Evaluating Sales Candidates: Separating the Pretenders from the Real Thing

Vetting Sales Talent in the Hiring Process
Feb 19, 2020
Ali Rentschler

Share This Blog


Having a strong business development function is crucial to growing your company, but anyone who has hired salespeople before knows it can be a challenge. Everyone can talk the talk, but how do you separate the pretenders from the real thing?

We asked sales leaders from some of our clients that very question. Here’s what they had to say:


"Candidates who are the 'real deal' will talk the talk when it comes to sales chops. If asked 'how do you prioritize your pipeline?' they'll be able to clearly articulate exactly how they determine who to reach out to first, second, etc..., and why. 

Folks might say that they like to make calls, or that they like to help others, but people who understand sales know that it's all about the activity and the numbers. They have a thought-out and methodical approach to filling the pipeline and staying on top of prospects for the close.

I also find that people who get sales demonstrate their skills during the interview with questions like, 'what reservations do you have about me, if any?' or 'what are the next steps?'. It can actually put the interviewer on the hot seat, but that's great! Using every interaction to move toward the close is a fundamental skill for successful salespeople."

Alisha Johnson | Manager, Sales Development 



"When interviewing candidates, I need them to put their stats/numbers into actionable examples. Depending on the role they are applying for on my team, they need to prove what they can do. I accomplish this by asking them to complete communication exercises (written/verbal), mock calls or sales pitches, and more. Sure, numbers are great, but numbers can also be faked. I want to see you in action! Do you have a natural talent to sell or do you require a little coaching to be that rockstar? It all gives me an indication of your confidence and your capabilities." 

Stephanie Benavidez |  Senior Director of Sales Enablement



"Having worked at the intersection of technology and travel for 10 years now, my favorite question to ask reps is, 'What excites you about selling to the travel vertical?' You wouldn't believe how many answer with a short, 'oh because I LOVE to travel' or share tales from their favorite trip. Most people I know love to travel and have many memorable travel tales, but I've met many people who don't like selling to the travel vertical because it's hard, nuanced, and can be very slow to adopt new technology. Candidates who share stories of their previous travel partners, selling wins, and especially losses typically resemble the "real thing" and catch my attention."

Johnston Gilfillan |  Sales Manager



"1. What is your sales process? Every successful salesperson has a bullet-proof sales process that they adhere to because it has garnered them positive results. I am usually leery of a candidate who is unable to articulate his process clearly and concisely - a successful salesperson relies on this process to deliver results.

i.e. Focusing on prospects with best fits (former customers or partnered w/ competitor), intro/scoping call - to understand what they like/dislike about you/competitor, demo call honing on that 'reason' they like/dislike you/your competitor, Follow-up/Negotiation call followed before contract signing.


2. Describe a time when you failed/lost a deal?

This question lets me know if this candidate is self-aware, accountable and has a growth mindset. All successful sales people have made mistakes, miscalculated and lost deals before - even the best. The key is knowing if they owned the mistake, learned from it and ensured not to repeat it. One thing that gave me great confidence working with prospects as an IC was knowing that every opportunity was a learning opportunity. Great sales people approach their work with Nelson Mandela's quote at heart... 'I Never Lose. I Either Win Or I Learn'."

Ni Adesokan  |  Sales Manager



"When evaluating sales candidates, I look for someone who listens and asks questions more than they talk about themselves.  I also can't stand when a candidate responds to the question, 'why and how did you originally get into sales?' by saying, 'I'm a people person and was always told by friends and family that I should be in sales.'  For me, this response is indicative of someone who relies on personality and charm, instead of hard-work and a thorough knowledge of their customer's business."

Andrew Sawch  |  Sales Manager




"There's a few things I'm looking for in a discussion with a candidate. First, I want to understand their past performances in other sales roles but more importantly, I want to understand how they did it. How did you hit 130% of your year- what was your game plan, what worked, what didn't, etc. It's the preparation that I'm more interested in. Here, details really matter.

Also, I want to understand how well they know themselves. Does the candidate clearly understand what they do extremely well and do they understand their own flaws or shortcomings? And can they be honest about it? Candidates that are not prepared to talk about their own situations that were mishandled or areas that they need to work on probably won't be a fit. We all suck at something.

Finally, I'm looking for someone who is prepared for the discussion. In this day and age, there's literally no excuse to not to know about our business, recent news, my background and experiences, etc. I look at it as a reflection of how well they'll be prepared when selling on my team."

Mike Renderman  |  Regional Vice President




If you have any questions, feel free to reach me at ali@hirewell.com. 

Ali Rentschler

More Blogs Written by Ali

Sign-up for the latest talent insights because you need to know what you don't know.