5 Secrets for Recruiting Sales Talent Right Out of College

Article main image
Apr 19, 2017

Why hire sale reps fresh out of college? They’re eager, they’re malleable, they’re affordable, and they have reasonable expectations. Plus they haven’t developed bad habits working someplace else!

But let’s face it. Academic achievement is no guarantee of sales talent. And in recruiting on campus you won’t have the benefit of any bag-carrying, quota-achieving career history to help you come to a hiring decision.

Want to take the risk out? Consider the following:

Understand the Requirements of Your Sales Job

Greenhorns may be more malleable than old timers. But don’t think you can train or coach a young talent to succeed at a sales job they aren’t suited for.

Will you be asking your recruits to prospect for new customers? Will they be helping major accounts feel loved in between infrequent visits by big shot sales VPs? Will they be supporting your resellers?

How can you possibly get an idea whether a college-confined candidate possesses the unique talent set to succeed at your particular demanding sales job?

Assess First, Interview Later 

Because most college grads have next to no sales experience, you’ll want to put a premium on the next best thing — a rigorous sales talent assessment.

What’s more, you’ll want to introduce the assessment up front in the selection process, so you won’t be wasting precious recruiting time slogging through the tissue-thin resumes of applicants you’ll ultimately not want to hire.

A superior assessment will offer you a 70-80 percent likelihood that a candidate will be successful and discriminate among a dozen or so discrete sales roles. Look for a test that has a broad following among quality sales organizations and is endorsed by independent thought leaders. Avoid sales personality tests. While illuminating, there is little evidence they are able to predict a candidate will be successful on the job.

In summary, check the DNA before the resume. However, that doesn’t mean you should totally neglect a greenhorn sales applicant’s brief biography.

Consider (But Don’t Overrate) Academics and Extracurriculars

Just because good grades don’t necessarily lead to sales success doesn’t mean you should totally dismiss a candidate’s academic record.

Do you require reps to compose compelling proposals and PowerPoint presentations? Perhaps a candidate was a reporter for their college newspaper (ask to see a bylined article).

Will your neophyte sales hires be selling highly technical offerings? See if they have taken courses in chemistry, biology, or computer science.

And how about extracurriculars?

Some sales employers claim success recruiting cheer team members. But “spunkiness” may not be all that relevant in succeeding at your sales job.

Other employers target fraternity and class officers. But bonhomie and coolness — or even genuine leadership ability — may not apply in overcoming sales resistance and making quota in your sales world.

Finally, don’t arbitrarily write off candidates who have spent their summers or breaks traveling, pursuing extreme sports, or demonstrating. You’re only young once. And always remember: nerds and college dropouts can make great salespeople (as well as famous CEOs) too.

Overcome Sales Career Aversion

Within two years of receiving their degree, 50 percent of all college graduates wind up in customer-facing jobs.

However, when I spoke with the career services director at a prestigious Ivy League university, she scoffed “last time we surveyed the career interests of our student body they expressed next to no interest in sales.”

And what were the students interested in? “This Saturday’s career fair on social justice is way over-subscribed.”

What to do? When recruiting on campus don’t fight them, join them. Play up the redeeming benefits to society of your sales job.

Do you manufacture steel pipe used in sewage treatment plants? Then you’re seeking a “Wastewater Treatment Consultant.” Are you in the travel tour business? Then you may be looking for a “Cultural Exchange Coordinator.”

Now let’s address another reason graduating seniors may not line up to compete for your sales opportunity. Fear.

Here’s where you want to let the young people you hired in the past year or so go to bat for you.

Send them to college campuses. Populate your website career page with their fresh young faces. Let them attest to how welcoming your firm is to recent grads and, in spite of initial misgivings, how fulfilling they’ve found the profession of selling.

Maddened at the thought of jumping through hoops to attract young people to a field they ought to be clamoring to join?  Simply check out the Sales Education Foundation, an organization solely committed to “elevating the sales profession through university education.”

There you’ll find nearly 100 colleges and universities that offer sales-specific courses and corporate sales internships, including mainstays like Purdue, Georgia State, Michigan State, DePaul, Florida State, Cal State, Nebraska, Indiana, etc., etc.

Build a Reputation as an Employer New Grads Want to Work for 

The best way to get young people to flock to your sales job postings is to be known as a great first sales job employer.  And you don’t have to hire a high-priced public relations firm to get the word out.

Glassdoor offers 3,000,000 company reviews and claims 79 percent of all job seekers are likely to use social media in their job search. Indeed welcomes 100 million unique visitors every month and maintains an average of 20 reviews on every employer.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that according to Glassdoor, 69 percent of job seekers would not accept an offer from a company that has a bad reputation even if they were unemployed.

To get off to a good start, don’t hire anyone you are not 90 percent certain will be successful. The days counting on natural selection to thin the herd are a non-starter in a day where every terminated employee is a bad will ambassador.

Final Thoughts

Let’s wrap things up. Properly selected and onboarded, new college grads have the potential to contribute to your sales organization right out of the gate. But that’s just for starters.

The real payoff comes a few years later when the VP responsible for your largest, most profitable account unexpectedly turns over. Instead of taking a flyer on another firm’s castoffs, you’ll have a tried and true source of talent waiting in the wings.


image from bigstock


Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!