No More Headhunters: How to Hire Your Own Salesperson

I’m not big on headhunters, and you shouldn’t be either. They are not working for you. They are trying to get you to plunk down a fee in exchange for hiring one of their “used cars.” It’s that simple. They are not working for you. More likely they are trying to manipulate you.

So, what should you do about hiring? Take sales, because that will be about your toughest hire. How do you hire your own salesperson? Here are some key steps from my book, No More Headhunters.

Two preliminary points: Make the candidate impress you. Never try to “sell” a candidate on your business. Bag the plant tour. That comes if you are interested in them. It is better to hire no one, if no one meets your standards, than to write checks to a dud you took to get the position filled.

Second, in sales you are looking for these four factors, in order:

  1. Self-direction—the ability to sustain self-motivation
  2. Killer Instinct—a power closer, one who smells a potential sale, and is riveted on closing it
  3. People Skills—the capacity to communicate and influence people
  4. Organization—the skill to prioritize activities and use time wisely

Those are the four and that is the order. Only megastars will have all four. There are lots of dynamite producers with just the first three. You cannot succeed without the first two.  

The Steps

1. Run an Ad—Whether on, in hardcopy, or online publications, write an ad that a) makes absolutely clear what specifically you are looking for, and b) asks qualified seekers to call and ask for “Maria” (your initial screener’s fictitious name). Forget emailing resumes. They all glitter; few are gold. You want to hear a voice.

2. Initial Screen—Give “Maria” a number of strikeout factors and have her weed out all the chaff. Strikeout factors may include dead-sounding voice, emphasis on what the job pays rather than its opportunity, want to “try” sales, etc. I have about 16 I use.

3. Second Screen—Have the decision-maker call the select people still in the game and hold a brief but pointed phone interview. Here you may be looking at work history, sales background, why they want the position…that sort of thing

4. Interview—Call the strongest ones in for a personal interview. You really try to get to know them in as much detail as possible. Ask about hobbies and other secondary things. People will tip their hands there. You want energetic people who love challenges.

5. Final Interview—Take the finalists and interview them again. This time have at least two other people interview them separately. Meet and compare notes.

6. Test the Finalists—You must do this. There are a variety of testing services. I have one of my own. Good testing will provide sparkling insights into the candidates.

7. Check References—Require any serious candidate to give you three references who will talk. Of course, they will give you their strongest advocates, but if you know what questions to ask (and I have them, if you need them), you can smoke out the critical information.

8. Direct the Hiree—Tell the person exactly what is expected of her or him. Make rock-certain there is no confusion. If they are going to bail out, now is the time—before there is any disillusionment.

Dr. David Claerbaut is a national consultant to the graphic arts industry and author of 15 books. His website is Call him at 702-354-7000 or email: