What Do Effective Salespeople Have in Common with College Degrees?

During the past six months I’ve posted many times about sales recruiting, most of those posts having to do with finding, screening, hiring and compensating candidates, as well as their reactions to assessments and screening phone calls.

Yesterday, John Miller, CEO of QBQ and the author of QBQ! and Flipping the Switch, sent out one of his frequent QBQ! Quick Notes and I asked his permission to reprint it here. It’s perfect!  As you read it, I’d like you to think about the salespeople you interview…and choose not to interview.

He wrote,

Let’s start hiring character over college degrees!

When speaking to a group, I’ve found the statement above often causes the audience to spontaneously clap. Dare I say I’ve even heard an “Amen!” or two. Why does this idea of hiring the person and not the label bestowed upon them by a college or university touch a nerve in people? Maybe because they know our organizations have gotten something out of whack in the hiring—and the promoting—process. That possibly we’re missing something, and what we’re missing is some very good people.

Ashley is a hardworking 22-year-old college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is honest, courteous, respectful, hungry to learn, and perfect for what she wants to do and be. Her life goal is to become a Child Life Specialist, one who interacts with ill children in a hospital setting. Ashley to children is like honey to flies, magnets to metal, or a light to a moth—kids love her.

But, she was recently turned down by a hospital for an internship even after volunteering there for months and being recommended by insiders. Showing initiative, she drove her resume to HR (instead of just mailing or emailing it in), found the right office in the sprawling medical facility, and left it for the right person. And five days later she did the right thing: she called to ensure the person got it. Then she phoned again a week later. Finally she was informed by email that she had not been chosen. When she called to politely ask for a reason, she was told the candidate who accepted the position had “more classes and degrees.”

How sad for the hospital that they did not instinctively recognize that Ashley was someone they should’ve interviewed face to face. They missed the clues—the clues of character. And because of arbitrary criteria, they missed adding a real winner to their staff.

I’ve had three mentors in life: My dad and two gentlemen in the professional world. Neither of the latter two went beyond high school in their formal education. But let me be clear: I would not be what and where I am in life today without the teachings of these men of character.

We are simply off base if we are hiring and promoting based on fancy degrees, school reputations, and how many years a person paid tuition. What we should be basing our decisions on is what’s inside the person. Personally, I have a Cornell University degree, an “Ivy League” education. But I am the first to say that it means absolutely nothing if I lack character.

Character defined:

The aggregate of traits that form the individual nature of a person including moral or ethical qualities such as honesty, courage, integrity.

Character is what we need to hire from the outside and promote from within. Let’s reward people with these foundational qualities:

1. Coachability. If a person possesses an arrogance that prevents them from taking input, forget it. If they aren’t starving to learn, to become excellent, to gain new knowledge and skills, you don’t want them. If they aren’t going to listen to their manager, pass them by.

2. Work ethic. In this world of entitlement thinking, when we find someone who will work, we’ve found a diamond in the rough. Look for the “5&5 Rule,” meaning if they will habitually arrive 5 minutes early and stay 5 minutes beyond quitting time, you have a foundation on which to build. But if they are more concerned with how much vacation and sick time they’ll get, pass them by.

3. A heart of service. Any candidate who enjoys helping others solve their problems and desires to go to the “Nth Degree” demonstrating patience with customers who are not always right (But are always the customer!), is the person we needed on the team yesterday. But if they have a “What’s in it for me?” or “Why are customers such a pain?” attitude, pass them by.

4. Accountability. Carefully listen for finger pointing and victim thinking. If they blame their last employer, their family of origin, or the weather for their situation in life, send them packing. One QBQ, Inc. client gives a QBQ! book to every candidate that makes it to Round Two. The assignment is to read and return with a verbal summary of the content and what it means to them. This is an effective way to understand their view of the role of accountability in their work life. If they don’t “get it,” pass them by.

Our daughter, Tara, was recently invited by Target Corp. to be interviewed for a job that really didn’t interest her. Wise Mom told her to take the interview anyway because, “If Target is smart they’ll find a place for you. And then if they’re really smart, once they know your character, they’ll hold on to you for dear life and never let you leave.”

Yep, mothers always know best. Character counts.

I think you’ll agree that this hits the spot.