Spot bad fits early: 20 red flags for sales hiring

by Steli Efti

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Hiring is a tough nut to crack. The amount of dilly-dalliers that hide behind good looks and quick wit is impressive.

So how do you weed out bad candidates?

It’s not easy to uncover who’ll be the right sales hire for your company, and the criteria that makes someone good or bad will differ for everyone. But I want to share what’s worked well—consistently and historically—for us here at Close.io.

Here are 20 red flags to look out for in your sales hiring process.

1. They can’t get the basics right

Spelling errors. Inappropriate photos on their LinkedIn. Tardiness. If your candidate can’t get the basics right, how well will they do when it comes to their actual job responsibilities?

2. They haven’t done their homework

If a potential sales hire doesn’t spend any time doing their research to figure out if they’re the right fit for you, and if you’re the right fit for them, they’ll most likely do the same thing on the job. That means they won’t do a great job prospecting or qualifying leads, and that means no closed deals.

3. They can’t pitch

If a person can’t sell themselves, do you think they can pitch your product or business? Probably not.

A good elevator pitch goes a long way. It’s not more difficult than answering these questions:

  • Where are you coming from?
  • Where are you right now?
  • Where are you going?

If a candidate can provide you with a broader context of who they are, you’ll be able to assess if they’re a good fit for your company and your culture.

4. They’ve been switching jobs

If someone hasn’t stayed with a company for more than 12 months, it raises questions. Are they bad at choosing a company that’s a good fit for them? Are they difficult to work with? Could they not get the job done?

It might not be a bad thing necessarily, but pay attention to how they answer the questions about why they left their previous positions after a short amount of time.

5. They’ve held the same position for years

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if someone’s held the same position at the same company for several years, it could mean they have no ambition. Is someone that’s just happy to sit there and watch the days go by a person you want to be a part of your team? Unlikely.

6. They’re bad mouthing ex-employers

This leads to instant disqualification. This person most likely feels insecure about their experience or performance at their last job, but it might also be a sign of poor integrity.

If you’ve had an issue with someone in the company, there’s a respectful way of saying that. “It wasn’t a good cultural fit so I decided to move on” would be the appropriate way to say “My boss was an asshole.”

Let’s leave it at that.

7. They share sensitive information from past employers

If a potential sales hire starts sharing data and company secrets—they’re out. This means they’ll be doing it at your company, too.

8. They don’t have any questions

Someone that’s too talkative during an interview is likely to treat your prospects and customers the same way. Talking is not how selling works.

If a potential sales hire doesn’t have any questions during the interview process, chances are they won’t be good at sales. Selling is about asking questions and figuring out if your product is the right solution for a someone. Similar to that, the interviewee should be figuring out if you, as an employer, are a good fit for them.

9. They don’t have a reason for applying for the job

Dear Sir/Madam, a sales candidate that shows up to an interview without a customized pitch, isn’t looking for a job at your company, they’re looking for any job—anywhere.  

Some people just send off applications left and right. If a sales candidate has no real purpose behind their application, they likely won't feel like they have any purpose in their role either.

That’s why boilerplate candidates are often a waste of your time.

10. They have weak references

This red flag comes in three parts:

  • Their references are from the same company. If a potential sale hire has worked at five different companies over the years, but only provides references from one of them, it’s likely that they didn’t do that good of a job at the other ones.
  • They didn’t think about what makes for a good reference. If the office manager says someone can make a mean pasta carbonara, it’s not going to mean much. Doesn’t matter if the person makes for a great lunch partner if they can’t close a deal.
  • They didn’t prepare their references. When you call up a reference, they should expect your call and be prepared for it. If someone picks up the phone and has no idea who you are or why you’re calling, that’s just sloppy work.

11. They don’t seem trustworthy

We all have a built in BS meter. Especially people that work in sales. This meter helps us decide whether someone is a) credible, and b) trustworthy. There might be conflicting information, statements that don’t add up and so on, but more than anything—it’s a feeling.

If you don’t trust someone, you can’t work with them. Period.

12. They are too aggressive

Being confident is good, being overly aggressive is bad. Some people are more aggressive by nature, but there’s a way to navigate that quality and use it to your benefit. We all appreciate when someone walks into a room with a presence and a bit of bravado, but there’s a difference between that and being in someone’s face, constantly.

Think about how these people would come across when they talk to a prospect. No one enjoys getting ploughed down by an ignorant alpha, especially when they’re looking for help.

At worst, this type of person could create a toxic culture in your sales team.

13. They are too nice

People that are too nice can potentially be a pushover. These people are often very likable, but they lack confidence. There’s a strong likelihood that this will not translate well in their ability to influence prospects and turn them into customers.

14. They lack enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is contagious. While this isn’t a deal breaker, if someone lacks enthusiasm or energy, if they don’t get excited—then why should you get excited about them?

One of the things sales managers love about our inside sales CRM is the ability to automatically record all the calls their reps are making.

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This allows them to listen in to the sales conversations their reps have when they’re not in the room. As a sales manager, if you randomly listen in to archived call recordings, you can very quickly get a sense for how consistent your reps are.

15. They lack self-awareness

I often test people’s level of self-awareness. If a person is very far removed from the reality of a situation, that’s likely to be an issue. People need to be able to assess themselves in order to make progress and improve.

Often, I weigh the importance of this based on level of seniority. If a sales candidate is really junior, it’s not as big of an issue. But if someone is really senior and doesn’t have the level of self-awareness that one would expect at that stage, I’d be concerned.

16. They don’t seem coachable

This relates back to the previous point. If a person isn’t self-aware, they’re not very likely to be coachable.

A good test is to give someone negative yet constructive feedback and see how quickly they apply that feedback. If someone can’t take feedback on board, they won’t be able to learn and improve in their role either.

17. They’re defensive

Excuses, excuses, excuses. If a person responds to critique or negative feedback in the form of excuses, they don’t know how to take responsibility for their actions.

18. They don’t have any drive

What motivates you as a salesperson? Is it the money? The thrill of the close? The idea of bringing value to someone else’s life? Changing the world?

Whatever it may be, there’s a reason why we all get out of bed in the morning. Having drive and motivation is key to doing anything well, let alone selling.

19. They’ve always been successful

If a potential sales hire shows up at an interview with a spotless track record and has never experienced failure, it’s likely that they’ve been very cautious in the way they make decisions.

Perhaps they’ve only done things they know they’d be successful at.

The vast majority of us have experienced failure and misfortune in one way or another. If a person hasn’t, it’s likely they haven’t taken any risks or truly challenged themselves.

20. They’ve only seen failure

On the other hand, if a person can only point to failure in their previous companies, that reveals that they’re not learning fast enough. Because if you’re learning, you wouldn’t keep failing.

These red flags don’t apply to every company and sales team. Choose the red flags that fit your culture and utilize them in your sales hiring process.

My rule? If I collect more than three red flags during an interview—you’re out.

Are you guaranteed to make the right hiring decisions based on this? Of course not. But I hope they’ll help you in the process of weeding out bad sales candidates.

Got your team assembled? Set them up with the best inside sales CRM on the market. Try Close.io for free for 14 days. No credit card required.

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