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Sales Candidate Attributes: Desired or Required

by May 6, 2008

Close your eyes. Now think of the perfect mate. Are you done? Close your eyes again. Think some more. How long is your list of requirements of the perfect mate? Are there five of them? Ten? Perhaps, you have 20 requirements.

Think about your list again. Are each of those really requirements of your ideal mate? Or are those desired attributes? On which items are you willing to be flexible? For example, some people say the religion of their mate is a requirement while height is only desired. For others, it is the other way around.

People make decisions every day based on their desired and required aspects. There are some aspects on which people can compromise and others where they cannot. This challenge hits employers when they are trying to attract sales talent to apply for their open positions. Instead of creating ads on job boards that invite folks to apply, they tightly close the spigot.

I regularly look at the job boards to see how companies are attempting to attract great sales talent. What I find is interesting. Companies place an ad listing the required attributes of the candidate. However, when I speak to companies about their ad, I find that many of the items on their list fall more in the desired category.

I’ve also talked with sales people about their perceptions of a job advertisement that lists requirements. “I look at the list of requirements in the posting and if I don’t have 100% of the background, I don’t submit my resume,” said a sales person actively looking for a new role. When I ask employers about their biggest challenges, finding great candidates ranks high on their list. “It just seems that we place an ad on a job board and we get few candidates to respond,” said one employer.

Ads Can Choke the Entire Process

Here is the disconnect. Employers publish job advertisements to lure sales candidates to apply. Yet that same tool is choking the entire process. In essence, instead of enticing candidates to apply, they are convincing them that they won’t be considered.

Here is an example of the requirements section from a job board advertisement:

The successful candidate must have:

  • BA/BS with a focus on business or life science
  • An MBA from a well-respected institution
  • 10 years’ sales management experience
  • 10+ years’ business-to-business sales experience to the Fortune 1000
  • Broad knowledge of principles and methods in a recognized professional field, or working knowledge of multiple fields
  • Well-versed in using CRM tools
  • Experience selling in disciplined, formal sales methodology is essential
  • Must be good at developing and articulating ROI to C-Level executives
  • Telecommunications experience is a must

How many people meet this list of criteria? Very, very few.

Would this company really not consider a candidate who met the most critical elements of their criteria, but was missing an element or two? Well, by publishing an ad that is so restrictive, those candidates won’t apply. The company misses out on those potential superstars.

I’m a huge proponent of formulating a profile of a company’s ideal sales candidate. Yet, if that profile is so restrictive that only one person in the world matches it, how will this company ever hire anyone? I’m not suggesting that companies reduce their standards or that they hire subpar performers. No one wins in those instances. However, there are two follow-on steps of the process.

Let’s say you have come up with 20 items for your ideal sales candidate profile. The next thing to do is to rank them in importance so that each item is ranked one through 20. The first one on the list is the one deemed most important. In essence, you are prioritizing the importance of the criteria. Not much different than what people subconsciously do when searching for a mate.

Once that is done, the next step is to categorize each as either required or desired. I won’t insult your intelligence by defining those. Start with number 20 (least important from the prior exercise) and work your way down to number one. If this exercise was done correctly, the lion share of the items become “desired” while the finite few at the top become required. It is the few items that are deemed critical to one’s success in the job that should be listed as required in an ad.

This is a challenging set of exercises, no doubt. That’s the whole point. You want to make sure you encourage the right candidates to apply versus discouraging them.

Thinking back to the company with the laborious list of requirements, would they really not hire a really bright individual who lacks the MBA component of the profile? If the answer is no, they shouldn’t list that in their ad, as it discourages potentially strong candidates from applying.

Did they put the requirement of a telecommunications background in the ad because they prefer not to teach the industry? If the answer is yes, then they wouldn’t want to put that in the ad because they could miss out on a superstar sales person who needs a little assistance learning the business.

This issue isn’t limited to candidates and employers. Recruiters are frustrated too. The company provides them with such restrictions that they feel handcuffed in their ability to find the right candidates.

“I really want to help my client, but I feel like I’m searching for a needle in a haystack. I don’t dare send any candidates unless I find an exact match to what they’ve given me,” says one recruiter. Continuing on, “I don’t think they intend to be so restrictive, but that’s what they have given me to work with.”

Attracting candidates is very difficult to do. Make sure your communication tools, to attract candidates, are formulated to truly represent what you intend. It’s one of the important steps in formulating long-term, prosperous sales marriages.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Joshua Letourneau

    Lee, great article – I enjoyed reading it. Sometimes the simple question ‘Why?’ goes a really long way. For example, when I hear that a sales candidate needs 15 yrs post-secondary education and published research on purple & gold widget design, I ask ‘Why?’ and often get no response. ‘I have no idea – because that’s what we’re looking for.?. . . . ‘

    Near the end of your article, you note the relationship with Executive Recruiters. The only comment I would make about non-match candidates is that we’re paid a fee to find the needle in the haystack, or better stated, the candidate with a verifiable and repeatable track record. That’s what 30% on the first year’s total compensation is for. If they wanted a ‘maybe’ with a high probability of success, I’d recommend they engage their own Internal Recruitment. We’re not paid for ‘maybes” if you know what I mean.

    Great article and keep up the good work :)

  • Ginnie Bellville

    OhMyGosh, Lee Salz has given me (& others I’m sure) sooo much ‘food for thought,’ in his other writings and now in this very meaningful article.

    Unfortunately, the fact remains that some employers continue to demand unrealistic, strict criteria which can cause the proverbial ‘right’ candidates to ‘slip through our fingers/fall through the cracks…’

    Case in point: Another recruiter is having an extremely difficult time finding candidates for his client’s opportunity, due to this very close-minded way of thinking, I presume. His client will absolutely not consider any candidates who ‘have had more than 3 employers in the last 10 years for any reason.’ The list goes on!

    If it were my client (and I’m glad it’s not!), I would never agree to find candidates who meet all of his client’s wacky ‘must haves.’ What about other recruiters? Do you have words ready to persuade your clients back to reality? I’ve heard: ‘Can not have been unemployed for more than the past 30 days;’ ‘Must currently hold the exact title of (whatever);’ & ETC…

  • John Kennedy

    ‘… must not have had more than 3 employers in the last 10 years for any reason.’

    ‘Can not have been unemployed for more than the past 30 days;’

    I’d have to say these are the most common types of objections we have seen lately and generally they are NOT negotiable under any circumstances.

    Clients are increasingly asking for 1-month resolution in resumes. They say ’2006 to 2007′ can mean ’1-2006 to 12-2007′ or it can also mean ’12-2006 to 1-2007′, and presumably someone who ever worked a two-month contract will have NOTHING to contribute to certain clients EVER.

    On that note we also get objections about applicants who ‘bounced around too much’ – and often this objection comes on on CONTRACT positions as well as direct.

    Summing it all up, it seems like the only thing many clients are willing to pay for these days is the service of target war-dialing into direct competitors, locating ‘deliriously happy’, ‘passive’ candidates who haven’t even THOUGHT about writing a resume in at least three years and convincing those candidates through sheer charm that they absolutely MUST take the client’s position.

  • Jim Cargill

    Good article, Lee. Really points out some of the current issues we are all dealing with. A couple quick comments for you, and others:

    The quote, ‘ ‘I look at the list of requirements in the posting and if I don’t have 100% of the background, I don’t submit my resume,’ said a sales person actively looking for a new role’….I guess I would have to ask if that person has ever successfully sold anything??? If a salesperson only calls on clients meeting his/her ’100%’ qualifications, he/she will be eating beans for a long time!

    Secondly, someone has replied that the best question to ask these folks is, ‘Why?’ That is what we all must do, everyday, to get at the real qualifications for any position we are going to work on. Ron Johnson, who mentored me when I first got into the business, gave me a question to ask that I have never failed to get a great response to. The question is, ‘So, Hiring Authority, if I found a person who met every qualification you list, had realistic salary expectations, and performs above their peers, you would not want to see them if they had a 6-week gap between two jobs, instead of 4 weeks??? Only a fool would not agree to see that person.

    That question can be fashioned to meet any qualification condition, on either the client or candidate side. If a recruiter is going to be successful, whether TPR or corporate, they better know how to meet objections.

  • Viktor Soroka

    Thanks for article.
    First of all, I want to say that formal, unrealistic requirements are a big problem of recruiters everywhere. For example, I?m writing from Ukraine.
    Secondly, I’m totally agree with Jim, we should ask our clients in a right way, if we want to receive right answer))

  • Steve Waterhouse

    This article deals with a critical issue that few handle properly. One option is to turn to a behavioral assessment. From the start, behavioral job definitions give you a clear picture of the desired candidate for both the client and the recruiter. This profile can also be used to create ads that will actually attract those who match the profile. We also do validation studies that can show what profile will actually drive sales results in the specific company. By referring your client to a tool like Predictive Index, you will shorten the hiring cycle and reduce the number of candidates that you have to replace.

    For more information, Florida companies can visit http://www.predictiveresults.com. Others can visit http://www.piworldwide.com.

    Steve Waterhouse

  • Emilee Bowersox

    Lee,

    Great article. You have definitely found the loophole. I would like to comment on the scope of your awareness. I think you have identified a, if not, the factor of talent. I know for most seekers of employment they assume set attributes, morals and character. The key to talent is having a wide set of attributes, morals, and characteristics. So based on evidence in your article the employer should be diversifying the positions and talking about company policy. This way we do not hire positions, we hire structural calamity.