What to look out for when interviewing graduates for sales

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Millennials are set to make up 50% of the global workforce by 2020, according to PwC, which makes them a crucial part of any developing sales team. Graduates are enthusiastic, innovative and motivated, providing a solution to the upcoming recruitment black hole as the baby boomer generation retires.  However, with little or no commercial experience, graduates with sales talent and potential can be difficult to identify. Assessment days and job interviews can give entry-level employees the opportunity to demonstrate their skills, but it’s crucial that you know what you’re looking for from a successful graduate sales candidate.

Here are five key traits you need to look out for:

Analytical skills and understanding

At its most basic level, sales is all about problem solving. It involves identifying a perceived challenge a client has and how a product or service can remedy – or improve – it. More problem solving emerges as sales people examine what is happening in an account, what bugbears clients have, what motivates buyers and what obstacles could emerge during the sales process. All of this problem-solving activity requires strong analytical skills and understanding to observe, probe, interpret and react accordingly. A good graduate sales candidate will be able to fact find in their market, analyse different situations and use judgement and logic to develop potential solutions.

Analytical prowess is highly desired from both sales managers and employers in other industries, with 63% of respondents to the NACE Job Outlook 2016 survey saying they look for analytical and quantitative skills from candidates. A sales person who can think critically and understand how their product can most benefit their customer is a very valuable team member to have.

Persuasive communication

While the vast majority of UK employers plan on hiring more graduates over the coming years, many believe these candidates are not adequately prepared for new roles, with 37% of employers saying university graduates lack oral communication skills. Make sure you’re bringing on the right new talent by seeking out graduates who can communicate effectively, sensitively and persuasively with others. A good sales person will ask questions to find out more about a prospective client’s motivations and pain points, as there is a clear correlation between the number of questions a sales person asks and their chances of success, according to Gong. They will also be active listeners and know when there are opportunities to change the minds and opinions of sales leads.

Relationship building

The ability to develop rapport and build relationships with clients and sales leads is one of the single most important skills in the industry. As 60% of small and medium-sized businesses report more than half their revenue comes from repeat customers (as opposed to new business), it’s vital that your sales team nurtures and strengthens relationships with existing and new clients. A good graduate sales candidate will be able to establish positive relationships and mutual respect with people at all levels, engaging the right stakeholders to not only connect on a person-to-person level, but also secure the sale. Graduates who have previously worked in customer services, have worked in teams throughout university or have been part of student councils or committees will likely all possess these relationship-building skills.

Resilience and tenacity

A strong sales person will be tenacious and persistent, with a ‘can-do’ approach to their work. As sales people make an average of 46 calls per day, they need to be positive, energetic and possess an inner confidence that helps them to pursue the end goal. Look for graduates who are comfortable with confrontation, can think on their feet and have the stamina and drive to pick themselves up from rejection and try again. Sales graduates will likely hear ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’ in their early days, particularly if they are cold calling. If they can channel rejection into a drive to achieve, they’ll become better sales people for your team.

Motivation and organisation

Your sales team will typically be motivated by success, which usually comes in the form of deliverable outcomes such as new leads, closed sales and KPIs. Graduate sales candidates should be success-orientated, setting goals for themselves as well as paying close attention to company goals and KPIs.

Workplace goal setting is highly effective when it comes to steering and improving performance, according to CIPD, and it’s important that sales people can be self-directed in their development. To do this, they need to be able to organise and plan their workloads effectively, with little hand-holding from you. As the sales manager, you will naturally be involved with your team’s training and development, but it’s important for all sales members to have an internal drive that keeps them striving for success.

The next steps

We help companies identify and assess the best emerging sales talent through our competency based sales assessment which measures candidates against these specific traits above. Find out more here or contact us to discuss.

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