The Value of Pre-Hire Assessments for Sales Roles

Drawing top-quality talent to fill sales positions from entry-level to C-level is, for many companies, a pressing and ongoing challenge. According to a 2014 report from Harvard Business School’s U.S. Competitiveness Project, technical sales and sales management positions are among the hardest jobs to fill. Because of the tight talent pool, decision makers can feel rushed to make hires and sometimes depend upon their “gut instinct” when deciding which candidates to bring on board.

However, with competition for sales positions so intense, it is especially critical to assess talent before hiring in order to avoid mis-hires, which can throw off growth capabilities and be exceedingly expensive to businesses. For example, a 2013 study by CareerBuilder, 27 percent of U.S. employers in the survey said one bad hire cost their organization more than $50,000.

Increasingly used by companies across all industries, pre-hire assessments are a highly predictive measure of how well a prospective employee will flourish in a specific role. Between 2001 and 2013, large employers in the United States using pre-hire assessments jumped from 26 percent to 57 percent. The tests can ensure candidates have the necessary skills for the role and are a good fit for an organization’s unique culture prior to the interview phase of the hiring process.

For sales positions in particular, companies can create a profile of the characteristics of their star performers and tailor assessments that will help them discover similarly talented sales professionals who are more likely to commit to the business long term.

What are pre-hire assessments?
Pre-hire assessments are tests designed to screen potential employees for the skills, characteristics, and qualifications required to take on a specific role within a company. These assessments are often given early in the hiring process to improve efficiency by ensuring only fully-qualified candidates who are a good fit for the company culture make it to the final hiring stages.

What is the value of pre-hire assessments?
According to a 2010 report by the Aberdeen Group, companies using pre-hire assessments showed 75 percent year-over-year improvements in hiring manager satisfaction and 75 percent year-over-year reduction in hiring costs compared to companies not utilizing assessments.

What are the different types of assessments?
Pre-hire tests can be used to discover a variety of skills and traits, including:

  • Cognitive ability
  • Physical ability
  • Office skills
  • Technical skills
  • Personality traits
  • Language proficiencies
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Motivational levels
  • Problem-solving skills

What are the benefits of pre-hire assessments in hiring for sales roles?
Success in sales goes beyond personal charm, a natural intuition about people, creativity, energy, and the ability to establish long-term relationships. While these are all important characteristics, every organization has its own unique culture and services and products. If a new hire doesn’t feel a sense of connection with your company culture or feel passionate about the products/services you are selling, they are unlikely to perform well or feel satisfied in the position.

Pre-hire assessments can help organizations discover whether someone has a personality that aligns with their culture and whether they are likely to be energetically engaged in driving sales for the long term.

To get the most out of pre-hire assessment for sales positions, it’s important that companies analyze the roles they are looking to fill and study the star sales talent within their organization prior to testing. Once they understand the position clearly and have defined what success looks like in the role, they can use testing to hone in on talent who possess those competencies.

Role-playing tests are also a strong hiring tool for sales. In-person interactions with customers can reveal significant similarities or differences from the highest performers within an organization. These tests can also illuminate whether an applicant’s personality and approach would be a good fit for your organizations target customer.

The complexity of the pre-hire tests often reflects the complexity of the position being filled. When filling an executive-level sales management role, for example, multiple rounds of testing will probably be required to gain the most beneficial and accurate understanding of a candidate’s fit for the position.

What are the issues with pre-hire assessments?
Organizations must be clear about the purpose and requirements of each test to avoid possible pitfalls. All tests must comply with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requirements that they are fully relevant to the specific position being filled. In 2015, retail giant Target Corp. settled a discriminatory-practices lawsuit stemming from EEOC charges that some of the company’s pre-hire assessments were not sufficiently job related and were discriminatory against minorities and women.

It is recommended that pre-hire test vendors are specialized in evaluating for sales roles and that evaluations are based on multiple tests, rather than a single test, to get a fuller picture of the candidate. Also, vendors should be able to provide statistics proving the testing increases valuable hires while decreasing the number of bad hires.

Finally, the assessments should be a positive experience for all test takers — those who eventually become employees and those who do not. Job seekers’ time is valuable and should be treated as such. The tests should feel pertinent to the job they are applying for, and the testing environment should be as engaging and supportive as possible.

What comes after the assessments?
Pre-hire assessments are extremely valuable for narrowing the pool of prospective hires for sales roles, but remember they are only one part of the process. They should never be used as the sole method of selecting hires. It is still important to consider résumés and references closely. And the face-to-face interview will always be relevant.

Used well, pre-hire assessments ensure that the applicants’ and hiring managers’ time is not wasted simply because they reveal early on who is not a right fit. After the job offer is made, sales managers can focus less of their valuable energy on under-performing talent and more on empowering the team. Likewise, new hires won’t be frustrated by a disconnect between their skill set and the requirements of the position.

With pre-hire testing, chronically difficult-to-fill sales roles become easier to fill and keep filled for the long term. The assessments improve all stages of the recruitment and employment life cycle, from the initial application to the on-boarding process to the work experience for both new hires and sales managers going forward.

Want to learn more? Contact Hudson RPO.

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