How do you spot a dud in an otherwise terrific interview?
August 10, 2016 3:32 AM   Subscribe

I had never done interviews or hiring until my most recent promotion. In my new position, I've helped make three hires. All three looked between solid and terrific. All three have turned out, to one degree or another, to be disappointments. What kinds of revisions can we make to our interview process to screen out people who interview well but do not deliver?

Were it only me doing the interviewing, I could just blame my inexperience. But I'm not the only one doing these interviews and even my supervisor/mentor is signing off on these without reservation. I'm not afraid of taking the blame. I just want us to do better.

The first hire was a bright-eyed college kid. We saw them as a bright kid and a blank slate we could build up into something special. What we got was a listless slacker whose only remarkable skill was their ability to respond to coaching or disciplinary action exactly and precisely the way you'd want a person to respond before drifting back into the same directionless laziness. After a series of questionable sick days taken (including my favorite, a time they called in at 3 am after their band's late night gig to tell us they had a sudden full day of medical tests needed the next morning), they quit when we started asking for doctor's notes.

The second hire was a thirtysomething with related experience to what we do who impressed us all in the interview with laser focus and an ability to quickly absorb information and make intuitive leaps. What we got was a classic ADHD case* whose workdays are about 20% that level of hyperfocus, 20% complete scattershot uselessness, and 60% acceptable, but unexceptional plodding. They'll be okay, but we thought they were going to be a star. Instead, they're a marginal employee and a drain on management time.

The most recent hire was a mid-twenties person looking for their second full-time job after college. They presented in the interview as a kind of achievement-oriented competitive type, which would be awesome for what we do. What we got is a bland, soft-spoken person who has a series of endless "family emergencies" that are giving them about a 75% attendance rate. I don't think any of us believe them any more.

What are we missing? The obvious answer is "interview better." And we're trying. There are four of us who interview separately, asking different sets of questions with a different focus and style to each set. We ask the standard questions, some tough ones, some behavioral ones, some situational ones, some weird, Google-ish ones.

But the people we're letting through consistently seem not to be the people we thought we hired. How do you separate someone who is a legitimately worthwhile potential hire from someone who just interviews well? Are their techniques you can use in the interview? Trap/trick questions to ask? (Though I hate even asking you that.) Something specific to do when checking references?

I'm at a loss.

* I don't mean that as a disparaging comment about people with ADHD. I have ADHD. The other supervisor has ADHD. Four of the other dozen or so people in the department have ADHD. But there's high-functioning ADHD and low-functioning, you know?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (64 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are you calling references for these people?
posted by phunniemee at 4:01 AM on August 10, 2016 [24 favorites]


Temp- to-hire, aka try before you buy. Interviewing is terrible for both parties.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:08 AM on August 10, 2016 [23 favorites]


Try leaving longer silences after they respond to interview questions, to see if/how they fill it.

Until you're more confident of your hiring process and choices, perhaps implement a 60-day paid trial period after which fuller negotiations can continue.
posted by cocoagirl at 4:10 AM on August 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


The interview process is deeply flawed and this is well recognised. It's just that no one has come up with a realistic coast effective better system. Yeah, call the referees, don't be afraid to really probe.
posted by wilful at 4:10 AM on August 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


Have you tried applying the STAR method? It's helpful for ferreting out exactly what actions and impact a person had in a particular project or task, rather than hypotheticals. You also want to make them commit to "I" statements rather than "we".

I would avoid weird Google-ish trap questions. You want smart and gets things done, not clever.

Depending on the role, I have also found success in giving people an exercise. Some of them have been on the spot, some of them was "homework" to prep before the interview. Admittedly, the construction of such tasks are challenging and may deserve a separate AskMe, but if they are done right they can be very valuable in weeding out people with smarts and experience vs. the bullshitters.

Also do you have a probationary period? This is what those are for and you should feel comfortable with using them judiciously.
posted by like_neon at 4:15 AM on August 10, 2016 [8 favorites]


I have heard that using objective criteria, rather than an impression of people's personalities, yields better hiring results. Here's a relevant article.

Secondly -- it sounds like these are people who legitimately have their own issues, but a common factor is the workplace they're hired into. Is it possible that something about the job, or the managers, or the culture is demotivating these people after they're hired, or making them feel that their contribution isn't important, or making them not want to be there? Is it possible that they have different expectations or needs? Just one more thing to consider -- performance is a product of the _interaction_ between a person and the environment.
posted by amtho at 4:19 AM on August 10, 2016 [67 favorites]


Yeah, more thorough reference checks would probably help, as would having them demonstrate their work (e.g., writing code on a whiteboard for a developer position, answering customer questions for a support position, etc.).

You might want to space your interview process out more. Everybody gets up for job interviews, but it's harder to sustain that over time. So maybe if you space out a phone interview and two in-person interviews, that would allow more of the candidates' true selves to shine through.

At Amazon, they have someone from another department interview for culture fit, since they aren't as affected by professional credentials.

Honestly, though, with all due respect, it sounds to me like there's a problem with your organization. Either your standards are too high, or you're doing something to demotivate your workers (or both). It seems unlikely that you would hire three consecutive people with the same character flaws (blandness and laziness), and even more unlikely that all three would turn out bland and lazy after coming across as high achievers during the interview process.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:19 AM on August 10, 2016 [26 favorites]


Sure, review your interview processes. But also take a look at your management and mentoring processes to see if there's a reason why three smart, talented people all failed to come up to expectations after they joined your team.
posted by verstegan at 4:22 AM on August 10, 2016 [58 favorites]


I worked somewhere that *always* did two rounds of interviews. Often the person who did well with the first interview would reveal more in the second that would change my decision, and someone who was a bit more shy would open up more.
posted by AnnaRat at 4:41 AM on August 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


A few things I found helpful were:

1) If there is more than one of you interviewing, form your own conclusions PRIOR to meeting up with the other interviewers to discuss the candidate. That way, your conclusions are not influenced by group-think. Group think is a massive influence. I found that after speaking to other interviewers, my opinions and theirs would be alike.

2) As the others have said, do two rounds of interviews, spaced out at least two weeks apart. In the first interview, check if there are any slightly "off" flags. We had one interviewee who was smart and bright, but had used our business cards like a plate to hold her cookies. It was a little strange. On the second interview, see whether those "off" flags pan out. They may just be one-off quirks, or they may say something larger about the candidate (in this case, disregard for authority and protocol).

3) Check references. Most referees tend to be nice, so listen very carefully to what they are NOT saying about the candidate.

4) Place 3 or 6 month probationary periods in their contract, where you can get rid of them easily. Use it!

Depending on the seniority of the position and the nature of the work, you may not be able to do a on-spot test or exercise. I know I would personally find insulting if someone had asked me to do a test on the spot. I would definitely turn down a second interview with the company. But this is specific to the positions that I am looking at and the nature of the job. YMMV
posted by moiraine at 4:50 AM on August 10, 2016 [6 favorites]


The fact that two out of the three have on-going attendance issues makes me wonder if you are sending mixed messages about attendance in some way. Work/life balance is important but it sounds like those two are falling too far on the "life" part of the spectrum.
posted by saucysault at 5:05 AM on August 10, 2016 [8 favorites]


There are two parts to every interview question. The question itself and the answer given, and what information about the candidate you are able to infer from the answer. So your solution may lie not in doing a better job choosing and asking interview questions, but in doing a better job interpreting the answers. Frankly, a lot of companies struggling with hiring the right people based on interviews turn to assessment as part of their hiring practices. That doesn't mean that you "outsource" the selection process, but rather that you utilize an independent source of information to help you gain insight into your candidates. The added benefit is that the assessment reports will help you better "read between the lines" of interview answers you receive, over time improving your accuracy in making inferences from the interviews themselves.
posted by DrGail at 5:25 AM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


All of these sound like me at one point or another in my career, and I'm a pretty solid worker. It sounds like you're expecting "rock stars" and then getting disappointed when employees turn out to be, like, regular people. Your first and third examples sound disappointing, yeah, but your second one? 20% hyperfocus plus 60% acceptable plodding is still 80% solid work, which is pretty good. And people early in their career often need extra mentoring and clearer expectations, and soft-spoken people can still be exceptional teammates, and sometimes long strings of family emergencies happen.

How clear are you about your expectations in the interview? If you want a go-getter who has "passion" and ambition and works at 110% capacity with minimal supervision and spends their downtime looking for things to improve, be really specific about that. Ask lots of "tell us about a time when you _____" questions. And offer appropriate compensation.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:42 AM on August 10, 2016 [64 favorites]


I have no idea whether this applies to your company or not, so please don't take this as an accusation, but I'm wondering if the problems you're having might not actually be with hiring. As amtho said above, the common factor between these three hires is the company they are/were working at.

What are you doing as a company to motivate your employees to bring their best to the job? I know my own motivational levels (and hence my performance) at work vary tremendously based on how I feel about my job. Partly that has to do with what kind of work it is which you obviously can't control, but a lot of it—most of it honestly—is the compensation and work-life balance.

Are you paying your people enough that they can easily support themselves? Do you offer good health insurance? Is your vacation/sick leave/personal time structure generous? Do your employees have regular hours, and do they feel OK about leaving on time? Is there a clear structure for pay increases, where your employees can count on making meaningfully more money the longer they work there?

Those are the main things that I look for in a job, once I've decided what kind of work I am interested in doing. It's surprising how few places manage to check all of those boxes, and a missing check mark in any one of them can seriously degrade morale. Nobody likes to feel used, and people absolutely know if they're being exploited. Some people, particularly if they have other issues going on in their life, just can't muster up the energy to do even the bare minimum at work if they don't feel they're being fairly compensated.

So that's something to think about, maybe something your company needs to do some soul-searching about. It may not be your problem (I can't know from the information in your question) but then again it might be. I've worked for a lot of companies where the message I was hearing from management was that I was valued and that they were treating us better than we should expect, perhaps better than we deserve, that we (the employees) were a major expense and that there was no way they could afford to pay us more, and I think a lot of the time that message was internalized and that management actually believed it—but it felt like lies to me, and I felt used, and their assurances and promises rang hollow.

But regardless of whether you think you can afford to compensate your people well or not, they're not going to do good work if they're compensated poorly. If you don't have that on lockdown, the best hiring process in the world isn't going to save you.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:44 AM on August 10, 2016 [17 favorites]


Agree with giving people homework. The amount of effort they choose to put (or not put) into it is telling. If you give people a time bound too, then you can check on efficiency of output.

Also, I might think carefully about the hiring criteria. Do you just need someone who can work hard? Vs. having XYZ hard and soft skills? The way you describe candidates is mostly about their level of effort / participation in work. Is there something about the job that requires abnormally long hours? If so, you need to make sure that expectation is set clearly during the overall recruitment process.

Also -- what are the other companies you competing against in the candidate market? And how compelling is the role / compensation / benefits that your company offers? If the role is poorly compensated relative to peers, you will naturally NOT be able to hire the classic "star" candidates, unless by fluke.

Agree with others -- think about how you are setting up expectations / providing guidance for people once they join. If people aren't getting clear and consistent guidance / enough check ins, especially early in their time in their new jobs, it'll be demotivating to feel forced to keep working if you're never sure what you're even trying to aim for.
posted by ellerhodes at 6:09 AM on August 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


If the role is poorly compensated relative to peers, you will naturally NOT be able to hire the classic "star" candidates, unless by fluke.

Oh yes, this 110%. You pay for what you get. The best ones are going to be snapped up quickly and will have a lot of offers.
posted by moiraine at 6:25 AM on August 10, 2016 [11 favorites]


I'm also wondering about your on boarding process. I have experience with a workplace where blame for mistakes was quickly placed on individuals in a very personal way, right from day one. And there was very little training and other people sighed and rolled their eyes if new people were confused or needed help. The combination resulted in a lot of good people essentially freezing up because if your environment doesn't support learning, it's hard to integrate. (I can say that because I've hired some of them afterwards and their work is great.)

In the way you're describing both these people and your own frustrations as an inexperienced supervisor, I'm wondering if your environment could use some work in understanding how to create realistic expectations and support individuals in performing highly. The language where everyone goes from star to dud is particularly revealing.

Are you communicating that you're a no-nonsense organization where employees are expected not to need a lot of management support? Are you clear about your business hours and sick/family leave policies? What happens when an employee is struggling?

There will still be people for whom the job is a bad fit, of course. But 3/3 seems like a pretty unusual bad hire rate.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:26 AM on August 10, 2016 [24 favorites]


Maybe you feel that your product/service or company is exciting, maybe the industry is competitive - but what is this particular job about? If the job doesn't actually require making intuitive leaps, and you're hiring people inclined to make them - maybe because you and your colleagues plain like or can relate to these people better than you do more linear thinkers, if you're all ADHD types? - don't hire people like that. Hire people who thrive when it comes to more rule-bound tasks, even if you'd probably not want to go for coffee with them.

I bet smart people are literally or psychologically checking out of this job by any means possible because it's actually really boring. (And/or there is something else about the environment that's discouraging an investment in the task/company). You're hiring sprinters and asking them to crawl.

Or maybe others are right and you have a boring set of tasks that probably demand rule-based processes, and the reason you want a rock star/self starter etc is that you don't actually have solid management or operations in place and you're hoping the rock stars magic something up. In that case, hire a rock star manager / operations person to devise the process, and then hire non-sprinters to do the task.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:20 AM on August 10, 2016 [17 favorites]


What is the actual work environment like? Do you have comfortable seating and workspaces, and ample freedom to use the bathroom or look at personal email here and there? I'm curious about how you figured the "workdays are about 20% that level of hyperfocus, 20% complete scattershot uselessness, and 60% acceptable, but unexceptional plodding." I have workdays like that sometimes, but I also have enough autonomy and privacy that nobody knows it as long as I'm meeting deadlines.

If you really do know how someone spends every minute or hour of their workday, consider whether you're micromanaging and how that could affect morale. People need time to be people, you know?
posted by witchen at 7:55 AM on August 10, 2016 [14 favorites]


No one can be hyperfocused 100% of the workday. That is completely unrealistic.
posted by Stonkle at 8:10 AM on August 10, 2016 [45 favorites]


Lots of good questions here about how things are working in your organization. It seems like in all three of the examples you gave, you expected to get rockstars and got regular people. I'm not sure I'd qualify that as a failure of the interviewing process. 80% useful work over the course of the day for an employee seems about right. I work in a field where we have to bill our "productive" work for clients in tenth of an hour increments, and an 80/20 split between billable and non-billable time at work is pretty average. It also raises my eyebrows a bit when you call into question someone's "family emergencies," since family emergency can mean all sorts of things, including "I have a health issue I don't want to talk about" or "I have a mental health issue I don't want to talk about" or "I have a real family emergency." If you haven't already, consider moving to a paid time off structure that doesn't involve your company signing off on whether someone has a "good enough" reason to not be at work one day. They just have a set number of days they can not be at work and not have to give a reason.

Circling back to your question, how do you interview better, I don't think there's any surefire trick to it. I hate the Googley questions, and IIRC even Google has stopped doing them. When its up to me, I tend to hire for personality "fit." Generally, I hope to only be interviewing candidates who should be able to do the job, given their credentials that show up on their resume. Beyond that, I mainly want to interview to sort out who I would want to sit next to on a plane or work accross the table with during a long night in a war room conference room. Mainly, the interview is as much an excuse to just talk with this person for an hour than it is any substantive test of their skills or aptitudes.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:39 AM on August 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not sure that 'interview better' is the answer here. I'm sure it can be improved, but ... You've hired three pretty different people and none of them have met your expectations. Also, the 'calling out sick' thing is a big red flag for me. People don't call out sick that often for no reason. Is it possible that they dread/dislike coming to work? Is it exciting or boring work? Are requirements clear and reasonable? Is it a fun place to be? Was the workflow described accurately during the interview process? I'm not trying to point the finger anywhere in particular, but I think there's something else going on, aside from "we thought we were getting awesome people, but they ended up being duds".

Also, I'm a little sad about the "welp, that sucked, but how can I hire new better people?" attitude. Management's goal should be to do what it takes to make their CURRENT employees rockstars (well, not the 'call out at 3am' type, but you know what I mean).
posted by destructive cactus at 8:53 AM on August 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I think part of the issue here is your expectations. I have been a "rockstar" hire a couple of times, and when I started the job it turned out I got jack shit for support to be a rockstar. What they actually wanted was for me to just magically know how things worked there and do as much random work as possible instead of having a narrow, firmly-defined job in the thing that is my specialty, and generally for 10-20% less pay than men in similar positions, and often in the very shittiest cube farm distraction funhouse environment possible. My perceived ranking dropped rapidly when I turned out not to be magical, and when they saw I'd figured out I'd been scammed on the job description, and when I pushed back and tried to have boundaries. (Or...questions, even, about procedure, which didn't exist.)

You need to plan for people to have personalities that you don't get to bend to your every will, and you also need to understand that you're getting them at their 100% level in an interview and people can't live in that place all the time.

I would recommend slowing down your hiring process - definitely two in-person meetings minimum. Be fairly accommodating on the assumption they have another job, of course, but get them in twice.

Do less interviewing alone. Group-interview for the first meeting, where you have all the howdy-do chitchat and general overview of your company, the job you're hiring for, and their general experience. Meet afterwards together to discuss your impressions, and cross-check each other a little bit on both your perceptions and your expectations. Meet the second time with breakout sessions (though I would still encourage interviewing in pairs) to discuss the details of the work.

Also make sure that part of the interview is being honest with them about the job, the company culture, how much independent work you expect from them (or teamwork, or dependencies). Avoid overselling either the company or the job.

A separate issue, though, is to have a management meeting to a) make sure you have buy-in from everyone about what the job is, b) discuss if you have a company/department culture issue that needs to be addressed.

Since you seem to have a specific issue with attendance, you may need to make sure you're not sending any mixed messages about that stuff in your interview or onboarding.

In my experience, though, people who don't like the job or can't do the work are the ones who do poorly in that area, so I would focus on making sure you're communicating clearly in the interview stage about the reality of the job. Generally people who are just poor attendees should be filterable by reference checks: "Was X routinely at work on time for the full duration of their expected shift?"
posted by Lyn Never at 9:19 AM on August 10, 2016 [16 favorites]


I'm sure the management at my last job could have written this question about me. I was excited about that job, I went in with ideas and plans and everything. The department head was/is just plain abusive, from insulting me to my face at 3 weeks in during our first face to face meeting, to rejecting every plan I put in front of her with disdain, to eventually whittling away my job responsibilities until I was basically an admin assistant (I was a senior project manager). And if you asked her, I am sure that she would say that I was a complete listless disappointment who interviewed well but couldn't follow through. I had bad jobs before but that one completely destroyed me. I'm at another job now, and yet I'm still a shadow of my former rockstar high-performing self.

So, please, listen to folks who ask if it's your workplace that is the common denominator here. Are you sure that there aren't group politics or bullies involved here? Are you giving them meaningful work and feedback? Is there an "in group" and are these folks having a hard time feeling like they belong? Are they being invited to the meetings they need to be in? Are you setting them up for success?
posted by cabingirl at 9:27 AM on August 10, 2016 [25 favorites]


This is pretty bizarre. Especially the 2nd employee, who sounds perfectly normal frankly. And criticizing the 3rd employee for being bland and soft-spoken is literally absurd.

People are productive when they're in an environment that allows them to be productive. Personality differences don't make a huge difference. The best employees will figure out how to create a productive environment for themselves, but that's an extremely rare quality.

You don't need better employees, you need better managers.
posted by miyabo at 9:36 AM on August 10, 2016 [23 favorites]


I agree that some (not all) of your criticisms of these employees seem… weird? I might go so far as to say inappropriate, or unprofessional. That was part of what got me wondering whether it might be the company rather than the hiring process that was at fault here.

I mean, that first person sounds irresponsible—excessive unannounced absences and then ghosting when you ask for corroboration isn't cool. But the second and third people sound like they may just need support, or be unmotivated, or both. You seem to be ascribing part of that to "character flaws" that aren't really flaws; in most jobs it's not a flaw to be soft-spoken or bland, and armchair-diagnosing your employees with mental illnesses is frankly unacceptable. If I knew my employer was describing me as "low-functioning ADHD" when I hadn't disclosed that to them personally, I'd be livid.

There's not a lot in your question about what working at your company is actually like in terms of compensation or corporate culture or management style, but what little I do find is not very promising. If it's representative of the way management at your company normally operates, I'd guess that's a big chunk of your problem.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:54 AM on August 10, 2016 [15 favorites]


Hi, I'm a sock puppet for the person who made this post.

We pay pretty well. Most of us make $100K plus. First year people generally make $65-85K. This is my second year and I'm on pace for about $120K. Most of the people we hire haven't made this much money before. Our benefits are good. We have flex hours and casual dress.

Employee #2 on the list isn't cited as an example of a bad employee. Maybe I should have been clearer on that. They're fine. We're keeping them. But we still want to know how we got someone who looked like a rock star but is in, point of measurable fact, juuuuuuust good enough to stay employed here. (It really is measurable, incidentally; it's a sales job.) We didn't decide this person has ADHD, by the way. They said so.

The skepticism of excessive time off was never voiced to either of the employees who have manifested this issue. In the first case, a twentysomething with a band made a habit of calling off the day after their publicly announced gigs for vague, somehow all day "medical tests." I'm talking emails at 3 am saying the hospital just called and he had ten hours of tests suddenly. We engaged with them taking them 100% at their word, but expressing concerns about the missed time until they burned all of their off time and kept rolling ahead. We simply asked at that point for a doctor's note, so they quit. In the third case, we're continuing to try and be supportive, as we do think they are probably on the level. But a 20-25% absentee rate is a serious thing.

Also, the third person being bland and soft-spoken is a relevant big deal. It's a sales job. Timidity isn't a personality quirk here, it's a substantial impediment to doing the job.

Our on board process is challenging. Reps primarily have to call discarded leads and contacts while they practice selling. We're nice and spend a lot of time with them, but it still sucks. Given the volume of product information they have to learn, it's unavoidable. We have recently changed the process such that they are also assigned low probability new leads. this gives them something fresh to call without costing our small company any money or excessive customer goodwill. They have very low sales goals they must meet during an extended ramp up. (The first month, for instance, they need make two sales; most of us do more like 25 a month.) Reps are also paid a much higher salary at start that ticks down over six months, as sales goals and commissions ramp up.

I'm open to the idea that being nice, paying well, and having modest, achievable goals may still not be everything we need to make the on-board process palatable. But it'd be super cool if we could stick to either interview suggestions or even on-board suggestions as opposed to looking for the secret proof that we're all terrible people here.
posted by sockpuppetterry at 10:02 AM on August 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe it's just hard for a small business to hire sales people, even if you do pay well.
posted by sockpuppetterry at 10:05 AM on August 10, 2016


I'm strongly in favor of bringing in your top 2 or 3 candidates in for a "working interview." Ask them for 2 hours of their time. They should sit on the sales floor, and see more of the atmosphere of the room. Give them one or two tasks they should be able to complete - have them make a call or compose an email to a sale, or something basic. They may not be perfect at the task, but you both get to see how they work and what sort of questions they ask. Have them meet one or two others from staff - get their opinions too.

This is as much about them being right for you, as it is you being right for them.

I've done this multiple times, and very often, my expected top candidate turned out to not be the right fit for various reasons.
posted by hydra77 at 10:17 AM on August 10, 2016 [11 favorites]


My initial thoughts were that when you hire a just out of college kid who's in a band, this is exactly the outcome you should expect. As for #2, that's a work style clash. Some companies can absorb different working styles, others can't. If you guys can't, I strongly agree with others that a paid probationary period or temp-to-hire is the best path. #3 also seems like a bad fit but bear in mind, some of us out there HATE "go-getter" sales types and would LOVE to do business with a more soft-spoken person. Try to be sure that you're distinguishing between "not right for our office culture" and "actually bad at their job." As you say: this is measurable. If this person is making sales goals, despite absences and your feelings about their personality, that should count for something.

And, based on your follow-up: I personally would find that on-boarding process *extremely* demotivating. Like, I know the newbies have to pay their dues but it sounds like in the attempt to give them learning time without costing money, you've basically set them up to fail.

This must feel especially pernicious to people who were hired as, and used to performing as, rock stars. Maybe stop hiring so many rock stars? And start hiring some folks who are just plain good at their jobs, who won't feel insulted by being given the dregs while watching their salary dwindle...

Maybe this is just Life In Sales, I dunno -- and in that case if they're experienced they should have their expectations calibrated to this reality already. So maybe in that case, bright-eyed college kids are NOT your target demo. You want someone who's already been in the trenches.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:23 AM on August 10, 2016 [26 favorites]


In light of your update (and agreeing with previous posts that it's worth taking a very hard look at your training process):

-- Perhaps ask candidates to give a five minute sales presentation on a service or item of their choice? (On preview: hydra77's solution, if possible.)
-- Consider group interviews that include current salespeople. Their insights can be very useful.
-- It's not hard for job candidates to research how to rock standard questions. If there's no purpose to a question other than to provide a rock star platform? Find a replacement question/activity that actually helps you.
-- When candidates talk about what they've done professionally, watch for where they begin to relax and light up. If it happens, that is where their strengths often are.
-- Last but not least...as a fellow ADHDer, it's important to remember to separate affinity from what the company needs. Especially a small company.
posted by gnomeloaf at 10:25 AM on August 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Part of the problem may be the demands of selling a broad array of products targeted at knowledgeable, mid-career professionals. We just can't turn people loose on the good leads right off the bat; the potential sales will smell the inexperience and nope on out of there. You have to practice your pitch until it sounds okay, then earn your way to better leads. And what we sell is specialized enough that a pool of people who already know this stuff is just not a thing that exists.

We do ramp them up one product at a time. That way, they don't have to know everything all at once.

Maybe I should ask another question later on that focuses on ramp up techniques for sales.
posted by sockpuppetterry at 10:30 AM on August 10, 2016


Back up to before you even start the interview process and look at your job announcement. Does it straightforwardly lay out the requirements you've described here? Is it clear that employees in this position will be expected to cold call and will not be given solid leads when they first start off? Being very honest about these kinds of things in your announcement will likely dissuade a lot of people from applying for the position in the first place. Making changes to your announcement should narrow down the applicant pool to people who feel like they are really up for this challenge.

I've been involved in the hiring of people for positions that are not sales, but that require some of the same skills (e.g., cold calling to convince people to participate in research studies). I hired some duds when I first started, just like you, and refining the job description and being very specific about what the job entailed day-in and day-out really helped winnow down the applicant pool to people who were more appropriate for the position. I also challenged my pre-existing notions about the type of person who would be good at the job. Early on I thought charisma and extroversion were essential qualities, only to later learn that those are only very minimally important to success in these public-facing, sales-like roles. What I found over a period of several years was that the most important skills are persistence dealing with rote tasks and an ability to not take things personally. These qualities can be found in both introverted and extroverted people of varying personality types and temperaments.
posted by scantee at 10:48 AM on August 10, 2016 [15 favorites]


There isn't any cold calling in this job. People place inquiries and we return them. New reps do have to call older leads that have been around and never gone anywhere, but we explain this in detail during the interview.
posted by sockpuppetterry at 10:53 AM on August 10, 2016


How would a rock star look during those early months? Can you describe how previous rock star employees have performed when they started? How soon could you distinguish them from the run of the mill employee? Were they magically making sales to your dud leads? Or did they only become rock stars once they’d learned the ropes and been given some leads that had some potential?

I get why you’re starting them out the way you are; it’s just crazy to me that you’re dismissing them as “duds” at the same time. Is someone reassuring them that their lack of actual sales is normal and expected and part of the learning curve you all follow, or are they going home each day feeling like losers? Success feeds confidence (and more success); if you’re not setting them up to succeed you need to find other ways to feed their confidence.
posted by Kriesa at 11:12 AM on August 10, 2016 [10 favorites]


To reiterate: you should see if their is a way to reword your job description to provide this information before the interview process even starts. There is this thing that happens when people are looking for a job where they are so desperate for something, anything that they'll apply for every job they come across even ones that aren't super appealing to them. Then they get invited to the interview and they think "YAY! someone may want to hire me, it's for sales and that sounds kind of dreadful, but it IS a job, and maybe I'll be better at it than I think..." Then they interview and you seem to like them, so they convince themselves that if they just take the job and do it for awhile they'll get used to it and it will all work out in the end. And that's how you end up in a situation like the one you're in now, with three people who don't really like their jobs working for a company that doesn't think they're any good. It's a lot easier to deal with this situation by having a job description that is written such that these kinds of people never apply for this kind of position in the first place.

And you absolutely need to do a working interview as part of your second round of interviews. This interview needs to closely resemble as much as possible the conditions of their first six months of employment, so give them a list of fake used leads and have them call a few people on the list. Use some of your seasoned sales people to pretend to be curmudgeonly clients and see how your interviewees react. Then reiterate that is what they will be doing every day, all day. If you're thinking "no one will want to take this job if we do that" then you really need to examine the role itself and the culture of your organization.
posted by scantee at 11:23 AM on August 10, 2016 [11 favorites]


OP, from both your original question and your sock puppet clarification, I'd agree with you that there's a mismatch between the kind of candidates your interview is trying to find and the job you need them to do.

To be blunt about this - you're effectively hazing your new sales hires by giving them shitty leads. Nothing wrong with that if that's how your org operates, but you shouldn't be surprised if a significant fraction or even majority of your new hires fail to get past this stage as the inputs you're giving them are leads with which the people who ALREADY HAVE experience and knowledge with the product and closing have failed.

Either your interview needs to change to look specifically for delusional people who don't get discouraged by the lack of success (which is frankly pretty typical for good sales people) or your ramp process needs to change to have new hires be padawans to successful sales reps to see what success should look like, what techniques are employed, etc.

There's a reason sales is typically either the boiler room/swimming with sharks or master/apprentice model. It sounds like you're trying to do both. Pick one. Either don't bother trying to ramp them at all until they prove they can convert crap leads or do invest/ramp them while also having them be mentored by/ride along with the person with your best leads.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:28 AM on August 10, 2016 [23 favorites]


We break everything down into component skills.

We actually tell reps that to succeed at first, they need only make a lot of calls. Good calls? Bad calls? Not important. Don't worry about it. Pick up and put down the phone. Get used to that. Next step: stretch our your call length. Stay on the phone with people. Try and engage them and keep them interested. Do they let you give them a quote? Doesn't matter. Talk to people, listen and engage. Next step: get as many people as you can to let you give them quotes. Do they buy anything? Doesn't matter. Send out quotes. Then, after that, try and squeeze just a few sales out of this pipeline of stuff you have built up.

Successful employees commit to this process. They make a lot of calls. Their calls are absurdly short at that point so they tend to top out with the most calls in the entire company. Then they learn to stay on the phone. They rack up the most talk time in the company, because they let people ramble, and they ramble, too. This is okay. Then they get quotes out. Probably the most out in the company, because they don't have to try and limit themselves to terrifically qualified serious buyers. Then they get some sales, because it's impossible to call that many people, to stay on the phone that much, and to give that many quotes, without one or two (or more) turning into sales.

The people we're disappointed in are nodding absently when we tell them to make calls. They make 30-60, when we tell them they need a minimum of 70-100. The successful new hires clock 100-140 daily. We tell them that. They nod again and call 80 or so. We tell them to try and find an hour of talk time in an eight hour day (harder than it sounds). They clock maybe 35 minutes. The rock stars find two hours. We ask them to send out a minimum of five quotes a day. They send a dozen a week. The rock stars send thirty.

They have two sales to make in their first thirty days. (Again, compared to 20+ for a full rep.) I made four my first month. All of our goals are like that: they reflect the bare minimum that someone who shows up every day and tries will typically sell. They are not pie-in-the-sky numbers.

Also, the more time they spend and the more promise they show (forget sales, how good do they sound) the more products we let them sell, the more qualified the leads we give them. We're not holding out, just pacing them.

There is a full-time sales manager whose primary job is to answer their questions, conduct special classes for them, and sit in on calls with them. I also help.
posted by sockpuppetterry at 11:32 AM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I am not a sales person AT ALL, but if I started a new job where I was given older and low probability leads to call, I would feel extremely discouraged pretty quickly. Especially if, despite the low initial sales target, I was aware of a ticking clock (six months) under which I need to start to produce or (likely) hit the road. I get that you don't want to give them your best leads right off the bat, but I guess I don't know what to tell you. In my experience, the more successes I have in my job (especially initially), the more enthusiastic I am about it. If you have people who are raring to go in the interview and then seem to peter off pretty quickly, I kind of wonder if they're getting discouraged and starting to think "What have I gotten into, I'll never be able to achieve these targets." That would be my mindset anyway.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:37 AM on August 10, 2016 [6 favorites]


Ugh, sales is SO HARD. There are great salespeople in the world, with the personality and thick skin and memory for one million tiny details and a kind of chompiness, and then there's everyone else, and mostly only the latter are looking for jobs because a great salesperson entrenches in a good place and stays forever. You see a lot of people who like money, and might be good talkers and even extroverts, but they don't have the chomp, and the drudgery just undoes them.

It's a totally different hiring world than any other position. And because they talk a good game, it's very difficult to find out how they actually work.

I still think you should expect to lose a certain number of sales hires just because of weird salespersony expectations on their part that fall apart when confronted with reality. In a long career in tech I've watched so so many come and go again and you can tell, they just didn't have the fire and they don't have any finesse (there's also a different kind of flaw, which is the ones who are convinced they are gonna figure out how to game the system so that they are either getting some kind of personal additional benefit, or that they'll have to work half as hard as the others to get the same amount of results, and chances are that your system is not game-able in that way and they immediately lose interest).

The issue may be that you're not cutting them loose fast enough. That doesn't save you the expense of onboarding a washout, but maybe you need to be doing 90-day probation periods with no benefits and termination if they aren't even making their baby-steps numbers.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:41 AM on August 10, 2016 [5 favorites]


[Heya, sockpuppetterry, just a note that Ask needs to not turn into an ongoing exchange between asker and answerers; it's fine if you had a couple clarifications to add, but please try stick to the spirit of ask a question, let people answer.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:42 AM on August 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


Your follow-ups make it sound like you're very focused on the numbers these people put up. Which is perfectly fine. But aside from the absentee issues, your original question seems to worry about how these employees fit with the culture. If you want to be focused on numbers, go ahead and do that, but be explicit about it in the interviewing process to make sure everyone knows the stakes. i.e. "You'll be expected to make X calls a day in your first Y months, and make 2 sales in your first month (even though an experienced rep can make 20)." Then stick with that rubric. Train people, sure, but if your employee #3 in your example makes 2 sales in the first month and hits the average call number, then who cares about the number of family emergencies? But make it as clear as possible in your interview that their performance and their pay is strictly slaved to their performance in a dollars-and-cents manner.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:44 AM on August 10, 2016 [5 favorites]


Sorry about that, cortex. I was just trying (probably futilely) to avoid the thing where someone asks, "Do you think it could be because of this terrible thing you could be doing?" and by not answering, the entire thread becomes, "Given that terrible thing you're doing..."
posted by sockpuppetterry at 11:47 AM on August 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


My hunch is you're interviewing for "self-starters" or "innovative thinkers" when in reality what you need are hires who demonstrate they'll follow a process without question and with gusto. Given your description of your process, if I were you, I'd be looking at former military pretty much exclusively.

I agree with the other comments, and alluded to this in my last answer - you're not being honest with yourselves about the kind of person you actually want to hire. If all you want are people who follow process, your interviews should be looking for how people respond to being ordered to do large volumes of things they may or may not like doing. Enthusiasm or insightfulness would be pretty much contra-indicated to what you actually require.

FWIW, I think the sales process as described is just a numbers game, with very little cultural room for innovation or suggestions for improvements to conversion rate. If your interviews aren't specifically searching out people who enjoy the numbers game, then the hard truth is the fault here is with what you guys think you want, not your hires.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 11:48 AM on August 10, 2016 [30 favorites]


Clarification question: What is the compensation structure? Are they commission-only from the start? Or is there a base salary? If they're commission-only, and they're only expected to make two sales in their first month, that's very little income.
posted by kevinbelt at 11:49 AM on August 10, 2016


More constructive answers, pending the compensation issue...:

Ask questions about setting, reaching, and failing to reach goals. "Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself and you didn't succeed. What went wrong?" Or about perserverance. "Tell me about a time when someone told you no, but you kept at it and got them to change their mind."

Ask them what they like and don't like about their current job. If they like the abstract parts, but dislike mundane stuff, they probably won't be a good fit.

Require previous sales experience, and ask them for numbers. "How many calls did you make last month? How many deals did you close? How did that compare to other people in your company?" Good salesmen know the numbers. You still remember how many you did in your first month, over a year later. I'm not even a salesman and I can remember numbers from seven years ago. If they don't give you specifics, they're BSing you.

Ask about previous non-professional sales experience. Things like fraternity recruiting, where you're pitching guys to pick your house over others; political engagement (avoid specifics); or, hell, even candy bar fundraisers. Anything to show a sales-oriented "closer" mentality.

Look for competitive people. The best salespeople are competitive, and they'll do anything to win. Did they play any sports in high school or college (including intramurals)? Do they play in any adult rec leagues? Try to get them in a competitive situation, even if it's just bar trivia or a quick game of pool or something, to observe how they act when they're winning, and when they're losing. If they take losing well, move on - not the kind of people you want.

Keep in mind, though, these are salesmen, and in an interview, they're selling themselves. Of course they're going to pump themselves up. You have to try to catch them when their guard is down.

Don't ask them Google-y type questions like "if you were the size of the fly and you were in a blender, how would you get out?" No answer, whether it's the right one or not, will help you screen potential salespeople. Those questions are designed to find people who are either good at knowing arcane trivia, or creative. You're not looking for either. You're looking for persistance, self-discipline, etc.

The previous answers about checking references, giving homework, and interviewing multiple times with multiple people are still good ones.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:13 PM on August 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


Are these people coming to you with previous sales experience? Previous sales experience of chasing many, *many* leads & only expecting to convert a few of them? Because otherwise it’s just a total crapshoot whether someone’s going to be any good or not & all you can do is be honest with them early on that they’re on probation, give them as much positive mentoring as you can & let go the ones that don’t work out.

All the available evidence that I’ve seen says that interviewing is a near total waste of time - the only applicant filtering practice that has ever been shown to have a positive correlation with later job performance is a work study - ie actually getting people to show you that they can do the job you’re asking them to do.
posted by pharm at 12:34 PM on August 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't know much about the world of sales, and so this is very speculative - but two of your three hires turned out to be problematic due to attendance issues. I wonder if you're getting candidates who are looking at commission-based sales roles in part because they expect to gain flexibility in their work schedule in such a role.
posted by kickingtheground at 12:45 PM on August 10, 2016 [8 favorites]


Would it be possible to start an employee referral program? It sounds like what you're looking for is not "is this person intelligent and goal-oriented?" but "do they derive satisfaction and self-concept out of talking to people and selling things?" People might know people like that. I know I do. (And I know who isn't like that at all.)
posted by stoneandstar at 1:09 PM on August 10, 2016


The people we're disappointed in are nodding absently when we tell them to make calls. They make 30-60, when we tell them they need a minimum of 70-100. The successful new hires clock 100-140 daily. We tell them that. They nod again and call 80 or so. We tell them to try and find an hour of talk time in an eight hour day (harder than it sounds). They clock maybe 35 minutes. The rock stars find two hours. We ask them to send out a minimum of five quotes a day. They send a dozen a week. The rock stars send thirty.

Not surprised, if what the rock stars enjoy and are good at is developing rapport with clients and building long-term relationships.

One summer when I was, I think, 19, I took a job selling fixed rate gas through a third party, which I guess had bought in bulk. You had to knock on doors - with a clipboard, so people might get the idea you were someone official - ask to see people's bills, and tell them about this great new program that was "affiliated" with the big gas company. There were guys who'd done the job a year or more, giving instructions to ignore "no solicitation" signs and cut across people's backyards if necessary, sharing tips on what to do about dogs. They could smile pretty well, older people mostly liked them. Can't remember the target, you had to get a certain number of people signed up in a day. They hit it, I lasted an hour.

Not saying your outfit is sketchy like that, but you want people like that.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:07 PM on August 10, 2016


(by which I mean, dogged and likeable.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:20 PM on August 10, 2016


From the way you described what you liked about your interviewees, I thought that you were hiring software developers, people who work creatively rather than by rote. Instead, echoing concerns above that what you actually need are people who will follow rote processes assiduously.

I'm not saying that making a sale isn't a creative process because I can't imagine how it could be anything but. However, the entire process they have to go through in order to get to the point where they're actually making a sale seems very mechanical and rote.
posted by tel3path at 3:30 PM on August 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah given your further follow-ups, I think your interview process is fine--you're hiring the people you're looking for. I think, however, you are definitely looking for the wrong type of candidate.

You want someone who's good at crunching a long, hard, grind. Someone who's a "rock star" at that is not the same as a more general perception of a "rock star" in the workplace. I would probably ace your interview process--I can put myself across in a confident, likeable way. I'm self-motivating, deadline-driven, work well with clear instructions but little coaching, and pick up on details super-quick.

I would absolutely fucking SUCK at that job though. Because the long, relentless slog? That is *intentionally* futile? That takes a different personality type entirely. To be blunt you need to start screening your applicants for a personality constellation more like "glutton for punishment." Thick skin, infinite patience, able to just bounce right the hell back after getting hung up on. You're hunting for Barts when what you need is a Lisa.

Since you're apparently on-target and good at this, maybe try a little self-examination to try and identify what it is about you that helps you succeed. Are you a naturally long-range thinker who didn't get bogged down in those early slogs because you were mentally already 8 months ahead, preparing for those better leads? Are you heavily motivated by goals and numbers and other extrinsic benchmarks? (Not everyone is! Not even every sales person!) Design your interviews accordingly. Want to find out if someone is highly externally motivated? Ask what their GPA was in high school. Do they remember? They're externally motivated ;)
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:32 PM on August 10, 2016 [11 favorites]


75% of what you want is the best you can hope for from new hires. Good management always involves teaching new employees to work smarter and inspiring them to come up with ways to get involved with their work creatively. Congratulations on learning this with only one quit.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:58 PM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh crap didn't preview this is a Sales job!

You are hiring for the wrong things. The best SMB software phone sales person I have ever known was formerly only a peach farmer. The second best was a beautician. Hire for hunger, personality and aggression, not degrees and creativity.

Also consider changing your new hire structure so they are comped on passing demos to experienced closers (aka the SDR model) rather than closing themselves during training.

Sales is rough and always has high turnover. Just the nature of the business. Make sure comp program fair but built to award aggression and discourage sandbagging (hitting quota and then letting the rest of the deals slip until the next quota period).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:17 PM on August 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


Going back to your hiring process - how are you checking references? Done well, they're incredibly useful for sorting out these kind of work style issues. Are you just calling and asking "Is this person any good?" or are you asking detailed, specific questions about their approach? Most referees aren't going to tank someone's chances by telling you they're awful, so you need to be more subtle. Giving referees choices is good, especially if you can frame it in a way that doesn't make it obvious which answer you're looking for: "Is this person someone who tends to be more focused on getting the details right day-to-day, or on the big picture for where the work is going and what it's trying to achieve?" Once you have a better idea of the sort of person you're looking for (based on the advice from others above), you can tailor your questions accordingly. More examples here, via Ask A Manager.
posted by une_heure_pleine at 6:18 PM on August 10, 2016


"The people we're disappointed in are nodding absently when we tell them to make calls. They make 30-60, when we tell them they need a minimum of 70-100. The successful new hires clock 100-140 daily. We tell them that. "

In the second interview, ask them to make calls for fixed amount of time, say several hours. Pay them for this time, based on how many calls they make. Hire whoever makes the number that scales to 100-140 daily.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:24 PM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


As others have said, it sounds like you're trying to hire creative, high-achieving people, and then you're asking them to throw themselves against a brick wall for six months. "Rock stars" are going to burn out and get disengaged doing that. If throwing themselves against a brick wall for six months is somehow necessary, recalibrate what you're hiring for. If having rock star employees is necessary, recalibrate your entry-level training process.

Do you have current rock star employees (who aren't you)? Maybe ask them what it was like when they started, and how they developed their skills? I've also, as a new supervisor, been trying to take into account the advice that I've read in various places that "rock star" employees who have been promoted into supervisory/management positions are often awful at motivating or understanding "regular" employees, because such supervisors have likely never struggled particularly with their performance. You might be judging your employees on a slightly skewed spectrum. I found Linda Hill's Becoming a Manager helpful in resetting my expectations to a more realistic level. (And part of her work was interviewing salespeople about becoming managers of salespeople, so you'll likely find a lot to relate to.)
posted by lazuli at 9:24 PM on August 10, 2016


The best predictor of future performance is past performance. Don't ask questions about what people know, what they believe, what they think they can do, what they prefer, or what they would do.

Ask them questions about what they've done - 'Could you give us an example of a time when you...', then probe for details about that story, challenge inconsistencies, and ask for evidence, or at least the contact details for somebody who can corroborate their version of events.

Don't extrapolate ('well, they're like this, so I suppose they could also be like that...'), don't guess, and don't assume. Want good sales people? Identify those characteristics that make sales people good, then ask for evidence of possession and effective past application of those characteristics.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:32 PM on August 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I started my career in a close cousin of sales (door-to-door fundraising for a nonprofit). Based on that experience, I agree with those who say that what you need to look for, more than anything, is grit, and the ability to just keep plugging away. Reading your description of the training process just confirms that - you're looking for people who will just commit to the grind of plugging away at something that is unpleasant (calling people who don't really want to talk to you) and that they are not good at, until they get better at it.

That is really, really hard to interview for. You could try with questions like "how do you keep yourself going when you have a boring or frustrating task to complete?" but I'm not sure how far that would get you. Maybe ask questions about times they've stuck with something that was boring and repetitive in order to get better? I do think that looking for gregarious rock stars is not necessarily the best strategy. In my field, the gregarious rock stars often have a lot of great ideas and are good at talking about them, but are not necessarily the people you'd turn to if you needed someone to plug away at something hard and unrewarding.

Anyway, I think the ability to do well in this kind of work is just really hard to predict, based on my own experience of hiring and managing fundraisers. But since it's the metrics that are really important, can you ask people with sales experience to talk about or bring their numbers? And what about a trial period?

The other thing - I think it is really, really hard to expect most people to stay and thrive in a situation where they are spending their first few months not having success. Even if you're really nice and encouraging about it. When I was a fundraising manager, we had a rule that we had to do everything we could to make sure a trainee got at least one donation their first day and had one really good day their first week. Otherwise you could almost guarantee they wouldn't stick around, and if they did, they almost always would have trouble succeeding over the long term.

Confidence and mindset play such an important role in work like this. If someone starts out with some success, even if it's hard later, they have that baseline confidence to keep going. If they don't, and they have any tendency towards self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy, they will have to battle that for a long time. Maybe think about whether or not there's a way to set people up for more success early on. And if there isn't, then just know you are really looking for people who will keep plugging away no matter what.
posted by lunasol at 11:41 PM on August 10, 2016 [8 favorites]


It might be a good idea to ask a question specifically oriented around sales, because from what little I know, sales is a LOT different from most other professional jobs and things that are the norm in sales are totally unpalatable and unacceptable to people in other lines of work. That context changes things a lot.
posted by mister pointy at 10:09 AM on August 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think you have a combination of issues, starting with your expectations for current employees, extending to what you are looking for in new hires, and finally the hiring process.

Identifying what you need: you are definitely hiring for the wrong traits. This job sounds incredibly challenging for most people and definitely not a standard post-college office job. You need people who are specifically interested in sales, are probably not highly analytical or creative, but incredibly persistent and motivated by achieving their numbers and making commission money. Ask questions to see what motivates your candidates and definitely ask them about a related example of a time when they had to speak to a large number of people to achieve a goal (could be at school or work, even a customer service experience might be relevant). Extroversion and big personality is not necessary at all. You want persistent people who will find commission based compensation appealing and motivating.

Hiring process: because this seems to be most people's first job in sales you are likely to get a certain number of people who think they can do the job but can't or don't like it. For someone who likes sales and wants to progress in sales, this could be a great entry level opportunity, but I many won't understand what this job will entail until they start working (hence the absenteeism). Either having a session of real work during the interview process or a defined probation period could solve this problem. Zappos actually pays people to leave after training to weed out the less enthusiastic, consider something like that.

Expectations: your expectations that the average employee will be a star are misguided. Some people are just going to do a decent job and not be rock stars. That is actually totally fine since you are paying them mostly on commission after the trial period. You should expect there will be a certain bell curve of performance and be ok with that, otherwise you'll continue to be disappointed.

For more experienced hires you would ideally have a track record of performance in sales that they bring to the table. The only predictor of future performance is past performance.
posted by rainydayfilms at 1:50 PM on August 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


On expectations: I once heard that you can expect perfect, rock star employees if you pay the most and are the best place to work. Rock Stars have options. If you are a normal workplace you need to choose one or two crucial traits that are most important, and be ok that the person isn't a well-rounded genius otherwise. I think it's very good advice.
posted by rainydayfilms at 1:53 PM on August 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am not a sales person and I suspect you have a number of issues that are specific to sales, so although I'll do my best to apply my recruiting experience to your situation, you should be aware that recruiting best practice varies across jobs.

It seems to me that your examples cover two problems rather than one. Firstly, you are trying to find fantastic sales people and getting mediocre ones. Secondly, you employed someone who turned out to have no work ethic (the college kid).

Firstly, finding 'rock stars', as others have said, is not something you should expect to be easy. They tend not to leave jobs, as their employers do whatever it takes to retain them and when they do move, it's because they've been headhunted, so they're unlikely to answer your job advertisement. You are going to spend a lot of time sorting through the people who apply for every job because they're just not good enough. In other words, you're probably looking for people who don't have any sales experience and don't actually know that they're natural talents.

For that reason, some sort of probation or a clear career path that allows those who don't have the sales gene to move sideways would be helpful. You also need to be recruiting from non-traditional sources, to avoid wasting time on churning through mid-to-low performing people who move from job to job as their inadequacies are revealed. For example, consider part-timers, retirees, ex-felons etc.

The college kid is a different issue. Everyone who hires is scared that the person they settle on will turn out to be good only at saying what you want to hear and have no interest in doing the job. Again, probation is a good answer for this, although I've seen people who can fake being a good employee for several months and then show their true colours. You do end up with a gut instinct after you've dealt with enough people like this. Is it possible that you're so focussed searching for the talent in applicants that you're not looking for the possible problems? Finally, remember that you don't have to hire anyone. There have been times when I've had a big pile of applications, whittled them down to a manageable number of interviews and ended up rejecting everyone. It's painful and feels like a waste of time, but I'd rather do that ten times than hire one bad apple.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 7:13 AM on August 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


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