Sales Models, Metrics, and Motions Blog

ABCs of Hiring Recent Grads for Sales

by Matt Bertuzzi on Thu, Mar 21, 2013

The other day, I was talking to a friend who leads a team of sales development reps (outbound prospectors).

She was mentioning how tight the market is for reps with 1-2 years of experience. To paraphrase her predicament:

I need reps who are senior enough that they can & will do the job. But who are junior enough to unlearn bad habits before they calcify.

I asked, “Have you looked at hiring recent grads?” As it just so happens, we are in the thick of career fair season for many colleges & universities.

She asked if I had any tips. My reply: nope.

So over the last few days I’ve been giving it some thought and wanted to share what I’ve come up with.

Hiring Recent Grads: what doesn’t work

First, the bad. Much of our traditional questions, at least as they relate to selling, are ineffective. “Tell me about a time you pitched an idea to a peer group” is very different from “tell me about the last time you booked a meeting from an outbound call.” [Side note: here’s a great audio interview with Kevin Gaither on his philosophy for interviewing.]

What this means is that you have to ask different questions to get you to the same results.

Next, the ugly. I’ve seen and (ahem) been guilty of making a few ‘go’ decisions based on little more than the candidate being:

  • Assertive
  • Tall
  • Having played sports in College

I’m not sure where that heuristic comes from, but when I think about the best sellers I know – few fit that mold.

Hiring Recent Grads: what could work

Now, the good. I recently finished Dan Pink’s new book To Sell Is Human. I absolutely loved his outsider’s perspective on selling.

What I found most interesting were Pink’s new ABCs of selling:

  • Attunement – can they take someone else’s perspective?
  • Buoyancy – can they stay afloat in an ‘ocean of rejection’?
  • Clarity – can they help others identify problems they didn’t realize they had?

He highlights these traits as the 3 essential qualities that define a modern-day seller (ie someone who spends their days trying to persuade / influence / move others)

Does your recent grad possess the new ABCs?

Here are a few thoughts / questions you can build off to find out.


  • Share with the candidate what you’re looking for in a new hire. Then ask: What can you bring to our team? Really listen to their response. Did they hear what you are looking for? Are they able see things from your perspective and to tailor their reply?
  • Next, bring in a 3rd person just to listen to this part. Give the candidate your version of your company's pitch and then have them give it back to you. After the fact, ask the 3rd person how similar they were. Is the candidate able to match/mirror/mimic on the fly?

The ability to listen, think on one’s feet, and ‘attune’ are critical for selling. So make sure they aren’t they type of person who is so focused on their perspective that they talking past everyone else.


  • Ask: I know interviews are high-stress situations. How did you mentally prepare for today?
    You’ll want to see if they are more self-pumping: “I am a machine! I will crush this!” or more self-questioning: “Can I do this? Yes. I’ve done things like this before. I need to make sure that I…” According to Pink, you are looking for the latter.
  • Also ask: Can you share a specific time you faced rejection? Why do think you were rejected? Listen for how they explain. Do they view the setback as external or personal? Temporary or permanent? 
  • Follow up with: How did you rebound? Tell me about the next time you faced a similar situation.

The way they have thought through past rejections is probably a good indicator or how they’ll handle future ones. If they view past stumble as personal failings ("I blew it big time") or permanent conditions ("I’m just lousy at this"), they might not be built for the game of sales.


  • Ask: Did you write a thesis? What was the central idea? (Or tell me about the last paper you wrote) Are they able to take their wealth of knowledge and communicate it to a layperson? Was it interesting and engaging?
  • Ask: What was the most interesting class you took? Why might I, a Sales Manager, find it interesting? Do they speak to the essence of the thing? 

Selling is about boiling down complex things (a $100K software solution) into simple things (here’s what you're doing wrong and here's why you should give me 5 more minutes of your time).

But it’s also about provoking, teaching, and leading buyers. If they are able to persuade you that perhaps 19th century Russian lit is something you’d enjoy – you are talking to a salesperson. 

Net Net

Hiring recent college grads is not for the faint of heart. Identifying raw talent without the cushion of a  track record of success takes time, a well thought-out process, and, frankly, guts.

I hope this gives you an idea or two for identifying your next sales superstar. If you have any tips, advice, or questions to share, I’d love to hear them.

Find Matt on Twitter and Google+ 
Photo credit:
Bradford College Graduation


Topics: recruiting, inside sales hiring

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