How many times has an SDR walk out after a week or failed to hit their target after six months? Probably a few too many times for your liking, right?

Sales development reps might be junior, but that doesn’t make them easy to hire. In fact, the lack of a proven sales record can make it much harder. In place of an extensive CV, hiring managers have to look for the traits they know will make candidates successful. 

We’ve carefully designed our interview process to tease out these traits. It isn’t perfect, but we’re very proud of some of the salespeople we’ve been able to find and train.

If you’re looking for ways to strengthen your own recruitment pipeline, here’s the repeatable process we use to hire great SDRs.

An Overview of Our Hiring Process

There’s no magic formula here. In fact, our hiring process probably looks a lot like yours. We don’t make candidates jump through hoops and we don’t pit them against each other in day-long workshops. 

We use a simple two-stage interview process. The focus is on getting to know candidates better through a series of tried-and-tested questions and, hopefully, a two-way conversation. There’s also at least one role-playing element on both days, so we can see how candidates handle themselves on the phone and how they react under pressure. 

Throughout the process, we ask specific questions for very particular reasons. The aim is to uncover the traits that we’ve found to be good predictors of success. If candidates demonstrate drive, a commitment to achieving goals, a willingness to learn and an ability to listen, amongst other things, we know there’s a very good chance they’ll be a good fit.

The Interview Questions We Use To Uncover Winning SDR Traits 

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the questions we use during an interview, but here are some of the most important.

Why Do You Want a Career in Sales?

This kind of upfront question won’t come as a surprise. In fact, I’d be shocked if this wasn’t one of the first questions asked by any hiring sales manager. 

“Everyone has their reasons for getting into sales,” writes Salesforce’s Jace Ermidis. This kind of question will help you work out what motivates candidates. 

Candidates can give a lot of satisfactory answers to this question. But most will mention money, either because they’ve been told to say it or because it’s what they genuinely want. 

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. Money is a great incentive for a career in sales. But we are looking for candidates who can go deeper and explain what they want to do with the money they earn. Unfortunately, this is where a lot of candidates come unstuck. 

Money by itself is not a good motivator. We want to see a tangible financial goal attached to it. This could be buying your first home in five years. It could be a new designer handbag every month. It really doesn’t matter what the goal is; there just has to be something driving them. 

Ideally, we’d like to see a passion for sales, too. We don’t expect them to be as keen on the industry as we are, but we do want to see evidence they have explored it. Jason Stone of FRONTLINE Selling recommends asking candidates if they’ve read any good sales books recently and what they know about the role.

If an inside sales rep is easily shaken by a handful of no’s from prospects, how well do you think they’ll rebound from a day or two of rejection?

What Do You Do in Your Free Time?

This question is purposefully broad. Obviously, you want candidates to have an active life with lots of interests. It makes them a more rounded individual. But we are looking for an activity or interest that shows teamwork, growth, persistence and dedication, in particular. 

Sport is a popular answer and a good one. Anything that demonstrates the candidate’s ability to work well in a team is a tick for us. We’ve found sportsmen and women to be particularly good at overcoming hardships. You rarely have things all your own way in sports, and these candidates know how to pick themselves up when they get knocked down. 

Some of our best reps and sales managers aren’t sporty, though. So it’s certainly not the be-all and end-all. Maybe they play chess. Maybe they write. It doesn’t really matter what they do as long as they show dedication to it, a willingness to learn and a commitment to improvement. If they can carry those attitudes into their sales job, they’ll likely have one hell of a career.

What Achievements Are You Most Proud of and Why?

We are looking for a candidate who has set a clear goal — any goal — and achieved it. Sales is all about relentlessly pursuing your targets, come what may. Everyone gets knocked back. Successful reps are the ones that keep going and keep improving until they smash their goals. 

The goal can be academic (we’ve had someone who was the first person to get an A* in Mandarin at GCSE); it can be sporting (we have footballers and weightlifters among us); it can be virtually anything else. As long as they have shown genuine application we are satisfied. 

Be careful of accomplishments that have come too easy, however. You’ll want to dig deeper if it seems like a candidate hasn’t struggled in pursuit of this goal. Ask if they did get knocked back or if they thought about quitting. If they don’t have a good answer, ask them how they’ve handled rejection in another scenario. 

It’s important to see how they deal with rejection, writes Close CEO Steli Efti. “If an inside sales rep is easily shaken by a handful of no’s from prospects, how well do you think they’ll rebound from a day or two of rejection?”

What Else Do We Look For in Candidates?

The questions above are great at forcing the candidates to give concrete examples of desirable traits. But there are plenty more things we look for that aren’t so easy to uncover. Over the course of the interview, we also try to discern the following.

A Centered Life and a Strong Support Network

Training to become an SDR is a full-time job. There really isn’t space for anything else in their lives for the first few months. That’s why we look for candidates with an excellent support system and who are relatively settled. Any other life-changing events are a red flag. We’ve had candidates train as SDRs while they were moving to London, for instance. It’s possible to do it, but it rarely works out well.

The Ability to Ask Smart and Relevant Questions

What candidates ask us is just as important as what we ask them. If a candidate doesn’t come to the first meeting with questions, they rarely get asked back. A list of pre-prepared questions is certainly better than nothing. But what we are really looking for is the ability to ask relevant off-the-cuff questions based on our conversation.  

Great salespeople listen to customer pain points, says Howard Brown, the founder and CEO of RingDNA. “As a litmus test, see if reps just talk about themselves during an interview or if they ask questions and listen intently to your answers.” 

Great candidates are as interested in us as we are in them. They aren’t just there to talk about themselves, they are genuinely interested in the role and the business. Not only is the interview far more enjoyable for us, but it also demonstrates the ability to hold a conversation. It almost certainly means they’ll be better on the phone compared to other candidates.

An Aptitude For Learning

There’s a very good reason we role-play sales calls in both rounds of the interview. We want to see how much the candidates improve. 

We give a lot of feedback after the first interview on how they can improve. When they return and do the exercise again, we are looking for them to take that advice on board. We definitely don’t expect them to be perfect, far from it. But if they can’t learn from their mistakes now, it suggests they won’t be able to do so in the future. 

Being a good SDR requires persistence, but it also requires the ability to learn from your mistakes and a willingness to be coached. The best salespeople take time to examine the “questionable” rejections and look for ways to improve their pitch, says Darryl Praill, Chief Marketing Officer of VanillaSoft.

We want candidates who won’t let a hundred rejections stop them from picking up the phone. But mindlessly pickling up the phone won’t result in sales. So we also want candidates who think about what they are doing and who learn from their mistakes.   

You’ll never hire the right candidates every time. We certainly don’t. But using our process should help you become better at unearthing the candidates most likely to succeed. 


Images by: Tim Gouw, Amy Hirschi