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Secrets Buried In a Sales Person's Resume

May 20, 2008
In my sales management career, I would bet that I've seen about 5,000 resumes for sales people. Yet, I still haven't seen one that shows someone who has achieved 40% of quota. Every single resume shows 100%, 200%, 2,000,000% of goal. Where are all of the people who have had less than stellar sales performances? Did they all leave the sales profession? If all of the resumes that I saw truly represented the performance of the individual, the U.S. economy would be thriving to say the least. Every company would be enjoying record revenue performances.

If you have read my past articles, you've felt my passion for creating sales marriages, those relationships whereby a mutually beneficial relationship is formulated between a sales professional and a company based on synergistic matches of needs. This is not easy to do as, right off the bat, the relationship begins with a flawed tool, a resume. It is this tool, not necessarily the individual, that dupes, tricks, and stretches the truth of a person's pedigree. Yet, as an employer, that is what you have to work with when hiring a sales professional so you need to find a way to mine through the information in a quest for the complete truth.

I spend a tremendous amount of time preaching about the importance of honesty and integrity in sales. Those are two words that are not often associated with the profession. As such, I believe that the quest to find sales people who represent a company's brand well starts with a thorough resume review. Plain and simple, dishonesty in a sales person's resume means they don't play on my team. There are more than enough statistics to support the issue of what I call "resume inflation."

I can recall a time when I ran a sales organization in the employment screening industry, a company that provided pre-employment background screening for other companies. We made an offer to a sales candidate who had impressed everyone he met including the CEO. When we ran his background check, our core business, we found that his claim to have worked for a company for two and a half years was actually two and a half months. The funny part is when we asked him about the discrepancy, he lied again and said his former employer made a mistake. Fifteen minutes later, he called back (I think he remembered that background screening was our core business) and fessed up. Needless to say, we couldn't have this person selling our background screening services.

Think about this, if someone would apply for a sales job at a company whose core business was employment background screening and lie about their background, what candidates do you think you are seeing? Every day, new technologies are introduced to the marketplace to make the screening process better and easier for hiring managers. Yet, none of these technology companies advocate using their technology as a replacement for a strong screening process. Assessments, for example, serve as a tool for the process, but do not replace the process itself. Thus, it all begins with a strong resume review.

The resume review should not occur for the first time with the candidate sitting in front of you. An effective interview requires preparation. As such, the resume should be studied and areas of question identified so that questions can be asked of the candidate during the interview. What areas should be perused? Here are five areas of a sales resume that require detailed attention.

Accomplishments. In sales, there is an old expression that says if you can't prove it, don't say it. This usually refers to the dialogue between a sales person and a prospect, but it is also applicable for a resume. As a hiring manager, you are well within your rights to ask candidates for documentation of the accomplishments they list on their resume. If they don't have documentation, perhaps a request for a reference for that accomplishment is appropriate. Checking every single accomplishment is over the top, but checking one or two accomplishments makes sense. I suggest those that seem the most impressive to you about the candidate be verified. If someone told me that they personally doubled the size of the company in one year, I would want to see proof of that!

Title. Sales people have more titles than there are prospects in the world. I can't keep track of all of them any more. However, those titles don't necessarily correspond to responsibility. A small company may call their only sales person a Vice President while a large company may call a person performing the exact same role a sales representative. While reviewing the resume, don't limit your perusal to the title. Dig a bit into the responsibilities that the individual had. During the interview process, it is critical that you ask questions to understand the role and responsibility that goes with the title.

Where some companies get in trouble is they look to hire a senior sales person and don't consider candidates with higher level (Vice President, for example) titles. It is important to analyze the responsibilities that the individual had in their capacity to see if this individual matches your needs regardless of what you call this role. If the resume is unclear about this, ask the candidate for details.

Employer dates. If a sales person has a gap, or gaps, in their employment meaning they did not leave one job and go directly to another one, they will show years of employment, but not months. This creates the illusion of continuous employment. If you background screen as part of your hiring process and employment verification is part of that scope, this will be identified at that time. However, that takes time and dollars. (If you haven't seen my white paper titled, "Are There Criminals On Your Sales Team?" send me an email for your copy.) But, why wait until the end of the process to learn something you can know now? When you see years on a resume, ask the candidate to provide months of employment too. Ask questions to understand the gaps. You may still elect to hire the person, based on the explanation. At least, you get the complete picture.

Training programs. Many sales people list the training programs that they have completed on their resume, but who verifies that? Guess what, no one does! When hiring IT professionals, it is common to check training and certification completion. Not so, with sales people. So, what risk does a sales person have by stating that they have completed the "Miller-Heiman Strategic Selling" course on their resume? None! A suggestion is to ask for a copy of their completion certificate. If they have truly taken the course, you will see a confident reaction. If they have only read the book, or perhaps, not even that, you will see them squirm in their seat.

College Degree. When I look at the education section of a resume, I expect to see college name, degree completed, and graduation date. However, I regularly see that degree or graduation date, or both are omitted. Red flag! Sure, a background check will expose that too, but why wait until post-offer to find out? When you see missing information on the resume, ask the candidate point-blank, if they graduated college, what year, and with what major? Some omit their graduation year to hide their age, but others do it to create the illusion of degree completion. Unfortunately, you will find many sales people who list a college and year, and hope you won't ask any other questions.

I don't believe that most sales people intend to dupe their potential employer, but I've also been around the block long enough to know that the percentage that "inflate" is high enough to warrant a circumspect analysis of the resume.
About the Author
Lee B. Salz is President of Sales Dodo, author of "Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager," and an online columnist for Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. He specializes in helping companies and their sales organizations adapt and thrive in the ever-changing world of business. Lee is available for keynote speaking, business consulting, and sales training. He can be reached via his website at Sales Dodo or by phone at 763.416.4321.
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