Since the economic downturn, I haven't hired any new salespeople. I'm finally able to, and am currently reviewing resumes. Many candidates show a strong work history through 2009 or 2010. After that, they jump from job to job - 6 months here, 9 months there. Should I consider them? How do I find out whether their work history is related to the recession or a poor job performance on their part?
Looking at resumes typically takes up part of my day - every day. I have seen exactly what you describe for several years now. I'll share some of my thoughts on the subject:
Consider the Work History
If you look at their pre-2009 work history, does this candidate fit your organization? How long did they work for each employer from the beginning of their career through 2009? What were their sales accomplishments during the given time periods? If your overall impression, less 2010 to 2013, is favorable, consider them for your open position.
Look at their Industry
In every difficult economic period some industries trend downward while others fare better. Many real estate agents and mortgage brokers sought employment elsewhere. So did those employed by the auto industry and its suppliers.
If an industry experienced permanent downsizing, a potential candidate simply may not be able to work in that field again. Job hopping might have resulted from their trying to find the right new fit.
Did They Take a Logical Next Step?
Lately, I've been looking at resumes from salespeople selling large equipment and tools to the construction industry. After they were laid off, many of these applicants started working at "big box" home supply stores as an interim step.
It makes sense to me - using their expertise in another capacity until the economy improves. How could I hold that against them?
Ask Them for Specifics
Have them explain what happened with the sales position that ended in (for example) 2009. Ask about the three jobs they've held in rapid succession. What happened that caused them to leave so many jobs in a row? What did they learn? If they had to do it all over again, what might they have done differently?
Emotional or Mature Approach?
It's alright for a candidate to acknowledge that this has been an upsetting and frustrating time for them. As human beings they have a right to their feelings. But when discussing the matter, do they become emotional - maybe lash out or blame others - or are they able to articulate what happened in a mature, objective manner? Look for a candidate with some perspective. Use the discussion as a gauge of their resiliency.
If Yours is a New Industry to Them
Does coming to work for your organization, even if they're still in sales, represent a career change? If so, they need to make the connection for you. Why does this position make sense for them? How does it compare with their previous job(s)? Do similarities exist (length of the sales cycle, end user, seasonal buying habits)?
Do they see any potential difficulties? How quickly do they think they'll be able to get up to speed? How will they go about doing so on their own time? Look for thoughtful, realistic answers.
Your Due Diligence
Jump on LinkedIn and learn more about this candidate and their previous employers. Call your networking contacts and ask for introductions to executives or business owners in the industry this candidate worked in. Learn directly from them how the economic downturn affected their industry.
When checking references, insist on speaking with former managers.
Get in Out of the Rain
Share your concerns about the possibility of their accepting a position with your organization, waiting until the economy improves, and then going back to a job within their previous industry. See how they respond.
A serious applicant should mention a genuine interest in your products and services. They should talk about the effort they'll put in to learning their new job and their reluctance to leave all that behind. It could be they feel that their former industry is just too volatile and they don't want to risk it again - ever.
Though no guarantee exists, their answer should help you make a decision about taking that risk.
Sales Skills Transfer
Salespeople with good solid sales skills transfer their talents to other industries all the time. If you follow a thorough process when interviewing these candidates, you may find yourself hiring a motivated sales rep who you might not have met otherwise.