Screening for Successful Sales Candidates

Written by
Lucas Price
August 9, 2023
An hand holds a small round piece of glass and looking through the glass the night skyline is in focus, outside the glass it is to blurry to make out the skyline.

Screening interviews help to identify which candidates possess the necessary experience, competencies, and skills required for the role. Given that a poor sales hire can cost you as much as 70% of the hire’s sales quota, it’s worth investing in this extra step on the front end before passing candidates onto the interview loop.

Your hiring team is likely already using this stage in the hiring process to narrow down your options, save time, and find high-quality candidates in a sea of applications. There are some special considerations to keep in mind when hiring for a sales role. Here’s what you need to know to make sure you’re qualifying top-talent candidates before passing them to the interview loop.

Does the Candidate Have the Required Skills?

As you check for the required skills necessary to perform in sales, be sure to prioritize communication. Excellent communication skills are essential as the role requires regular interactions, engagements, and negotiations with leads and clients. The first screening interview should be used to assess whether the candidate can articulate their thoughts well, understand others, and handle varied discussions with ease.

You’ll also want to determine if the candidate can demonstrate knowledge about key sales concepts related to the role you’re hiring for. For example, you may want to assess the following:

  • Familiarity with the MEDDIC sales qualification framework (Metrics, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain, and Champion)
  • Ability to use a CRM
  • Account planning skills
  • Ability to run prospecting sequences
  • Knowledge about how to run product demonstrations

One way to assess these capabilities is to ask candidates to answer basic questions about key activities performed in the role. For example, you might ask the candidate to share details about how to prepare and execute a discovery call by saying, “Tell me about the last time you did a discovery call. How did you prepare for it? How did it go? How could it have gone better?” Their answers will reveal their understanding of these concepts and their practical applicability.

Does the Candidate Have the Right Experience?

When investigating the candidate’s past experience, go beyond the resume. The idea here is to dig deeper and examine what exactly that experience entailed. Selling at an established market leader requires a different skill set than selling for an emerging startup. You want to understand what experience the candidate possesses and how that translates (or doesn’t) to the required skills for your role.

So, be sure to check for experience with selling at a certain price point, a particular type of customer, and the candidate’s history of performance showing consistency and growth. Ask them about specific instances where they navigated challenges or achieved significant milestones to find more insights into necessary competencies.

If you need some inspiration, we have a quick guide to 17 must-ask sales interview questions. Given the time constraints of a screening interview, it’s helpful to focus on asking a handful of these questions about the most recent relevant role the candidate worked in. If they only have one prior sales role, you’ll have more time to ask all or most of the questions.

Assess Interest and Compatibility

As you examine compatibility with job specifications and requirements during the screening process, don’t forget about assessing compatibility with your work environment. This may look like checking for the ability to work from home for a remote position or being able to come into the office for an in-person or hybrid role.

It’s also essential to determine whether the candidate is willing to accept the job in the pay range offered. Taking the time to screen for this basic compatibility can help you avoid situations where a sales candidate rejects an offer due to unmet expectations around salary or a new hire rejecting hybrid work after beginning the role.

Of course, you also want to figure out whether the candidate has an interest in doing the job. During a screening interview, measure interest by listening carefully and asking open-ended questions. Listen for their tone of voice, and if in person, observe their body language. Doing so will give you the opportunity to gauge their attentiveness and eagerness. This is also a good method of assessing whether the candidate has a basic level of preparation and understanding of what the job entails.

Verify Work Eligibility

Finally, be sure to check for work eligibility. The candidate should possess legal status to work in the place where the job is offered. For most sales roles, this will look like possessing citizenship, permanent residency, an employment authorization document (work permit), or an employment-related visa. To verify an employee’s work eligibility, you can use an I-9 form or use the government’s E-Verify tool.

This necessary step will help ensure that you’re in compliance with local laws and regulations, avoiding potential legal complications.

Do You Need a Second Screening Stage?

For sales candidates who pass the first screening, a second screening phase can be helpful to ensure you only move the most promising candidates onto the interview loop. This second stage helps to narrow down the pool of candidates further so interviewers only spend their time on candidates who are more likely to be hired.

This is a good opportunity to ask for a work sample and better understand how the candidate performs in their job. Sales-specific work samples include role plays of:

  • Cold calls
  • Demos
  • Discovery calls

The second screening stage can provide more context about how the candidate will approach various sales scenarios and how their experience translates to competencies. While we recommend sticking to 30 minutes maximum during the first screening call, you may spend closer to an hour on this second step.

The screening stage is just one (or two) step in the hiring process. For more insights into creating a hiring process that attracts top talent, check out our article on the Rule of Four and how to achieve the ideal number of interviews.

Spot A-players early by building a systematic interview process today.

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