How to find ‘A-players’ when interviewing rep candidates

Fall 2016 Sa1eswise

How to find ‘A-players’ when interviewing rep candidates

by Nicki Weiss

Nicki Weiss is an internationally recognized Certified Professional Sales and Leadership Coach, Master Trainer, thought leader, speaker and facilitator. Since 1992, she has trained and coached more than 20,000 business leaders, sales teams and reps. Nicki has a particular passion for working with manufacturers, distributors and rep firms in the electronics industry. Nicki is ERA’s sales consultant, the brainchild and facilitator of ERA’s free teleforum programs and the founder of the SalesWise Academy. Every day, leaders wake up knowing that they, their technical reps and field sales engineers need to sharpen their focus and their skills. But they don’t have the tools, resources or patience to continually help enhance their strategy, communication and relationship building skills. The SalesWise Academy fills that void and delivers those skill-building lessons. To learn more, go to or call 416-778-4145.

Securing these A-players will take up more of your time at the hiring stage, but it will save you serious time and money in the longer run.


A rep firm/agency owner I work with tells me he is so captive to some poor performers he hired that he hesitates to go on vacation. And when he does get away, he can’t relax because he is continually fighting fires back at the office.

Where did he go wrong when hiring these people? He interviewed thoroughly and checked references. Geoff Smart and Randy Street’s book “Who” offers the answer. He didn’t aim high enough. Smart and Street urge managers to search out “A-players,” whom they define as “candidates who have at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.” Securing these A-players will take up more of your time at the hiring stage, but it will save you serious time and money in the longer run.

In the best-seller “Good to Great,” author Jim Collins sums up the same hiring philosophy: “Get the right people on your bus and into the right seats …” Be very diligent in hiring people who talk to your customers, run your sales force, assemble your product and sit in the corner office. The following guidelines will help fill your bus with A-players.

Hiring the right people for your bus

After you have initially screened candidates and weeded out the obvious non-fits, set up the first in-depth interviews. Try to line up at least one more person from your rep firm/agency who can co-interview with you.

Walking through a candidate’s career

Structure the first interview as a chronological walk through the candidate’s career. Use five simple questions for each job (listed below and liberally lifted from the pages of “Who”). Your goal is to hear the stories behind the scrubbed resume highlights and, in the process, gather an immense amount of information that will help you to make a wise hiring decision.

If this exercise seems too much like a grilling session, think of yourself as a biographer rather than an investigative reporter trying to gather dirt.

Five important questions to ask

1. What were you hired to do?

You are trying to understand the candidate’s view of the goals and targets of the job and how their success was measured.

2. What accomplishments are you most proud of?

This question will elicit the stories behind the polished statements on a resume. A-players will tell you about accomplishments that match the job outcomes they just described to you.

B and C players will talk about events, people they met or aspects of the job they liked. You won’t hear much about measurable results, though.

3. What were some low points during that job?

People may hesitate to share their lows; however, we all know there isn’t a rep alive who hasn’t experienced a low, or a bunch of lows, on a job. Don’t let the candidate off the hook; keep pushing.

4. Who, specifically, were the people you worked with?

a) What was your supervisor’s name, and how do you spell that (even if their last name is Jones)? What was it like working with him/her? What will your supervisor tell me about your greatest strengths and areas for improvement?

You’ve got to love this line of questioning. It shows that you are serious about contacting their former bosses, so they better tell the truth. It also elicits responses that illustrate how a candidate got along with past bosses.

The A-players will probably give high praise to the coaches and mentors who have helped them over the years. The B, C and D players might use words such as “jerk,” “moron,” “useless.” Just think what they might call you later down the line.

b) How would you rate the teams you worked with on an A, B, C scale? How would you rate the team when you left it on an A, B, C scale? When we speak with members of your team, what will they say were your biggest strengths and weaknesses as a manager?

Once again, these questions show that candidates better tell the truth because you will be following up with their former team members. Get curious about details, and don’t accept vague answers.

5. Why did you leave that job?

Dig deeper if you hear general answers such as, “My boss and I didn’t connect.” Or “I was struggling working on my own.” Find out why, and keep plugging until you have a clear picture of what actually happened.

You need to know if someone left after being successful (A-player clue) or if they were pushed out (B or C clue). You never know what you might hear as the picture fills in and the person’s true identity is revealed.

You will still have to pursue further conversations with promising candidates and their references, but these five questions will get you off to a good start.

Talk back: I would love to hear back from you. Let me know your most successful interviewing techniques or your worst hiring blooper.

Business video recommendation: What is the most important factor for success? Dr. Joachim de Posada, an adjunct professor at the University of Miami and a motivational speaker and author of “Don’t Eat the Marshmallow Yet: The sweet secret to success in work and life.” Visit and watch him describe why people succeed … or don’t.