Category Archives: Recruiting

Hiring Profiles: Step 0 of a Successful Onboarding Program

Happily, in the past several years startups are increasingly recognizing the value of strong sales enablement and sales productivity teams.  So it’s no surprise that I hear a lot about high-growth companies building onboarding programs to enable successfully scaling their sales organizations and sustain their growth.  What’s disappointing, however, is how little I hear about the hiring profiles of the people that we want to put into these programs.

Everyone loves to talk about onboarding, but everybody hates to talk about hiring profiles.  It doesn’t make sense.  It’s like talking about a machine — how it works and what it produces — without ever talking about what you feed into it.  Obviously, when you step back and think about it, the success of any onboarding program is going to be a function of both the program and people you feed into it.  So we are we so eager to talk about the former and so unwilling to talk about the latter?

Talking about the program is fairly easy.  It’s a constructive exercise in building something that many folks have built before — so it’s about content structuring, best practice sharing, and the like.  Talking about hiring profiles — i.e., the kind of people we want to feed into it — is harder because:

  • It’s constraining.  “Well, an ideal new hire might look like X, but we’re not always going to find that.  If that one profile was all I could hire, I could never build the sales team fast enough.”
  • It’s a matter of opinion.  “Success around here comes in many shapes and sizes.  There is not just one profile.”
  • It’s unscientific.  “I can just tell who has the sales gene and who doesn’t.  That’s the hardest thing to hire for.  And I just know when they have it.”
  • It’s controversial.  “Turns out none of my six first-line sales managers really agree on what it takes — e.g., we have an endless debate on whether domain-knowledge actually hurts or helps.”
  • It’s early days.  “Frankly, we just don’t know what the key success criteria are, and we’re working off a pretty small sample.”
  • You have conflicting data.  “Most of the ex-Oracle veterans we’ve hired have been fish out of water, but two of them did really well.”
  • There are invariably outliers.  “Look at Joe, we’d never hire him today — he looks nothing like the proposed profile — but he’s one of our top people.”

That’s why most sales managers would probably prefer discussing revenue recognition rules to hiring profiles.  “I’ll just hire great sales athletes and the rest will take care of itself.”  But will it?

In fact, the nonsensicality of the fairly typical approach to building a startup sales force becomes most clear when viewed through the onboarding lens.

Imagine you’re the VP of sales enablement:

“Wait a minute. I suppose it’s OK if you want to let every sales manager hire to their own criteria because we’re small and don’t really know for sure what the formula is.  But how am I supposed to build a training program that has a mix of people with completely different backgrounds:

  • Some have <5 years, some have 5-10 years, and some have 15+ years of enterprise sales experience?
  • Some know the domain cold and have sold in the category for years whereas others have never sold in our category before?
  • Some have experience selling platforms (which we do) but some have only sold applications?
  • Some are transactional closers, some are relationship builders, and some are challenger-type solution sellers?”

I understand that your company may have different sales roles (e.g., inside sales, enterprise sales) [1] and that you will have different hiring profiles per role.  But you if you want to scale your sales force — and a big part of scaling is onboarding — then you’re going to need to recruit cohorts that are sufficiently homogeneous that you can actually build an effective training program.   I’d argue there are many other great reasons to define and enforce hiring profiles [2], but the clearest and simplest one is:  if you’re going to hire a completely heterogeneous group of sales folks, how in the heck are you going to train them?

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[1] Though I’d argue that many startups over-diversify these roles too early.  Concretely put, if you have less than 25 quota-carrying reps, you should have no more than two roles.

[2] Which can include conscious, deliberate experiments outside them.



The Worst Interviewing Advice Ever

I remember years and years ago attending a training class for job candidates on how to improve their interviewing skills.  The crux of the course was this:

  • Most people are bad interviewers.
  • Since they don’t know what to ask, you need to tell them what they need to know regardless of what you’re asked.
  • What they need to know is the skills you possess, the duties you’ve performed, and the results you have accomplished.

I was reminded of this the other day when interviewing a very qualified candidate.

Me:  “Think about the best manager you’ve ever worked for, and get a picture of him/her in your head.  Do you have one?”

Candidate:  “Yes.”

Me:  “Now describe him or her.”

Candidate:  “I like managers who are supportive to me and tough but fair.”

Me:  “I’m sorry, perhaps you didn’t get the exercise.  Do you have a favorite boss?”

Candidate:  “Yes.”

Me:  “I don’t need to know his/her name, but do you have a specific person in mind?”

Candidate:  “Yes.”

Me:  “Now, describe them, perhaps by using a list of adjectives.”

Candidate:  “I like bosses who mentor me and teach me to do things better.”

Me (thinking):  Penalty, Evasion, 15 yards.  1st and 25.

I almost cut off the interview right there.  But I didn’t.  Despite a repeated pattern of not answering my questions, I voted no-hire but didn’t veto the candidate because he did seem qualified.  I discussed what happened with the hiring manager.

Me:  “I would not hire that person.  He is evasive and doesn’t answer questions.”

Hiring manager:  “Maybe he didn’t answer because he didn’t know the right answer.”

Me:  “There is no right answer, per se.  I’m not trying to make the candidate describe you; I’m trying to get them to describe their best boss ever so I can do a comparison of that style with my perception of yours.”

Hiring manager:  “I get it, but he obviously knows it’s a risky question so maybe he deliberately didn’t answer it.”

Me:  “OK, go to talk to him and find out what happened.”

In the end, the hiring manager was right.  The candidate didn’t want to give a clear answer to the question because he was worried it would backfire.  And the core of that old training class sprung immediately back to mind “don’t answer the question they asked, tell them what they need to know regardless of what they ask.”  Which, I believe, is the worst interview advice ever.

I ask questions.  I ask them on purpose.  I ask them for a reason.  If you stonewall my efforts to interview you I will vote no — and I will often throw an outright veto on top.

It’s amazing how often I have to say it:  answer the question.  Job interviews are no exception.  In fact, quite the opposite.

Don’t assume you’re smarter than the person interviewing you.  Don’t play games.  The purpose of my line of questioning was simple:  “I wanted to figure out if I thought you could work with your hiring manager.”  That’s a very important question — and one both sides should want to answer sooner not later.  Don’t assume I’m an idiot and want you to describe the hiring manager.  Assume I’m asking for a reason and even if you can’t figure out the reason or the “right” answer, answer the question.

If you don’t you’ll be lucky to get the job.