Peter Smith has more than 30 years of experience building wholesale and retail sales teams. He currently is president of Vibhor Gems.
I read an article on LinkedIn recently that sent me into paroxysms of irritation. The topic was hiring, and the author encouraged managers to “make sure to listen to your gut” and to not hire the candidate if the interviewer felt uncomfortable.

I’m not about to suggest that people dismiss their intuitive prowess. Without it, our species wouldn’t have survived through the ages (… did something just move in that bush?)--we would have great difficulty crossing busy roads, knowing when it’s cool to pet strange animals, etc. As author Clarence Day once said, “Reason is the servant of instinct.”

Where I don’t subscribe to relying on instinct is when it comes to hiring, especially when it comes to hiring salespeople.

In reading the LinkedIn article and accompanying comments, I noticed a correlation between those who agreed with the author’s sentiment--about not making the hire if you felt uncomfortable--and the professional positions those folks held. They tended to be human resource professionals. There was even a comment from the head of human resources at a prominent company in our industry in which she too agreed with the author that we ought to listen to our instincts in an interview and not make the hire when it “feels a little off.”

Here’s the deal. If you are afraid of a little tension in an interview with potential salespeople, you ought to turn the job of conducting the interview over to somebody else.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for someone who is nice, easy to manage and generally low maintenance, then follow the advice proffered by the LinkedIn writer and hire just that. It won’t be that difficult; 58 percent of the salespeople working in retail jewelry stores should not, by any measurable definition, be working in any sales capacity and a great many of them are probably really nice people.

If, however, you are looking to hire real difference-makers, people who are wired to deliver sales results every day, then you need to be more realistic about what that person might look like and accept that theirs might not be the most comfortable interview you will likely conduct.

Think about the best salespeople you have ever worked with. What were they like? Were they easy to manage or did they bring some baggage to work? Did you have to motivate them at the beginning of the day, or did they start their day ready to perform?
“If you are afraid of a little tension in an interview with potential salespeople, you ought to turn the job of conducting the interview over to somebody else.”   – Peter Smith
As the LinkedIn piece shows, human resources people are usually good at crossing t’s and dotting i’s. They can reliably tell you what the state and federal laws and regulations are when it comes to interviewing and hiring. They know what you can and cannot ask a candidate and they can usually be counted on to do a thorough job vetting resumes and checking references.

What they’re not very good, however, is recognizing and hiring real sales drivers.

One of the main reasons for that is they tend to approach each interview in the same manner, regardless of the position they are hiring for. They suffer, as many interviewers do, from hiring in their own likeness; that means they hire people who are pleasant and who fit neatly into well-constructed boxes. That, I’m afraid, does not align with the model for great salespeople.

20170214 Smith booksPeter Smith is the author of two books, “Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Retail Sales Talent,” and “Sell Something: Principles and Perspectives for Engaged Retail Salespeople.”

I got a call recently from a retailer friend of mine who said he woke up that morning and decided not to hire a candidate whom he had expected to hire just one day earlier. He said: “After sleeping on it, my gut tells me not to do this.” I congratulated him on his decision and complimented him on using his gut to come to a decision. Now, before you accuse me of spilling contradiction all over myself, allow me to tell you the rest of the story.

My jeweler friend had taken the candidate through an exhaustive interview process that included multiple interviews and interviewers (including yours truly). He spent money to administer a pre-employment personality profile and he even considered reworking his compensation plan to accommodate the potential new hire.

In the final analysis, he had “trusted his gut” only after a thorough process and an adherence to a discipline that included very specific exploration to uncover the candidate’s inherent wiring. He first determined that the candidate had the essential qualities and traits necessary to become a great salesperson and then considered whether she might be a good fit for his culture.

In the end, I believe he made the right decision. But, more importantly than that, he respected the process and gave the candidate every opportunity to emerge as a good fit for his store before deciding not to make the hire.

As “The Ultimate Sales Machine” by Chet Holmes states: “If you don’t understand the personality profile that makes top-performers salespeople, you might just turn them away after interviewing them. A high-influence candidate can seem overly eager in a job interview--maybe even comes on too strong. Don’t let a little bravado put you off; it is the essential ingredient in every superstar.”

One of the great misconceptions in interviewing is that a successful process results in a hiring decision. That’s not true at all. A successful interview process leads to the right conclusion for the business, whether that is a hire or no-hire decision.

To ensure the right decision is made, commit to a disciplined interview process and make sure that you suppress your own instincts and gut feeling until after the real work has been done.

My book, “Hiring Squirrels,” is a good “how to” guide on what to look for and how to conduct a thorough interview process. It’s the least you can do for your business.

Peter Smith is president of Vibhor, a public speaker and author of “Sell Something” and “Hiring Squirrels.” He spent 30 years building sales teams in retail and wholesale and he can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter.

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