Hiring and Millennials

7 minute read

One of the best parts of a sales leaders job is hiring and developing sales teams. This is also one of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of a leadership role. Hours and hours go into the recruiting, interviewing and re-interviewing process, all in the hopes that a few hours of dialogue and questions can lead to the right decision on the right hire for a team.

This blog series is focused specifically on millennials in a sales function and the topic of hiring is truly one of the most critical. There are many books and endless websites and coaches dedicated to the topic of hiring high-performance sales teams. However, I’ve found a few key elements in hiring millennials that I think are critical. Here are a few of my distilled thoughts on this incredibly challenging and important element of sales transformation.

  1. Hire for skills that can not be taught

This is by far the single most important element when hiring a customer facing sales representative. Personality, genuine drive and an eagerness to learn outweigh the “on paper” elements any time –  including past experience, academic pedigree and source of referral. Hiring someone for a frontline sales role who may not have “traditional” sales experience is a very common decision sales managers face when building out teams and recruiting straight out of college.

Hiring someone who is authentically enthusiastic about a new opportunity, despite its challenges is critical. Ask a lot of questions about cold calling ideas, how to handle rejection, what does value building mean to them and what steps would they take to keep motivated during all parts of a sales cycle.

Hire people who have worked in front of customers in any capacity. Hire people who worked in retail stores, restaurants, anywhere they engaged with customers 1:1 and were responsible for influencing the buying decision- of anything! Technology, complex sales and other more difficult products or solutions are the elements that can be taught. Great personality, openness to learn and start anywhere are much harder to come by. As many of us learn, the skills and traits can’t really can’t be taught.

  1. Diversity: culture mash-up vs. culture carbon copy

So often, the refrain heard when not getting hired involves something like “not a cultural fit”. Culture fit is a tricky thing and a topic I would encourage people to think of as more of a mashup than a carbon copy. Having a team of diverse people who have the same goals, values and work ethic is a much better recipe for sales success and a cohesive, happy team, than an army of identicals all acting and engaging in the exact same ways.

Hire as broad a mix of gender and backgrounds as possible for your team. Differing viewpoints and experiences really help, especially with companies who are often hiring people for their very first jobs. Not having context working at other companies makes hiring as diverse a sales team as possible even more important.

I am also an unabashed advocate for hiring veterans as salespeople. Adding individuals who have served or trained to serve in any military capacity adds an incredibly valuable dynamic to a sales team. The work ethic, the sense of team and the ability to think about selling from a background of duty to country can be a unique and very valuable element to a team. If you’re thinking about hiring a vet, check out these websites to get started:




  1. Reference check for real!

It’s the end of the quarter, you’re trying to close deals, manage slipped deals and hire your last remaining headcount before the HR window closes for good. Managing all these deadlines can often lead to cutting one of the most critical corners in a sales hiring cycle – calling and speaking to a live reference. Don’t settle for an email, don’t skip this step altogether because you feel this person is perfect and you just want the hire complete. Pick up the phone and call someone who has worked with the individual in any capacity.

There are often very subtle nuances in the truth in an interview cycle that a third party can either corroborate or call into question. Hiring millennials means taking a chance on unproven skills and having a candid conversation about the little details of an individual can be a big difference maker.

Ask several basic questions that force an example that describes attitude such as:

  • What was Tyler’s approach to being on time?
  • How did Melanie collaborate with you on issues that arose suddenly or were well known and not addressed?
  • Did you always feel listened to and respected?
  • What do you think is Katie’s biggest motivation for working here?
  • Would you hire Max again?

If time permits getting a second live reference can also be a big help in gaining a more complete perspective from former employers or even professors of a potential candidate.

  1. Details Matter

Google, like many high tech companies in California, is known for a very casual and laid back work attire. However, when interviewing I always wanted to see candidates who took effort in dressing up for this more formal first impression. Candidates who took the time to dress appropriately for an interview, came in with several printed copies of their C.V. and references always made a good impression.

Another detail to look out for in an interview cycle is negative or condescending talk. Bashing former employees and bosses is a detail to be on high alert for during the interview process. Proceed with caution.

Also be sensitive to candidates who clearly demonstrate excitement at the role at hand (not a future role). If you are interviewing a candidate for an entry level lead development role but all that’s discussed is their passion for and why they are just perfect to be the next social media marketing manager, you get a clear sense that the candidate is just trying to get their foot in the door and will want to move to a new role right away.

There is nothing at all wrong with expressing future interest in a more senior role but if you hire someone who is not happy from day one with the role and feels that a year or more to move to a new role is far too long, you will have an unhappy and largely difficult to manage individual. So listen closely for cues as to the candidate’s willingness and eagerness to work in the role currently being offered.

Follow up matters a lot. At a minimum email follow-ups are a basic part of any candidates interview cycle. But the one follow-up I still reflect upon was the single time in my interview days where I received a handwritten note on personalized stationery. That candidate was a millennium and was hired.

Hiring is such a deep topic and doing it right will only serve you and your long-term success. Just as you expect your candidates to prepare, do your own millennial homework as well. Be open to hiring people without traditional sales experience if they have the right personality and motivation to start selling and have an eagerness to learn. So take a chance.

(Pro tip: If you read the last sentence and automatically thought of ABBA instead of Chance the rapper, maybe do some more homework on millennials)

Join me on June 19th at 10am PT for Altify’s webinar  ‘Next Generation Sales Leadership’ where we will discuss the fundamental challenges and opportunities of building and leading your millennial sales team. For more information and to register, see the webinar details here.

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