4 Methods Help You Hire The Best Sales Reps
By Michael Mercer, Ph.D.
Feb 2, 2010 - 11:47:15 AM

Pre-employment tests plus other applicant evaluation methods help you select salesperson job applicants who will turn into highly productive, super-profitable sales reps. These applicant evaluation methods include pre-employment tests, intriguing bio-data, vague job interview questions, plus colorful role-plays.

Hiring fantastic sales reps is crucial. As Henry Ford wisely observed, "Until someone sells something, no one else has a job." A company with monstrously effective sales reps can grow and prosper. However, a company with wonderful products but lousy sales reps will wither away.

So, how can managers hire highly productive sales reps? Here are four great methods you can start using immediately.


Use two pre-employment tests to evaluate sales rep applicants:
1. Behavior or personality test
2. Mental abilities or intelligence-related test

The behavior or personality test needs to forecast the applicant’s behavior in three key areas:
a. Interpersonal Skills – e.g., friendliness, assertiveness, and teamwork
b. Personality Traits – e.g., poise under pressure, optimism, and action-orientation
c. Motivations – e.g., if the sales applicant feels driven to earn incentive pay

The mental abilities or intelligence tests forecast if the applicant has enough “brainpower” to
+ learn – how to do your company’s sales job
+ think correctly – to solve problems encountered while selling your company’s products

Importantly, before using personality and intelligence tests, you must conduct a benchmarking study. This custom-tailoring tells you specific test scores of your company’s best salespeople.

Then, when you test applicants, you quickly, easily and objectively can
> favor job applicants who got same test scores as your company’s best sales reps
> weed-out applicants whose test scores differed from your best sales reps’ scores

Hundreds of pre-employment test benchmarking studies I have done – for many companies – often result in this “benchmark” pattern of test scores gotten by the best, super-productive sales reps:
> high scores on Friendliness
> average scores on Assertiveness
> average scores on Following Rules & Procedures
> high scores on Poised Under Pressure
> high scores on Optimism
> Calm for inside sales reps – but Excitable for outside
sales reps
> high scores on Money Motivation
> average scores on Intelligence or mental abilities

As such, pre-employment tests enable you to objectively – not subjectively – know if a sales rep applicant has crucial personality and intelligence qualities similar to your company’s best sales reps. That is the reason pre-employment tests tremendously help companies hire the best sales rep applicants.

Importantly, using pre-employment tests removes the tendency of managers to like applicants who con them through (a) charm in interviews or (b) semi-pseudo-relevant work histories. Pre-employment tests helps you avoid getting fooled again by a smooth talking sales applicant.


Bio-data means biographical data, and yields loads of super-useful insights into which applicants you should seriously consider.

Suggestion: When you conduct your pre-employment test benchmarking study of your best sales reps, also have them fill-out a questionnaire on their bio-data from before they started working for your company. The bio-data questionnaire helps you gather specific details of your company’s best sales reps’ work experiences, education, training, compensation, and more.

For example, in bio-data questionnaires I created for many companies, I continually find successful sales reps worked during high school. That is only one example of useful bio-data.

Armed with exact bio-data of your best sales reps, you then can include relevant bio-data questions in your interviews. For instance, if all your best sales reps worked during high school in service-type jobs, then you definitely want to see if each applicant you interview had similar experiences.

Translation: See if each job applicant you might consider has bio-data similar to your best sales reps’ bio-data.


If the pre-employment test scores of an applicant are similar to scores of your best sales reps, then you probably want to make time to conduct an in-depth job interview.

Unfortunately, too many sales applicants come across exceedingly wonderful in typical job interviews. After all, salespeople know how to make a good impression and “knock your socks off.”

Secret Revealed = Here is a trick sales applicants use to make you “fall in love” with them: Immediately upon meeting you, the applicant gives you a nice handshake with good eye-contact and a smile. The applicant compliments something about you, your company, or your office. Then – and here is the cincher – the applicant makes you laugh within 120 seconds after meeting you. After that laugh, the applicant’s charm offensive has melted the heart of most interviewers – and the interviewer then incorrectly slobbers positive ratings on almost everything the sales applicant says.

Fortunately, you can avoid doing a typical interview, and getting conned by a salesperson.

First, only interview job applicants who got pre-employment test scores similar to scores of your company’s best salespeople. Second, make a list of the most important 6 – 9 job talents you must have in anyone you hire. These might include persuasiveness, friendliness, teamwork, handling obstacles, action-orientation, and desire to earn incentive pay.

Third, avoid telling the applicant you are looking for those job talents. Instead, ask vague questions. Then, listen to whether the applicant might have talents you need. For example, if teamwork is important, do not ask a question like “Do you like teamwork?” Any applicant with some brains would know to say, “Yes” to such an obvious question.

Instead, ask a vague question, such as, “What are examples of the work situations you enjoy most?” Then, notice if the applicant tells you examples of work situations involving (a) teamwork or (b) working alone. If teamwork is a key job talent, then you prefer an applicant who gives examples of enjoying teamwork – and not examples of enjoying working alone.

Warning: Never ask any interview question that gives clues to job talents you want the applicant to have.

Whenever I create custom-tailored “Interview Guide Forms” for a company to use, I always make sure none of the questions I create tell the applicant either (a) the specific talent is being evaluated nor (b) the desired “right” answer is. Unfortunately, most managers give hints to the answers they want to hear. Do not be one of those naïve managers.


If an applicant’s pre-employment test scores are similar to your best sales reps’ test scores, plus the applicant’s bio-data is similar to your best reps, plus the applicant did well in your in-depth interview, then you really ought to use an ultra-useful but seldom used additional prediction method. It is a carefully crafted role-play.

To do the role-play, tell the applicant to try to sell something to you. It can be any product or service both you and the applicant are familiar with. The applicant plays the sales rep and you play the prospective customer.

During the role-play, you must evaluate the applicant’s skill on using six key selling steps: (a) Quickly developing comfort and rapport with prospective customer, (b) uncovering prospect’s needs, (c) probing important details, (d) presenting solutions, (e) overcoming objections and resistance, and (f) asking for the order.

If the job applicant excels on these key sales steps, that is a good sign. If not, then you must decide if the applicant is worth training in your company’s sales procedures.


Only hire applicants who get all wonderful ratings in the following surefire hiring formula.

Pre-employment tests + bio-data + in-depth interview + role-play = fantastic odds you will hire a highly productive sales rep.

Copyright 2009 Michael Mercer, Ph.D.,

Michael Mercer, Ph.D., is a nationally renowned expert on (a) pre-employment tests and (b) hiring the best. He wrote 5 books – including “Hire the Best – & Avoid the Rest(tm).” Dr. Mercer created the “Abilities & Behavior Forecaster(tm) Tests” – pre-employment tests that help many companies select outstanding job applicants. You can get – at no cost – Dr. Mercer’s 14-page recommendations on how to hire winners plus a subscription to his Management Newsletter at

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