5 Key Traits to Look for in Sales Candidates

April 8, 2015 at 12:25 PM by Vivek Reddy

salesThere’s been a lot of talk around hiring engineers recently, and while it’s absolutely true hiring for technical roles has gotten more difficult, there’s another type of role just as important but doesn’t get the same level of publicity: Sales.

After witnessing some successes and failures, we have started to observe some trends on what traits to look for when building out the sales team. Here are a few that have proven to be very useful for us.

More than any other role for a growing company, salespeople are some of the highest leverage hires in that the good ones more than cover for their costs – they’re the ones who do a lot of the heavy lifting to bring in the money! Despite sales' crucial role in any business, there's little coverage on the topic of sales recruiting and still a sentiment that sales is ultimately a volume game where there’s an expectation many salespeople won’t pan out.

Sales Style

Different types of companies require different sales processes. This is unfortunately one of the biggest factors I see companies overlook when hiring for their sales team. Someone that presently sells CRM at Salesforce or talent solutions at Linkedin may not be the best fit for what your company needs. The key here is to understand why these people may not be fits.

From what we’ve seen, there are two very clear buckets for sales, hunters and farmers. If your company gets a ton of inbound interest, hiring farmers (those who build and cultivate relationships and opportunities) may be the right strategy for what you need, making salespeople from Salesforce or Linkedin potential perfect fits. However, if there’s more prospecting required or there isn’t already budget allocation for your solution (as there is for Salesforce), you’ll need reps who are more of the hunter type who can build value and make something out of nothing.

This is why it’s critical to do the prep work before searching for reps. What type of salesperson does your company need? Why do you need that type of salesperson? Which types of companies should you avoid? Which ones are ideal fits? Answer these questions beforehand, hone in on the right types of talent and then start your search. When actually interviewing candidates, make sure their sales process correlates well with what you’ll need them to do and you’ll reduce your risk on these hires.


This is one of the most important things we look for in any prospective sales hire. Different companies may call this something different (i.e. ability to handle rejection, persistence, fearlessness), but ultimately we’re splitting hairs here. You want to find salespeople who will persevere even when things get tough, especially if you’re looking for more of the hunter types.

There are a couple reasons why this is so important to look for:

Sales is tough. You’re going to deal with a lot of rejection, but what separates the great salespeople is their ability to not let those failures bring them down. Are they the types who use those failures to improve and focus on the deals they’ll win? The gritty reps are the ones who fight through tough times and still find a way to win.

Will this person stay committed to your company? Gritty individuals hate to give up. Even if they hit a tough quarter, they aren’t the types who will quit at the first sign of difficulty. If leads are pouring in and your sell isn’t too complex, you may not need to look out for this. Considering most companies don’t have this luxury, you want to find salespeople who will push hard even when the business isn't doing well.

You can evaluate for grit a couple of different ways. For one, the resume can actually give a lot of info here. Has a salesperson hopped around from job to job every year? If so, spend much more time digging into the reasons behind the job switching and evaluate why things will be different with your company. Also, ask salespeople about a failure they’ve had recently and how they handled the failure afterwards. The shortcoming itself isn’t what I care about. Instead, it's about how they handled themselves and what they did to pick themselves up from that situation.

Ability to work within a team

Not all salespeople care to work well within a team, and many of the best reps I’ve chatted with work from home and close business from their home office. While this can work really well, it doesn’t mean that these reps shouldn’t still be involved and working well within the team. Even if you have a highly competitive sales environment, reps have to work with SDRs, marketing, customer success and product/engineering teams to get deals done, and you want reps who are both willing and capable of working well with the rest of the team.

In respect to this aspect, ask yourself these questions to point out any red flags suggesting someone may not necessarily be a great team player. Do they throw engineering/product colleages under the bus for any company or personal shortcomings? Are they quick to deflect blame to others? Are they making excuses for them not having success? If you don’t feel confident about answers to these questions, the candidate is probably not what you’re looking for.


As I had mentioned earlier with grittiness, you want reps who have a knack for constant self-improvement. Candidates who take failures, figure out ways to improve after each call, and iteratively improve are the ones who usually have a high likelihood of succeeding. If they’re receptive to learning, especially from the hiring manager, you may have yourself a fast-growth rep with a high chance of success.

These are a couple ways we’ve vetted for this in the past:

  • Drill into references. The best way to understand how coachable a candidate may be is to ask the people who have worked with them. That insight is invaluable in understanding how a rep progresses and grows in the role.
  • Have them talk in specifics about something in their sales process they’ve had to refine at their past job. What was something they were struggling with initially, and how did they approach improving? I’m looking for specifics here. Be wary of those who give vague answers as that may be a sign they may not be open to being critiqued and trained.
  • Evaluating for coachability is especially important for those you’ve identified having high potential without necessarily having requisite experience. Especially for a growing organization, you want those who will constantly learn and grow into larger closing or managerial roles down the road.


No need to go into too much detail here since most companies are already aware of looking for competitive reps, but there are some additional things to consider when evaluating for this.

In vetting sales candidates, many hiring managers liken this to the person having some sort of background in competing, as an athlete, for example. While I have anecdotally seen that an athletic background translates well to sales, there are some other molds for a great salesperson. Casting a larger net than simply former-athlete, can open yourself up to a larger, qualified sales candidate pool. Former poker players, long-time musicians or finance types could be great people to look at for sales roles because of their skills and experiences in extensive training, trial and error, improvement, and perseverance.

This by no means a comprehensive list, but if you can find yourself gritty, competitive, collaborative, and coachable reps who have sold similar style of deals to what your company needs, you’re probably in pretty good shape.

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