Sales Candidate Attributes: Desired or Required

May 5, 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.

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