I found myself interviewing a sales candidate this week who did not have any business getting the interview. He had no prior experience selling, did not have the educational background, did not have any experience working in the relevant industry, yet their he sat for the interview.
His first approach was to impress upon me how excellent his interpersonal skills were. He moved on to how determined he is to pursue his prospect and then fell back on the usual ‘i’m a quick learner’ stuff. He handed me a bit of a resume, very poorly organized. Oh boy.
My interview tactics quickly shifted to case study questions — i wanted to see how he would deal with some classic objections that get in the way of a sale. Although he did not have the specific company or product experience, he handled my questions well — his core skills were starting to show through — he perhaps had the right DNA.
I tried to put him on the spot by simulating a real sales situation, a mock prospect meeting — i was the customer, he was the sales person. We bantered back and forth going through many of the typical objections we’re aware of, and although he invented a few answers, he handled them well. In fact, better than the current team in some ways.
People with the right DNA don’t often fall into your lap for a role like this. But when they do, you’re faced with an important decision — do you grab them and quickly mentor/coach them towards success — teach them the things they need to refine their core aptitude into something that can be successful for them — or do you hold out for someone with experience that perhaps can accomplish more in the short term but be problemantic or expendable in the long term.
One problem with this dilemma — would you see through the person with experience to be able to determine if they have the right DNA? Is it more valuable to understand whether the DNA exists during the first interviews or whether the candidate has the relevant experiences instead. I think there are more cases — perhaps in Sales roles more than others, where the DNA sniff test is well hidden behind the experience the sales person picks up from a few jobs. The interviewer gets clouded judgement — clouded by the prepared answers to typical interview questions. Even a roll-play does not often reveal the true nature or capabilities of the candidate.
I’ve concluded I’d rather have the DNA — especially if the work ethic goes with it. The candidate can be shaped into a successful performer, no need to worry later that some lack of aptitude needs to be overcome for the candidate to be successful. No need to fight with someone who thinks they know things that they do not.
I have not yet decided if we will give the person the job — but I am leaning that way. I need to make sure the team chemistry can be maintained. I need to make sure we can take a chance on some early stumbling in exchange for down the road excellence.