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If you want to start recruiting sales superstars, consider radically refining your recruiting strategy, starting with the interview process. It needs to be a lot tougher – including a pressure interview to test candidates – and be backed by a better job-posting process than you undoubtedly use. And you'll want to move quickly because sales superstars between jobs won't stay that way for long.

That's part of the advice Phoenix-based sales consultant Jonathan Whistman offers managers in his new book, The Sales Boss.

"Hiring is tough," he said in an interview. "It's messy and time consuming. And managers put less thought into it than other things they do."

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So change that by putting more thought into your job postings. Instead of confining yourself to describing the industry and the product the person will be asked to sell and using shop-worn phrases such as "seeking a self-starter," identify any needed skills. What type of prospecting will they do? What type of record keeping is required? Is it a complex sale? Are requests for proposals involved? Do they pitch to individuals or large groups?

Make the posting about the job rather than the person doing it. Be detailed.

"I want people when they read it to self-select in or out," he explained. "If I talk in the posting about a lot of prospecting and you don't like that, you'll self-select out."

Include a realistic salary figure, so again they know if it's for them – and an overall earnings expectation. That expectation is not what they can expect you to fork over, but what you expect them to earn through salary and commissions flowing from their work, signalling how hard they will have to toil.

Also, ask a question such as, "What is your view of selling success?" This will give you a sense of their writing ability and more importantly – when the résumés start pouring in – indicate who has actually read the posting and is willing to put in the effort to get the job, and who just responded by rote. As well, you should canvas your network to locate sales wizards who are not between jobs and see whether you can lure them to your company.

The most attractive candidates will go through four interviews:

The 10-minute phone screening. In this, you gain a gut feel about the individual. "If you can't stand them in 10 minutes on the phone, chances are your customers won't either," he observed. In this and the next three rounds of interviews, be polite and direct, but don't fall into the trap of trying to persuade them to like you – that just gets in the way.

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Ask how they would describe themselves as a salesperson and what their current job is like. Rate them by gut feel on a scale of one to three for every answer, with an additional three bonus points if you liked the individual, and additional points if the person had good tone and pacing, was articulate or asked questions of you.

The pressure interview. In this 45-minute session, you ask a barrage of specific questions about their sales career. That might include: What is something you wish you had known when you started selling your current product? What's the biggest selling mistake you made? How is your compensation structured? A favourite of his: "Walk me though the best sale you've done when you were in control from the very beginning of the sale process."

The performance interview. For candidates still in the hunt, have them sell to you, sharing information and scripts from a segment of your own sales process. Folks who aren't that interested in the job will fold here, not wanting to take on the extra work required. But it is crucial for you to sense how they will operate in your milieu.

The romance interview. Now you can finally woo them, turning on the charm to persuade them to join your ranks. But before actually offering the job, take them out for a meal and see how they act to others such waitresses, when they can let their guard down. Have them drive, since the neatness and cleanliness of their car may offer insights into their personality.

It's probably a big change from your current process. But he stresses that hiring a salesperson is a major investment, so you want to get it right.

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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