How to Know if the Candidate Has the Right Skills

Last week I wrote a blog about the perils of leaning too heavily on

The only skills that matter are the ones that are actually on the job description. Nigel Wilson Flickr Creative Commons

The only skills that matter are the ones that are actually on the job description.
Nigel Wilson Flickr Creative Commons

personality profiles for hiring, which bothered some people who are in the industry. Lest I be misunderstood, I don’t think we should ditch personality profiles. They’re a really useful tool as a part of the process, BUT they are not the entire process. Most important to hiring is to understand whether or not the candidate possesses the skills to do the job. For that you need really accurate skills assessments that show you this person is ready to tackle the day-to-day responsibilities of the work they’ll be doing. Don’t scrimp on this very crucial aspect of the hiring process.

Sales people, for example, have different responsibilities. One might be needed to make a certain number of phone calls a day, follow a script, know how to up-sell to a customer, know how to get the appointment, know how to manage a CRM, and know when it’s time to pass the call up to a senior sales person. Closers need to know how to get the customer to commit to a purchase or contract. The skills for someone who is doing simple transaction sales are different from the skills for a person who is doing a complex sale that takes a longer time and has many more moving parts. Every sales person needs to be able to learn and comprehend the products and services they sell inside and out, and know how to overcome objections. These are some of the basic skills of sales people.

So how do you know whether a candidate has these skills? You create tests wherein they must demonstrate them. If they need to do phone sales, you have them make a couple of mock calls. If they must do presentations or create PowerPoint presentations, have them create a PowerPoint or give a presentation. It doesn’t have to be a presentation about your product, in fact, don’t do that because you may end of having to pay them. So make it a presentation of an imaginary product or service. You’re assessing whether or not they present well, really. If they need to be at work at 7:30 a.m., have them meet you at 7:30 a.m. If they will be wining and dining clients, take them to lunch and assess their table manners. The last thing you need is a sales person who turns customers off by eating like a slob. Whatever key activities that employee would be performing, create a test to demonstrate that they can do so to your satisfaction.

Then, of course, you ask them questions.

“What were your quotas at your previous job and did you hit those quotas? How did you hit them?”

“Tell me about a time when there was a problem with the product or service you sold, how did you deal with that?”

“Tell me about a time when you were about to lose a good customer, how did you deal with that?”

Some companies will ask “What is your income goal for this year?” in order to assess the person’s ambition. This can backfire though. At some companies the most sales people can make is $50,000, so an employee coming from that company might never imagine that, at your company, $100,000 is the low target.

The reason for the expression “Hire slow” is that you need to spend time with the person. Once I was helping a company hire a VP of Sales. They flew the candidate in and had scheduled a full day of interviews, intending to take her for a nice lunch. But there were traffic jams and some blowup in the office and they wound up ordering sandwiches in. They didn’t deliberately create obstacles, but it did give them a chance to see how this candidate would handle adversity.

The bottom line is, though, you can’t create effective assessments until you thoroughly parse what the person’s job is. What do you truly need this person to be good at straight out of the gate and what skills could the person grow into? It begins with a good job description. Boy, do I sound like a broken record? Well, its true! You need to concretely know what that person’s duties will be and how you expect them to be carried out before you can give assessments that demonstrate whether the candidate can do the job.

Hiring the wrong person in haste, without thoroughly vetting them, is expensive, time consuming, and can set you a long way back on your goals. It’s like buying a bunch of tools without thinking through a project. You’ll just end up going back to the store again and again, buying a bunch more tools and having a lot of extraneous expense and gadgets around. Before you even start looking, make sure you know exactly how to find what you’re looking for.

But wait, you say. My key employee in marketing or sales or accounting just left and I desperately need someone yesterday! Please don’t hire a warm body or make a hasty decision. Hire a consultant. There are people out there who, like me, make a living stepping in where a company doesn’t have a full time HR professional, or VP of Sales, or Director of Accounting, or any number of other crucial functions. Our expertise is bridging that gap until you can take the time to hire the right person.

We work with companies on a project basis or on retainer, providing a custom level of HR help designed for your business, with offices in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Contact me at or call (512) 420-8267

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