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The Top Five Mistakes Sales Candidates Make

And why you shouldn’t hire them if they do.

By Troy Harrison

Troy HarrisonLet’s take a look at sales hiring, and point out some things that you will see during the hiring process – and why these things should be a knock-out blow to any candidate’s hopes. One quick note: As you are reading these, you will see mistakes and say, “Well, gee, of course you shouldn’t hire this person! Would anyone?” Rest assured that, for each mistake, I personally know of more than one person who was hired after making these mistakes.

Why do they get hired? Simple. Emotional involvement by hiring managers. Hiring managers are bad at keeping their distance from candidates. Sixty-three percent of all hiring decisions are actually made in the first five minutes from meeting the candidate, according to the Society for Human Resources Management. That decision can be summed up as, “I like this person.” When you make that decision, you’ll overlook the mistakes below.

Mistake No. 1: The Bad Resumé. You will receive resumés with misspellings, grammatical errors, and other detail mistakes that indicate a lack of attention to detail on the part of the candidate. If you see these, don’t make the hire; in fact, don’t interview. For a sales candidate, the most important sale they will ever make is the “sale” that comes with a hiring offer; if the candidate can’t be detail oriented here, why would they be when dealing with your customers?

Why this is ignored: This gets ignored because most managers do a resumé scan (about 15 seconds) to determine suitability for an interview. That’s fine, but after you scan for interviewable candidates, you should then go back and READ the resumés in order to look for problems and design interview questions. Managers that don’t do so will have this one slip by.

Mistake No. 2: Lateness. “Geez, sorry I’m late, traffic was tough.” How many times have you heard that one? Guess what? Traffic will be tough getting to your customers, too, and the candidate who can’t show respect for your time is the candidate who won’t respect your customers’ time. My philosophy is that the interview begins at the appointed time, whether the candidate is there or not – and an interview of one isn’t much of an interview.

Why this is ignored: Basic human niceness. We’ve been late to meetings before, so we are inclined to cut some slack. Don’t. Remember, this is their most important sales call; if they can’t get it right, they won’t get them right for you, either.

Mistake No. 3: No Mental Presence. I received a phone call a few days ago from a candidate who wanted to respond to an ad that I had run as part of my recruiting practice. He opened by saying, “Hello, this is XXX and I responded to a blind ad for a sales position, and you were the contact.” Problem – I don’t run blind ads. My ads say who the company is, what the job is, and what it pays. I explained this to the candidate, and he stammered that he’d have to find the ad to be sure what job he sought. I told him not to worry about it, got him to repeat his name (so I’d know which candidate to avoid), and told him I’d give his resumé appropriate consideration. Which I did. If a candidate can’t have his act any more together than this, he’s not a candidate for one of my clients.

Why this is ignored: I think there is an overall declining standard for jobseekers, and unfortunately, some hiring managers have bought into the idea that you can’t expect the same preparation and presence of mind as in years past. Bull. There are people out there who are quality people at every level of the market, and managers shouldn’t let themselves settle for candidates like the one above.

Mistake No. 4: Lack of Preparation. When a sales candidate comes in to interview, he or she should be prepared with a copy of a resumé, as well as having done some rudimentary research on your company. Showing up empty-handed and empty-headed should be a quick ticket to a 10-minute interview. Don’t fall for the “too busy to prepare” excuse. Remember – they are there to sell YOU, the same as you are to sell them.

Why this is ignored: I find that candidates that show up empty-handed tend to be very conversational in nature, and it’s easy to find yourself drawn off topic into a conversation that has little to do with their skills and abilities. In so doing, you forget the fundamentals of hiring.

Mistake No. 5: Bad Presentation. When you greet your candidate, you should be evaluating your impression of them in light of your customers’ potential impressions. Do they look the part (i.e. neatly and professionally dressed)? Do they have good hygiene and body language? And – I write this directly after one such interview – do they put off any offensive smells? Laugh if you like, but when you interview someone who either smells like smoke, liquor, or has marinated in their choice of cologne, remember that your customer will make their own judgments – and they won’t be so kind.

Why this is ignored: Interviewers tend to put their own first impressions aside, forgetting that their customers will make similar judgments. Put yourself in the place of your customer; if the person offends merely by being in the office, they won’t make much headway with customers, either.

Too often, managers “like” a person and think, “Well, I’ll cut him/her slack on this one.” Don’t cut slack. Overall, good interviewing just involves being detail oriented and reminding yourself of the traits necessary to succeed in your own sales environment. Stay focused, kick out the bad candidates, and you’ll find the one you need.

Troy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and a speaker, consultant, and sales navigator. He helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training and methodologies. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting, or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call 913-645-3603, e-mail, or visit


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