Graduates are an often-underappreciated part of the sales market, but there are plenty of reasons why the next generation make for fantastic sales people. Along with their fresh ideas and energy, graduates are found to be more enthusiastic, innovative and motivated by their employers, according to a report from the Institute for Employment Research.

However, such benefits must come with a trade-off, and for graduates, it tends to be their inexperience. As a sales manager, you’ll naturally look for candidates who have worked in sales previously and can demonstrate their success. Graduates, meanwhile, have very little or no commercial experience at all, which makes it challenging to identify which potential job seekers could turn into sales stars.

One of the best ways to navigate this problem is by undertaking sales assessment days. A crucial element of the graduate recruitment process, sales assessment days (also known as assessment centres) allow you to bring together a group of potential sales candidates to complete exercises, test and interviews to assess their suitability for a sales role within your company. They’re a great way to not only help graduates demonstrate their sales potential to you, but also show them more about your organisation and the broader sales industry. We’ve identified some of the key benefits of sales assessment days when recruiting for graduate sales people.

Assess multiple competencies at once

It takes the average employer just over 28 days to fill a vacancy, according to Glassdoor, which can be particularly costly in the world of sales, where open vacancies mean uncovered territories and unanswered leads. This makes time efficiency essential during the recruitment process.

Assessment days can speed up the process of hiring while still ensuring you have all the information you need to make an informed hire. By setting aside longer chunks of time – or entire days – than you would for solo interviews, you can assess candidates on multiple competencies at once. Because of the group environment, you can use team-based and roleplay exercises, along with assessing specific sales skills such as asking probing questions, influencing and communicating efficiently.

With one in three UK employers regarding soft skills as more important than academic achievement, it’s a good idea to pay attention to graduates’ listening skills, ability to handle feedback and leadership potential, as well as their university achievements.

See how graduates perform in real sales situations

Many in sales will agree that while sales-specific experience isn’t always necessary, the ability to understand customers and react effectively to different sales scenarios is absolutely essential.

Sales assessment days allow you to see how graduates perform in such situations by letting you simulate typical sales scenarios. Standard role play exercises are great for this – you might act out the role of a reluctant client who is unsure about buying a product, and the graduates must convince you why you need it. See how they perform in these situations, paying close attention to their communication skills, empathy and creativity when it comes to closing deals. How they handle these scenarios – especially when they have little time to prepare – will give you an understanding of how they will perform in real commercial situations, and how they could fit into your business.

See how they work in a team

More than three quarters of employees believe that collaborative working is essential for their business, according to CIPD, while Kaplan has found that communication skills are the most important competency employers look for at the recruitment stage. Both of these statistics point towards teamwork being crucial criteria for any successful employee, and this is particularly true in the communication-based world of sales.

While your sales people may work individually across their territories, they will still need to be able to demonstrate a willingness to collaborate and share information (such as leads and customer insight) with their colleagues. Test this out in the group environment of the assessment day, organising tasks and discussions that encourage graduates to work alongside each other and build relationships. Some tasks could call for the group to nominate a leader – watch for what happens here and how graduates respond to taking a place within the team.

This step of the process can spark competition, but it will also help you compare candidates side by side and show how they will fit into your company culture.

Save time and money

The nature of sales assessment days allows you to see many graduates in one session or day, as opposed to scheduling multiple interviews, which can often take up weeks by the time everyone’s diaries are aligned. Therefore, this method can save you precious time and indeed money, helping to bring down the cost of hire. And if all goes to plan, you can avoid the even more significant cost of making a bad hire, which can run into the tens of thousands of pounds.

Depending on the size of your assessment, you could split the graduates up into different groups and have them working through different exercises at the same time. If you have multiple stakeholders, send calendar invitations in advance to have as many of them at this session as possible. Then, once you have whittled down your top candidates, you can arrange for final interviews as you see fit.

Need more help?

With 27 years in the business and covering 15 specialist divisions, We have the experience and sales industry knowledge to help your organisation make the best possible hires. Contact us here to see how we can help.