what they found:

  • 80% of all resumes are misleading
  • 20% state fraudulent degrees
  • 30% show altered employment dates
  • 40% have inflated salary claims
  • 30% have inaccurate job descriptions
  • 25% list companies that no longer exist, and
  • 27% give falsified references.

Take a look at the graphic from the Harvard Business Review. They report that the percentage of people that lie about themselves during job interviews is 81% (from a University of Massachusetts study).

And let’s keep in mind that these statistics are across all job categories. Because of the focus on performance against target, integrity, motivation, and a host of sales skills and other traits, I think sales candidates are more likely to misrepresent themselves than the general population.

How Do Candidate Get Away with Lying?

Those hiring managers without the right tools hire:

  • Based on gut feel. Some managers and VPs do have good instincts. Many more think they have them, but simply do not. Attrition rates are key in determining whether they hire effectively or not.
  • Who are like them. “Mirroring” can be an effective tactic used by an unqualified candidate to divert a hirer’s attention from digging into facts.
  • Candidates who sell themselves convincingly during the interview as a result of having so much practice over so many years.
  • Candidates who come recommended from someone the hirer trusts and therefore they aren’t put through through an objective assessment.
  • Candidates whose references they don’t effectively check.

What’s the Answer?

Before we go any further, if you don’t have a formal hiring process you need one. The key components to enable you to discern fact from reality are:

  1. A very careful reading of the candidate’s resume or CV. If there are gaps, inconsistencies (the resume doesn’t match the LinkedIn profile, for example), an inordinate number of jobs, be concerned. If there are no quotas and performance against those quotas on the document, ask the candidate for that information, telling them you are going to verify it against W-2 statements for those periods of time. (A lot of hiring managers think this is unfair. I don’t. Most of my clients have learned the importance of this step.)
  2. Perform a background check. Period.
  3. Perform blind reference checks. LinkedIn is the way to go on this. I do those all the time for my clients, introducing them to people for whom their candidates sold in the past. Most often the candidates never know the conversation has taken place.
  4. Engage with a provider of psychometric tests and/or predictive tests. Put every candidate through it. These are very, very revealing and most are quite accurate.
  5. Build a set of interview questions that will enable you to determine whether or not a candidate possesses the required skills, traits, and behaviors for the job. These questions must be carefully engineered so as not to telegraph the answer. For example, if you wanted to determine if a candidate was process-oriented, you wouldn’t ask, “What’s the first step you take when you get a sales lead?” (You know what their answer would be…) A much better question would be, “What do you do when you get a sales lead?”
  6. Employ simulations. Having a candidate execute a 20-minute sales call and a 20-minute Powerpoint presentation, with a 20-minute gap in between, is a great way to get a sense of how the candidate will perform those tasks once you hire them. The candidate is aware of the simulation requirement in advance.

Finally, an Important Note

I’ve worked with literally thousands of honest and effective salespeople. If you are one, please don’t be offended. You, your team, and your company will be much better off if your manager hires honest and effective candidates.

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  1. says

    Hiring someone is never as straight down the line as it may seem. I have found that getting to know someone is the most crucial part of employing someone.

    • says

      You’re right about that, Molly.

      I always recommend some sort of social interaction… Lunch, dinner. If it’s a critical hire, I recommend getting significant others involved as well.


  2. Chris says

    As an experienced Business Development Manager in heavy industrial, I would immediately walk away from any company that followed your guideline. It represents the literal worst of any hiring process.

    Best of luck to anyone following this, you’ll end up with prospects that have zero self-worth and/or integrity.

    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Chris.

      Clearly we disagree.

      My clients have used this process over the past two decades with an amazing success rate measured in the percentage of new hires that were on the job a year after being hired and were at or above quota.

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