10 Critical Warning Signs of a Bad Sales Candidate

never hire bad salesperson again

The cost of a hiring a bad sales candidate can be extremely painful. In this article, we’ll explain how to avoid that.

Having a full roster is the standard to aim for but that doesn’t guarantee you’re getting an optimal salesforce. The truth is, new sales hires can either make or break your team performance. Good hires certainly will help you sustain growth and even improve overall performance down the road, but onboarding bad candidates can cause problems much worse than a simple headache.

In any type of business organization, the process of recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and training job candidates entails substantial costs in time, money, and effort. A recent CareerBuilder survey estimates that the average cost of one bad hire in the U.S. clocks in at $15,000. That barely includes serious business impacts such as reduced productivity, lost time to hire and train more deserving candidates, tarnished output quality (your brand!), and spikes in customer attrition rate.

Bad hires — especially those with harmful emotional baggage — can also cause team morale to plummet, which in turn can significantly undercut the team’s ability to maintain standards, comply with timelines, and achieve goals. Finally, bad hires rarely stay put, forcing you to go through the recruitment cycle again (sigh) and spend even more precious resources in the process.

In the case of a sales organization, hiring bad candidates have a direct impact on revenues and your bottom line. Surely, you wouldn’t want anything to mess up those figures. Unfortunately, bad sales hires come and go more often than anyone expects. That’s because of several factors inherent in sales recruitment:

  1. Most people think sales is easy. Desperate job seekers would try their luck applying for a sales opening even if they prefer another role.
  2. Selling is not for everyone. A successful sales career requires unique combinations of skills, experience, personality, and mindset.
  3. Sales-related certifications exist but these are rare and are seldom industry-mandated or required as qualifications in job ads.

Given this scenario, sales recruiters need to have the right tools and awareness that will help them prevent mediocre candidates from ever getting a foothold. Detecting red flags well before handing out a job offer is a good place to start.

To help you do that, here are some of the most common telltale signs of a bad sales candidate:

1) Low interest, enthusiasm, or motivation.

An applicant who doesn’t demonstrate enthusiasm about the role she is aiming for may show the same disinterest when actually making pitches on the sales floor. It is possible that your initial impression is inaccurate or that the applicant is only momentarily unmotivated, but even minor optics and small lapses can become real disadvantages later on. As a sales recruiter, you’ll always want (visibly and genuinely) passionate, driven professionals on board.

2) Hates doing homework.

Did the candidate research about your company, services, and key movers before sending his application or attending an interview? If not, ignore the fool. If a candidate chooses not to spend time preparing, then he is not worth your time. After all, selling success primarily depends on how prepared you are when engaging prospects. Only sales professionals willing to do their homework can dare hope to achieve targets.

3) Lacks basic sales competency.

Selling techniques and advanced methodologies can be learned. But don’t settle for candidates who lack even the rudimentary skill to sell themselves — especially when better candidates are around. If a candidate can’t formulate a decent elevator speech to get themselves noticed, then hiring one will short-change your team.

Moreover, avoid candidates who can’t seem to listen and those who ask senseless questions. Blacklist anyone who don’t ask any question at all. Selling is a conversation and active listening and asking the right questions are key to successful customer engagement.

4) Unprofessional behavior.

Excessive spelling/grammatical errors, sharing sensitive information about former employers, immature mannerisms, disturbing posts on social media, coarse/impolite language, and dressing way off the norm are some signs of unprofessional behavior. You’re not running a police state and you have a reasonable tolerance for deviant behavior but there’s a limit to what a competent sales organization can take. Sales is methodical and adheres to norms and best practices especially in the B2B space. Going well beyond acceptable thresholds will cause unwanted impact on your brand or performance.

5) Bad punctuality and time management.

Managing time and respecting other people’s schedule may seem so old school but punctuality remains high on the list of critical selling skills. You will always want sales professionals who meet timelines and rarely need to cram at the very last leg of the quarter to meet quotas.

Showing up late during client engagements shows that you lack motivation and respect for other people’s time. Few customers will be willing to wait for perennially delayed demos when a rival vendor can deliver the goods immediately. After all, the digital economy unfolds in an age of instant gratification.

6) Excessive job hopping.

Frequently switching roles or employers shows that a candidate is struggling to follow a coherent and focused career track. Think twice before investing time and money to hire and train this type of applicant. Note that the costs of hiring and losing workers are becoming prohibitive in highly competitive markets like B2B tech sales. In addition, frequent job hopping may also be a sign of personality flaws in the candidate that you wouldn’t want to deal with as a sales leader.

7) Underperforming career track.

On the other hand, you also need to flag candidates who have more or less held the same role and pay grade in the same company for many years. If a professional seems to struggle to get a promotion for a long time and still choose to stay, then something is very wrong. You would want highly driven sales professionals who care about their career advancement and who possess reasonable levels of ambition.

8) Lies during the interview.

If a sales candidate’s online profile or submitted resume seems too good to be true, perform due diligence. You want excellent and highly motivated sellers on your team but you want the real deal, not counterfeit con artists. It is understandable that people would want to show you their best foot forward but excessive self-promotion to the point of misleading and lying to recruiters is a glaring red flag.

Validate claimed certifications, degrees, and sales achievements, especially when these are accompanied by dollar signs and other verifiable metrics. Lying about relevant experiences even in minor aspects such as the number of months an applicant worked in a certain company is a big deal for companies with high ethical standards. Remember, trust is the most valuable currency in sales.

9) High levels of negativity and vibes of disgruntlement.

Happy, well-balanced, and passionate people are what you need for your salesforce. Your door should be locked shut for candidates who demonstrate toxic levels of negativity and emotional baggage even at the onset. Applicants who regularly bad-mouth former employers and co-workers shouldn’t find a way to join your team. Candidates who think they are always the best, show excessive aggression, and take credit even for achievements for which they have minimal contributions should be shown the nearest exit. Finally, habitual complainers and whiners won’t thrive in sales — a world where getting rejected multiple times is just part of the daily grind.

10) Lack of legitimate references.

You want candidates who are proud of their professional or academic achievements and who can readily have someone authorized to verify their credentials. In some cases, the standard practice is to provide character or professional references only upon a recruiter’s request. That is understandable but what amounts to a red flag is when the only reference submitted is the candidate’s cousin. Always prefer candidates whose applications are backed by strong and relevant references, especially when you personally know or can readily reach out to these persons.

Avoid Making Bad Sales Hires… Once And For All

Having incompetent or unmotivated sellers in your team not only wastes valuable resources but also impacts morale and performance negatively. The ideal scenario is to have a reliable system that prevents sub-par applicants from ever getting on board. The foregoing red flags should at least alert you of common types of unwanted candidates.

Here are some final tips to remember/implement:

  1. Don’t be desperate. Don’t settle for candidates you feel will just cause headaches later on.
  2. Create and adopt an Ideal Candidate Profile for each role in your sales team.
  3. Do your homework. Perform background checks. Go beyond online profiles and resumes and snoop around to verify what candidates are claiming in their applications.
  4. Conduct preliminary phone interviews to spare yourself the agony of actual, in-person interviews with behaviorally flawed or unprofessional candidates.
  5. Partner with specialist recruiters or reliable talent scouts in your particular field.

Also published on Medium.