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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Meaningful evaluation -- fast results are important

This image is from the website of, which offers a pre-employment screening test package for many positions. I haven't tested it myself, but will try their sample evaluation. We use for our potential sales employees as a key screening resource. This type of testing gets you part of the way beyond the resume and somewhat staged interview; the challenge is however, to see how the potential employee really works on the job. And I've found no better, nor faster, solution than to put the employee on the payroll for a few days working evaluation. This is more helpful than multiple interviews and other expensive testing because the working evaluation performs these functions simultaneously -- you see the person at work, and how he or she interacts with other employees and clients, and you know the person well enough to get somewhat beyond the superficial mask. You still need to check references carefully, however, and that is our final evaluation stage.

One of our fundamental evaluation resources in assessing potential new salespeople is whether they actually sell anything during the one to four day working test. (We break the assignment into two components: One, a prospecting test to see if the candidates can assess and discover relevant potential leads, and the second, a "list working" challenge where the representative is given a somewhat qualified list of names for a specific project or theme, and is expected to convert some of that list to actual orders.)

If they don't sell anything during the test -- if they just claim they are "close" or "I'll get results with a little more time", we pay them for the few days work, and say goodbye. The reason is simple: Surely, if you are truly a salesperson, and want to prove yourself, you'll be able to show your stuff with a real demonstration order. If you can't you are possibly breathing the air of "maybe tomorrow", and the story will go on and on, with no results.

This evaluation stage, like others in our system, is not perfect. We may weed out good representatives with standards that some say are ridiculously high. Theoretically, with a little additional product knowledge; maybe some extra resources and training, the sales representatives can achieve their true potential. But are we better off declining that risk, and just working extra hard to find someone who really qualifies?

One thing we don't do is harp on this minimum standard because the last thing I want is a desperate salesperson growing even more anxious and forceful as he or she tries to meet the "sell anything, now" target. The reason is this goal is not likely to be achieved through desperate effort -- it requires a little smarts, thinking, and reasoning. I'll provide clues; and the potential employee is given the numbers and invited to communicate with our other salespeople for potential answers, but we want to see if the representative "gets it" without making a big fuss. So I deliberately lower the pressure ("You can have another day if you wish") and stay out of the potential employee's hair/space.

Effective selling, ironically, works on this principal: The harder you need to try to succeed, the less likely you are to succeed. But if you don't work hard, you will fail. In other words, blind, forceful effort, and repetitive rote thinking and behavior, is likely to result in a painful disillusionment. A little smarts will go a long way. But you have to work at it. Things 'fall in your lap' only when you set the stage with either enough laps for which things can fall, or you have a very big one to work with.

Linked to this is an intriguing observation that someone can be absolutely brilliant at one place, and totally dumb at another. I've seen enough examples of this quality-- including in my own experience. In business we should respect that the real abilities and talents lie in a variety of places and circumstances. I certainly respect that someone who fails the test here could very well succeed elsewhere.

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