The Fantastic Four: What I Look For in SDR Candidates

By June 2, 2016
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Hiring SDRs is a tricky thing. You are hiring a group of people with little-to-no experience to be the largest group of brand ambassadors in your organization. You think your marketing department has reach? How about a group of 20 or more millennials making thousands of calls and emails on a weekly basis?

Scared yet? You should be.

This team will follow up on ALL of your marketing efforts. This team is speaking with decision makers at your most important accounts. This team will make or break your sales team’s pipeline.

I figure this is a great time to discuss the hiring process for SDRs. Why? The National Center for Education Statistics is projecting that over the course of the next few weeks, more than 20 million students will graduate from college. That means your talent pool for SDR candidates just shot through the roof. Many of them will graduate with an eye towards the greatest job economy in the United States, Silicon Valley; or other tech centers like Silicon Slopes (SLC, Utah), Silicon Beach (Santa Monica, CA), and Silicon Prairie (TX, NE, IA, WI, SD, KS, MN, ND, MO, WY, IL).

There are four things I look for (specifically) during the SDR interview process. I name the presence or absence of these four characteristics over the two phases of interviewing that happen over the phone and in person. Each of these characteristics is equally important, and if a candidate is lacking in any of them, you should proceed with extreme caution (i.e. don’t hire them).

The first two can be determined quickly during the initial phone screen, and the latter two should be measured during an onsite interview. There are a few things that should go without saying when looking for an SDR candidate:

  • He wants a career in sales
  • He dresses the part
  • She is courteous
  • She is on time

Now that those are out of the way, let’s move on to what the Fantastic Four characteristics are and how to figure out if your candidate has what it takes.

1. Is This Person Outgoing?

This presents itself in the first few seconds of the phone interview. I always like to call the candidates instead of having them call me. Why? Because I like to hear what they say when they answer the phone, as well as their tone. A bland, “Hello.” is terrible. This kills me every time I hear it. I like “Hello this is so and so.” or “Hello this is so and so, is this Matt?”.  A candidate should know who is calling her. This helps me know that the candidate is organized and aware of who is calling based on her schedule.

Candidates may be nervous on the phone during an interview, but I always assume that if a candidate is nervous on a scheduled call, then he will be even more nervous on a cold call or follow up call. That’s bad news.

2. Does This Person Want to Work at Your Company?

In an era when recruiting firms are filling your calendars with candidates, you have to take a moment and ask the candidate why she wanted to talk to you. Just come right out and ask during the phone interview, “Why did you want to interview at our company?”. This is his opportunity to tell you what he knows about your business, what she may have learned about you specifically, and why that’s exciting for her. If you don’t get a sense of excitement from a candidate, this interview is going nowhere.

Similarly, if she can’t site at least the last relevant news story about your business, she doesn’t really want to work for your company. I don’t like asking a candidate what he knows about our business—it just feels way too scripted. Asking a candidate why he wants to speak to you makes the interview experience a bit more personal, and to me it just feels more natural. Additionally, I post a lot on our company blog as well as LinkedIn Pulse, so if he hasn’t read any of my stuff that’s a red flag. Social-selling is a HUGE part of our process and if she has no natural inclination to do it, I’m passing.

3. Is This Person A Quitter?

This is a tough thing to suss out and I usually try to figure this one out during an onsite interview. Why? Because people lie during their interview, no one likes talking about their shortcomings. They will say whatever, whenever during an interview; therefore drawing out weakness is really difficult.

So how do you determine whether or not someone is a quitter during an interview? You have to push the candidate. I know this sounds a bit sinister, but you have to push hard during the interview to see what a candidate is made of. This takes a bit of skill and practice so start working on this immediately. You have to draw this out by asking open ended questions and then dig deep into his or her responses. Here’s an example:

Ask a candidate, “What part of your personality lends itself well to a career in sales?”

The candidate will probably respond with, “I really like working with people, and I have a very persuasive personality.”

Follow this up with, “Why do you like working with people?” and “What makes you think you have such a persuasive personality.”

Now stop and read his or her body language. Most candidates will believe that simply saying what they have said is good enough. Great candidates will be ready with solid, real-world examples of why they said what they said. Decent candidates will think about it for a second and probably make something up. Bad candidates will say they can’t think of anything at the moment. That person is a quitter. Game over.

4. Can This Person Handle Objections?

This is the part of the interview you may or may not enjoy, but it has to be done. If you are a person who doesn’t like to dig, who roots for the underdog, force yourself to push here. If you are a person who likes to push people, let that part of your personality come out.

Ask him questions about his major in college, his GPA, or what job he wanted when he went into college. If her major is a bad fit, or if her GPA was low or she wanted to be anything other than a sales professional before college, now is the time to go in and push back on those responses.

Don’t ask questions. Instead make these statements like these: “Art History doesn’t sound like a major that would prepare you for sales.”, “That GPA doesn’t sound you’re the type of person that has a passion for the work they do”. Now stop. Don’t talk. Wait and see what happens.

A strong candidate will be able to side step these answers with great rebuttals. A bad candidate will freeze and the interview may just end right then and there. Let the silence be deafening. Do not talk until he talks. If he doesn’t talk, it’s time to tell him the interview is over. If she successfully overcomes these objections, you’ve got yourself a winner.

Bonus Advice: What Questions Did She Ask?

The questions a candidate asks are really important. This is a direct indication of whether or not she is going to ask the tough questions required of the SDR position when engaging with prospects. When you open up and allow him to ask questions—the “Do you have any questions for me?” portion of the interview–what she asks can make or break the interview. If he has no questions, unfortunately you just wasted your time.

Questions I like to hear:

“What makes your best SDR so good?”
“What are the characteristics of a great SDR?”
“How long will I be an SDR before I can make the transition to a closing role?”
“Why do your SDR like working here?”
“What’s your management style?”

Questions I don’t like to hear:

“What’s the culture like here?”
“How many vacation days to you provide?”
“What are the perks of working here?”
“What does your product do?”

Good luck! These individuals will play a very important role in your organization. Make sure you choose the right ones.

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