In the line of hire Featured

9:55am EDT July 22, 2002

There’s a quote next to Chuck Schiffhauer’s desk that reads “Failure is not an option,” and every member of Schiffhauer’s nine-person sales staff at Sprint PCS is indoctrinated.

When the company launched its Northeast Ohio operations last year, Schiffhauer painstakingly interviewed more than 120 people.

“I wanted people with winning attitudes who you’d never hear say something won’t work,” he explains. “I probe very carefully when I’m interviewing to make sure the person I’m getting is what’s advertised.”

He has developed a carefully crafted set of interview questions, which he uses to build a profile for each prospective hire. The questions cover six areas: work standards, energy, resilience, initiative, change agent and motivational fit. In 15 years of sales management, Schiffhauer has found a common thread among every successful person he’s hired through this process: “They have blind optimism in their own abilities. There isn’t anything that would prevent them from being successful.”

And if there is a consensus among other sales managers about the search for the best of the best, it’s that sifting out the wannabes from the real deal is an art unto itself.

“Everyone we interview is sky high,” explains Paul Hanna, president of Meritech Blue. “He or she tells me they plan to conquer the world. But unfortunately, for some of them, that’s the peak of their career — the interview.”

The interview process is a chess match. On one side, the interviewer tries to discover the prospect’s true character. On the other, the prospect’s goal is to land the job — no matter what it takes. “The best sales people make the right decisions when they’re under pressure,” explains David Browning, general manager of CB Richard Ellis. “And that includes when I’m grilling them in the interview.”

Ned Bergen, sales manager for Northcoast Business Systems, looks for the three Ds — drive, determination and desire — when he’s sitting across from a prospective hire.

“I want someone who has a pure unwillingness to quit,” he says. “And they have to be someone who wants to go out and light the world on fire. You can tell from how they carry themselves during the interview what kind of person they are.”

And once the decision to hire is made, how long should you wait before demanding results? It depends on the industry ... and your patience.

“The first 60 days are critical,” says Scott Madzia, corporate accounts manager for Nextel. “Some find success fast and then coast. Others struggle out of the gate and never catch up. But the best ones start strong and keep giving you that effort.”

For Mari Sloan, vice president of sales for OBM, the timeline calls for six months.

“You’ll know by then whether they’ll ever be a top performer,” she says. “If you see their results aren’t improving, then you have to question whether they’re able to handle the job.”

At the far end spectrum, Browning says it takes up to five years before “you see someone who you know hits the ball out of the park.” That, he explains, is a combination of three years to learn the real estate business and another two years to develop consistent superior performance.

Often, top performers sparkle from Day One. For example, after Schiffhauer hired account rep Aaron Gonzales, his sales results grew every month. By Gonzales’ third month, he set a company record with 203 phones sold. “It’s an obsession with me,” explains Gonzales, who says he once made a pitch while watching a baseball game at Jacob’s Field. “My wife hates it. I’m always looking for opportunities to sell.”

Adds Schiffhauer, “The sales person who isn’t will never succeed.”