The labor market is tight today as you assuredly know if you have been attempting to fill open sales positions.  The issue in sales runs deeper than that as you are typically attempting to find strong sales candidates.  “Attempting” is the key – many hiring managers are unsure of selecting the strongest salesperson.  How do you know they will be successful?  Are they the right candidate?  Can they sell?  Will they sell?

The issue gets compounded by the fact that most sales leaders do not spend their days hiring salespeople.  In fact, most of them complete those activities on an infrequent schedule in the margins of their day as needed (hopefully not often otherwise that is a different problem).  Hiring is the least practiced skill of most sales leaders.

So what to do? The first step is a paradigm shift for most hiring managers.  If you are not consistently hiring salespeople, you probably default to the age-old approach of hiring salespeople from your industry.  This approach is perceived to be safe.  The thought is that someone from our industry understands it and will ramp far quicker.

Fair enough except for one important point.  Will they sell?  That’s not a flippant question, the real issue is whether you are hiring an external candidate who will successfully sell for your company.

Sales hiring is the one area I see where companies worry more about the experience than the skill.  A talented salesperson has sales skills.  Those sales skills hopefully are combined with experience from you industry.  If you have to choose, always choose skill/talent over experience.

The reason is simple – it is far easier, and faster, to teach someone about your “stuff” than it is to teach them how to sell.

In this tight market, strong sales candidates are at a premium.  Adjusting your approach will open up other less traditional candidates to your candidate pool.  This adjustment is critical in this present market.

The key is to find transferable skills.  I once ran a search for a large company in which we found a candidate from a tire store…not kidding.  Upon phone screening him and learning about his role, he was using the same skill set required by my customer’s sale.  The skills were transferable.  Of course, we assessed the candidate, too.  He had the right skills and a strong assessment.  My customer pushed back a bit, but eventually they decided to hire him.  That gentleman has skyrocketed up the corporate ladder and is next in line to take over an entire division.

There are techniques for finding strong sales candidates with transferable skills.  We have a process designed to find them and confirm their abilities and determine their fit to your sales role’s requirements.  This approach opens up your candidate pool which is most valuable in this tight market.

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We run a systematic hiring process for sales positions.  We have refined the process over the past 14 years and have it optimized (even though when we started we were writing newspaper employment ads!).  As part of any hiring process, you have to receive resumes of respondents to the ad.  This is where things are changing.

A new trend I am seeing is resumes with copy and paste information from job descriptions, websites, etc.  What I mean is candidates do not take the time to write about their skills and experience in their current or previous roles.  They simply use web/marketing copy that they paste into their resume.  I have also seen many resumes with the job description information pasted into their experience.

For example:

“You will call on mid-market companies to sell our cloud-based service.”

That is someone’s experience for their current job.  Amazing.  What is worse is that this position is selling marketing services.

I like to remind hiring managers that this is the best the candidate has to offer.  The interview process should reveal the best of what they have to offer, from writing to phone discussions to follow-up.  If their best in this phase isn’t good enough for the role, do not expect improvement if you add them to your sales team.

I am filtering through many resumes right now and having a wonderful time examining some of the unique stylings of candidates.  Some flavor:

-One candidate listed his core competencies…TWENTY FOUR of them

-Another stated this, “Subject Matter Expert in dilemma analysis.”

-Another misspelled his name – his name

Never ceases to amaze me when sourcing.

I have been swamped with sourcing activities over the past couple weeks as we work on multiple projects.  I am definitely seeing an upclick in hiring activities which is normally preceded by increases in our assessment work.  We have seen a tremendous increase in assessments so I take that as a good sign.

So a quick sourcing story for you – I’m on the phone with a gentleman and we are deep into the phone interview.  He interrupts me to say he needs to step away as his 5 year-old son has gone to the bathroom and the candidate needs to go “wipe his butt.”  He proceeds to set the phone on the counter and I hear the entire conversation regarding the success of the young boy’s bowel movement.

The candidate returns to the phone and proceeds to describe to me the enormity of his son’s…bowel movement.  Unbelievable.  It was all I had not to laugh on the phone.

I am slowly coming to the realization that many (most?) sales hiring managers are drawn to hiring experience like a moth is drawn to light.  I am seeing it play out again at one of our assessment customers.  The allure is to hire a salesperson with industry experience before properly assessing their sales skills.

Here are some of the common statements I hear from these hiring managers:

-They will pick up on our sale quickly

-They know the competition

-They know the nuances of our market

-They know the competition

-They will step in and start selling

All of these beliefs stem from the hope that the hiring manager will not have to spend an overly large amount of time training the new salesperson.  Wind them up and turn them loose in the field – the perfect hire for a busy manager.

If only it worked that way.

Experience can be a valuable asset to a new hire, I want to be clear about that.  But rarely, if ever, does experience trump skill.  The point is that skill will outperform experience over time…by a significant amount.  Unfortunately, in this present economy, with managers asked to do more with less, many hiring managers reduce sales hiring to what they consider the quickest, easiest hire.

There has been much discussion about the use of social networking for candidate background checks.  I have always been in favor of allowing companies to search through anything posted online – it is in the public domain.

However, this German law does provide a bit more detail:

For example, employers will still be allowed to run a search on the Web on their applicants, de Maiziere said. Anything out in public is fair game, as are postings on networks specifically created for business contacts, such as LinkedIn.

In contrast, it will be illegal to become a Facebook friend with an applicant in order to check out private details, he said, adding that some people seem to be indiscriminate about whom they accept as a friend.

Ok, the friend piece does seem a bit underhanded, but the next line from the article is prescient:

“If an employer turns down an application with another reasoning it might be difficult to prove” that the negative answer was based on the Facebook postings, de Maiziere said.

I believe the lawsuits that would flow from this restrictive law would be frequent.  What if the candidate puts a friend request or LinkedIn request to the hiring manager?  Will there be a case from a rejected candidate even if there isn’t a social network connection?  What about Twitter?  Perhaps the candidate has been a bit rough in their Tweet language or posted links to some unflattering images?

At the end of the day, it may be that hiring managers and HR have to avoid social network research all together.

At least in Germany…for now.

My apologies for co-opting Woody Hayes’ saying, but I am from Ann Arbor and couldn’t stand the guy anyway.  I’m wondering what the Great Recession is going to do to resumes.  What I mean is this – many people have shortened tenures nowadays (especially Gen Y).  3 years is turning into a fairly good tenure for a worker.

This recession has cost millions of people their jobs.  Some will have to start their work career over, essentially taking a “lesser” job and working their way up all over again.  In many instances, they will have to jump from job to job to keep moving up during their now condensed work career.

This fact is going to have repercussions for future sourcing activities.  I have already run into this issue recently when sourcing for a sales position.  An older sales manager was focusing first on tenure of candidates.  I had to quickly point out some of these facts.  He seemed to receive my input at the time, but a day later he was back on the tenure train.

Whatever economy eventually surfaces from this deep recession will contain many, many, candidates who simply lack the traditional employment longevity that was so frequent just 5-10 years ago.

The company name listed in a sales ad I read this morning:

Type A personalities wanted

How is this for a spam approach to applicants?

You have been accepted for a high paying work from home job.

Click the link below to get all the information:

Click Here

Sincerely,

Hiring Manager

p.s. Please claim your position today or it will be given to the next applicant.

The “p.s.” line is fantastic.