I can teach one how to sell, but I can’t teach one how to work hard. That needs to come from within.
That quote is from my first sales manager nine years ago, and it still resonates with me today. The fact is, you can teach a lot of things, but arguably the most important factor in whether someone’s going to be a great team member—and especially a great salesperson—is work ethic.
But it’s also one of those factors that can be so tough to determine during the interview process. So, here are some tactical tips I’ve used over the years to uncover it—as well as the three other must-haves I look for in all of my sales candidates.
1. Work Ethic
Work ethic means working hard and working smart. Someone with a great work ethic will accelerate his or her learning curve and operate in a state of constant improvement. He or she will always look for ways to be better.
Here’s how I find it: I look for concrete examples in an individual’s life of when he or she worked hard. I like to ask, “Tell me about a time in your life that you set a stretch goal and achieved it. Take me through the process you took to achieve that goal.”
You can learn a lot from that question—why was this goal a stretch? Did the candidate have a disciplined process in achieving it? What did he or she learn from the experience? What is he or she up for now? I once had a candidate tell me that her trip to Europe was her stretch goal. It may not seem like a stretch to some, but it was the fact she worked two jobs in college to save enough money while playing a varsity sport to keep her scholarship and earning academic honors that impressed me. She detailed how much she saved, what a typical day was like, and the hurdles she encountered along the way. While she could have mentioned all of the other accolades she received (from sports and education), this story encapsulated all of them!
You can also learn a lot about people personally from this question. In this candidate’s case, I knew that traveling, sports, and history were extremely important her. Finding out who someone is beyond the resume can be really tough in an interview—but it’s so important to building your team.
2. (The Right Kind of) Competitiveness
For sales roles, it’s a no-brainer that people need to be committed to win, to achieve their goals, and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. They have to be competitive. That said, what I look for are candidates who are “confident enough to win, humble enough to prepare.”
Preparation for the interview (or lack thereof) tells me a lot about people’s level of competitiveness. The research they did on their own tells me if they are a self-starter and if they know how to go above and beyond. If they approach interview as thoughtfully as they would a sales meeting? That’s a great sign.
Eagerness to learn typically parallels eagerness to grow. If employees have no desire to grow, it’s going to be hard for them to be motivated to get to the next step in their career or life. On the other hand, “coachable” employees are committed to growing their career and life and mastering their craft. It’s tough—if not impossible—to coach that commitment if they don’t have it already, which is why it’s crucial to figure it out in the interview process.
Here at The Muse, every sales candidate goes through a trial run of a sale, selling the service as if they were a Muse seller. After this exercise, I ask them how they think they did, which shows me how self-aware they are. I then give them my feedback, a 2-1 assessment (two things I think they did well, and one area for improvement). We’ll then run through the whole thing again, and I listen closely to see if they use the advice I gave them. If so? I know they’ll be coachable when they do become part of the team.
4. Desire for a Career in Sales
Desire to grow will continue to motivate and drive salespeople, so it’s really important that sellers are committed to succeeding and growing in their role as a seller. How do you sniff this out? Asking about short- and longer-term plans is a great start. Try, “In a perfect world, what role would you have in two years? Four years?”
I also like to ask, “If I had a marketing role, a business development role, and a sales role available—which would you prefer?” Many candidates will give one of the other two answers (and may very well be a good fit for other roles in your organization), but the true winners will be the ones who want to make a career in sales. It’s all about making sure people are happy in their career, so place them where they want to be, where they can be most effective for the organization, and where they will be happy.
In my experience, talented salespeople can come from all kinds of different backgrounds—but they all have these four key traits. What do you look for in your sales team?
DO YOU CHECK ALL THE BOXES?
Great! Now get out there and land some interviews.
Photo of hands shaking courtesy of Westend61/Getty Images.
As head of sales for The Muse, it's Doug's responsibility to help the best companies in the world navigate the recruiting world and understand the value of featuring their culture and careers on The Muse. Before joining The Muse, he helped build sales organizations at hibu and LivingSocial, where he ran sales for the Eastern half of North America and created the world-class sales development program the LivingSocial Sales Academy. Doug has a bachelor's degree from Ohio Wesleyan University, loves Manchester United, and is proud to play lacrosse for team Scotland.More from this Author