The Top Qualities of a Good Sales Representative That are Hard to Identify in an Interview
By: Ashley Artrip
Hiring and recruiting for sales development positions can be challenging, particularly in software/tech powerhouse regions, where competition for talent is steep. In fact, as of February 2019, Indeed.com had 4,275 unfilled software sales jobs in the Bay Area alone. Because demand for good sales representatives is so high, not to mention the high cost of turnover, it’s imperative that sales hiring managers know how to identify a good entry-level sales representative — based on factors beyond just experience and pedigree.
Traditionally, sales recruiters have subscribed to a pattern matching surface-level characteristics that are supposed to indicate an aptitude for sales. Usually, these are former athletes or business majors at large universities. However, limiting the pool of possible applicants to only those who fit within a narrow profile can not only result in a shortage of talent, but it also rules out candidates with non-traditional backgrounds who may, in fact, be excellent sales representatives.
Looking at hard metrics/experiences as an indicator of talent is important, but there is something that often gets overlooked - which is exactly what SV Academy screens for -- personality and response analysis. By making hiring decisions based on a candidate’s natural gift for sales, you end up widening the pool of qualified candidates while still adhering to rigorous standards. Here’s how we screen sales representatives and make determinations about their potential after an interview.
The Top Three Qualities of a Good Sales Representative
At SV Academy, we’ve generated more than $10 million in full-time offers for job seekers, resulting in an average of 2.2X income expansion for our candidates within 60 days of graduation from the SV Academy fellowship. We know what to look for in non-traditional sales candidates: 100% of SVA graduates have been hired by top startups.
We’re not selfish, though: we want to share what we’ve learned and the strategies we’ve developed. That’s why we’ve outlined three key qualities that we at SV Academy have identified as indicative of an aptitude for sales — and how we determine whether or not a candidate possesses them.
Keep in mind as you read through these that in order to ensure that every interviewer is paying attention to the right things, it’s important to have them fill out a feedback sheet about the applicant that includes the following traits. This helps interviewers ask questions and pay attention to responses that directly address the qualities that a good sales representative will have.
1. Psychological Sturdiness
Good sales representatives have a strong internal locus of control. They can handle constructive criticism and rejection without internalizing it. They have the capacity to manage change, thrive in fast-paced environments, manage their time, and prioritize even with heavy workloads.
Many of the qualities that indicate overall psychological sturdiness can show through in a resume, cover letter, and initial screening. It’s a good idea, however, to ask questions that specifically address these points; for instance, you could ask “How do you organize work when you have multiple things to accomplish in a limited timeframe?” or “What’s an example of a time when you received criticism and were able to use it for self-improvement?”
While certain experiences may indicate a higher likelihood of having the qualities that make for a good sales representative (such as being a college athlete), many people with these qualities come from varied and unexpected backgrounds (for instance, we found a high correlation between former teachers and sales skills).
2. Growth Mindset in Personal and Professional Life
Good sales representatives tend to be highly driven, ambitious, and open to improvement through learning and experience. Because sales is a metrics-based field, representatives need to be motivated by hitting new numbers and goals to get ahead.
To determine a candidate’s growth mindset, we ask applicants about a time they had a challenge, what they did to overcome it, how they’ve dealt with a failure, and how they incorporate that into their narrative. Regardless of the applicants’ previous experience, if they have a growth mindset they’ll be able to provide a compelling answer to the question.
In the candidate’s answer, look for applicants who use non-fixed mindset phrases — language that indicates a belief that core abilities and characteristics can be improved upon, rather than being fixed and stable. Additionally, you can explicitly ask the candidate where they stand on one’s ability to grow and change vs. being bound to essential, unchanging personality traits.
One of the most important characteristics of a good sales representative, particularly an entry-level sales representative, is how well they respond to coaching. During the screening, ask applicants for examples of mentorship or coaching they’ve received that have improved their performance in some area.
Once a candidate has made it to an in-person interview, set up a role play sales call and give robust feedback to see how they react. If the candidate seems eager to improve, you can even set up a second call to see if they successfully incorporated the feedback and improved their pitch. Look to see if the candidate takes notes when getting feedback, how excited they are about the learning opportunity, and note if they repeat back to confirm they understand.
A good salesperson will be eager to take new information and use it in the pursuit of success. Make sure and note not only the level of improvement that the candidate shows from the first call to the second, but also the candidate’s attitude toward getting a second chance to prove themselves.
Is All Of the Above Sounding Really Difficult? How SV Academy Screens For Traits You May Not Pick Up On
SV Academy fellows undergo rigorous selection (2% of applicants are accepted) and are vetted over 12 weeks of intense SDR training. By the time they reach our employer partners to be hired, they will have more than 300 hours of job training as well as SDR internship experience with a SaaS company. Students have access to mentors and coaching throughout their first year of work in order to ensure that you get maximum value from your new hires.
SV Academy accepts students based on metrics such as those mentioned above, rather than choosing students based on traditional profiles. Because of this, we have a highly diverse set of fully-trained SDRs for hire: 60% women, 40% African American/Latinx, and 70% first-generation college students. Because the academy ensures that every student is fully prepared to begin working as an SDR as soon as they are placed with a company, hiring managers know that they get access to sales representatives who can provide immediate value-add — without having to go through lengthy hiring and screening processes.
To learn more about how SV Academy can help your company get access to trained and talented sales representatives, reach out to Hire@sv.academy.
Elaina Ransford Contributed to this article