Interviewing sales people: what do you do to check their claims without asking for past W2s?


One of the favorite parts of my job is to recruit people for my company. From experience I have come to realize that no matter how busy you are, outsourcing recruiting and hiring is very shortsighted for a rapidly growing company (things do change when you are 200 employees plus).

Out of all the functional areas one is most likely to spend a lot of time hiring is sales people. Heck, I would say majority of the recruiting time is spent on hiring sales people, since you need lots of them. For developers, marketing, ops, finance, etc. there are tons of tests and other methodologies to figure if someone is any good.

But unless you have hired hundreds of sales people, you may not be as good distinguishing between someone who is really good sales person and one who is really good BSer.

What I have seen is companies requiring your past W2s. It is fine and dandy if you want to volunteer that info, but the practice of requiring W2 is really something I am against.

So the question I have: instead of asking for W2 to figure out their past performance, what do you do to figure out who is a really good sales person and who is just a great BSer?

Sales Hiring

asked Aug 25 '11 at 07:01
Apollo Sinkevicius
3,323 points
Top digital marketing agency for SEO, content marketing, and PR: Demand Roll

4 Answers


My process for hiring sales personnel is somewhat involved, and requires quite a lot of time on the part of the hiring manager. However, I honestly believe it helps weed out the good sales people from the bad.

The first thing I do when sorting through my applicants is check for sales experience in similar product areas, or industries. If they haven't sold in my industry before, there's a whole host of problems that can arise, and you're definitely going to expend some resources in training.

After I have my pool of sales applicants has been cut down quite a bit, I start to check references. I usually don't call on personal references for the obvious reasons, but I ALWAYS call past employers. If they provide the contact information I usually try to verify authenticity (I've had people give me the numbers of personal friends, and learned that the friends were instructed to pose as a former employer). Once authenticity is verified, I ask 3-5 very targeted questions based on the position I am hiring for. I usually ask about industry specific sales, sales style of applicant, and overall performance and personality ratings if the person I am talking to is willing to give them.

Once I'm satisfied I usually do a series of phone interviews with myself, and usually one other person on my management team. If they do well over the phone, and demonstrate specific acumen for sales. I'll usually call them in for a face-to-face interview. This is the most important, and most telling part of the entire process because usually, BS doesn't stand up to face-to-face scrutiny. I like to do a traditional interview first, followed by a quick cognitive test, then some sort of sales exercise.

It's involved, long, and arduous, but I've generally had quite a high success rate in my sales staff. You do get the occasional bad apple through, but usually those are as a result of latent bad personality traits, and not for lack of sales ability.

Hope this answers your question.

answered Aug 30 '11 at 02:15
1,162 points
  • Very interesting. You have a sequence bit flipped, compared to ours. We tend to not waste time on references until you have passed a phone screen with my VP of Sales, and at least 1st round of in-person. I also like to get members of every functional group to interview the sales person. If you can't sell everyone, you are not a fit. As we scale, I want to get the funnel tightened up pre-in-person interviews. Cognitive tests? There are a lot of them. Which ones do you like? – Apollo Sinkevicius 13 years ago
  • The reason I call on references first is to help out my BS meter. Once you are exposed to stimuli (New information in this case), you are somewhat locked into it, so breaking your view on the stimuli is hard. When I get someone's professional opinion on an applicant first, I can tune my phone interview to expose issues I think might be lurking based on the references. Though I will agree, it's more labor intensive than the traditional order. As far as cognitive tests, I like puzzles akin to what Google uses in hiring engineers. I want people that can think on their feet. – Bwasson 13 years ago
  • I may just give this a try to call references first. – Apollo Sinkevicius 13 years ago


Only time will tell if you made the right decision, but there are a few things you can do to get the best person on board.

First, define what a "good" sales person is for your organization. Is it someone who makes a lot sales? Or maybe there is more to it, like building long term relationships with clients. Are you looking for aggressive personalisties? This depends on your organization, the product or service, the type of clients, and so on. In other words, identify the key technical and emotional attributes for that position.

Second, use a behavioral interview, that is, ask questions that seek examples of previous work situations or problems that the candidate dealt with and that will give you a glimpse of the person technical and emotional attributes. (Although before you jump into a behavioral interview, you may wanna screen out candidates with phone interviews first).

For the interview, show up with 2 or 3 more colleagues. The more people sitting at the table, the easier it will be for your team to spot if the candidate is being authentic or not. It is easier to BS one person than 3.

During the interview you may wanna start with one or two general questions (tell us about yourself, where you're headed, stuff like that) before jumping into the behavioral questions.

I also think it is useful to ask lots of questions about the current situation of the candidate. If he is employed, why does he want to leave? Or the good ol' "why are you here"? "Why us?" "Why sales?" The deeper you dig in the personality of the person, the better.

And third, debrief and analyze the interview with the rest of your team. I'd recommend you do this before interviewing the next candidate while all the information and impressions are fresh on your minds.

Selling is about making people feel good, about connecting with them, so look out for those traits.

Good luck Apollo.

answered Aug 30 '11 at 02:02
A. Garcia
1,601 points


If you don't already have a sales and marketing manager in your company, hire one, and unless you know someone with a good track record at an appropriate level, use a recruiter. Recruiters for sales management positions are expensive, but this is a critical position, no lower than a CFO. Make that manager responsible for results, and pay her according to her results. If this is a really small company (less than 10 employees), the sales/marketing manager might be the entire department, but when you grow enough to justify more than one sales rep, let the sales manager control the hiring process. If your sales manager is paid for results then the people he or she hires will be productive or they will be gone. DO NOT under any circumstances let technical people (including accounting types) hire sales people, they will fail miserably.

answered Aug 30 '11 at 09:46
Howard Ness
11 points
  • Just curious, why would you trust a random recruiter? If you have problems judging sales people, you'll have the same problem judging recruiters, and then even if you get a decent one, they still don't understand you business well at all. – Alain Raynaud 13 years ago
  • Howard, I just don't trust recruiters who are not W2 full-time with company I work for. Motivations are just wrong. I actually will go further and say that, as sales person, if you can't get past an interviews with members of several functional groups I will put you in front of - you got no chance. Good sales person should be able to sell to anyone. – Apollo Sinkevicius 13 years ago
  • Legitimate sales recruiters are paid for performance, just like salespeople. Most of their commission depends on their candidate sticking 6-12 months with your firm. For smaller companies, a manager with a sales career, so he or she understands the sales process, should be a good judge of a candidate's work habits, prospecting ability, ability to maintain and grow existing business relationships. – Howard Ness 13 years ago


Asking for a W2 is over the top. Not recommended. I would:

  1. Call references of previous employers and sales peers
  2. Have an excellent sales manager interview them - a tiger will know another tiger
  3. Tune your BS detector. Trust your gut. Read people and their non-verbal communication. Everybody says everything, just not always in words.
answered Aug 30 '11 at 10:00
B Money
121 points

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