10 Lessons From the Sales Candidate Who Smelled Like He Peed on Himself

It was quite the claim.  I remember telling my client that the next candidate we were to interview was the best sounding candidate I had ever spoken with on the phone. Robert, the sales manager, went to the lobby to get the candidate and returned, an ashen look on his face.  Ray, the candidate, followed Robert into the conference room and suddenly, I had the same ashen look on my face.  It seemed that the best candidate I had ever spoken with by phone was, well, a bum!

They say you make an impression in the first 5 seconds and if the first impression was horrible, it was a huge understatement.  Here are just some of the things we noticed:

  • he had a paper bag with a bottle in it
  • his white shirt had yellowed
  • he was completely wrinkled – not a wrinkled face, but a suit that was wrinkled so bad it could only have occurred from sleeping in it – on a park bench – on multiple nights
  • he stunk – not like Yankees stink or Red Sox stink, but as if he had urinated on himself
  • his hair had not been combed – or washed – for days, maybe weeks
  • his clothes didn’t fit

The funny thing was that when we began to interview him, if you just closed your eyes, you would have heard the most pleasing, helpful, nurturing, lucid, quick, humorous, effective, competent salesperson you could imagine.  And since this was an inside sales position…

Even that was a beyond a stretch.  You couldn’t even support the logic for Ray working from home – away from the other salespeople who could find him offensive because, well, he probably didn’t have a home.

So outside of this being a great true story, there are some lessons from it.

  1. It doesn’t matter how good the candidate’s resume, track record, assessment results and phone interview are.  There is a reason for a face to face interview and that must go well too.
  2. The purpose for a sales recruiting process is to filter candidates out – not the other way around
  3. It doesn’t matter how much confidence you have in your interviewing, recruiting, and selection skills.  You will still be wrong about people
  4. Your gut instinct has its place.  Recruiting and selection isn’t the place to rely on it.
  5. Your eyes can’t be fooled.  Or can they?  What if Ray was just plain ugly instead of repulsive and homeless?  What if he was disabled?  What if he had a disease?
  6. Candidates might not be as good as advertised but rarely will they be better than advertised
  7. There is a reason for sequenced, multiple steps in the process. Never deviate or take short cuts.
  8. Just because the earlier steps in the process did not effectively filter out Ray, you shouldn’t assume that the process is flawed because of one miss.  Always practice what works most of the time, not what worked or didn’t work once.
  9. Be warned about making compromises.  Would you have hired Ray, a great salesperson, if everything was normal – except for the bottle in the bag (could it have been orange juice?), or except for the hair (just a bad hair day), or except for the shirt (the others were at the cleaners), or except for the size of the clothes (lost a ton of weight and still losing)?
  10. Never hire anyone that smells like he peed on himself.