by Steven Branstetter | 7/6/15

In the June 2015 issue of The Imaging Channel we started to take a look at hiring new sales candidates for your organization. In that article titled “What Does a Top Sales Professional Look Like?” we specifically examined what to look for in a seasoned sales professional. In this installment we will begin to look more closely at hiring entry-level candidates.

The entry-level profile is hard to pinpoint and tends to be vague sometimes. Entry-level candidates can also produce your greatest return on investment as they traditionally have low compensation packages. First let’s all get on the same page with this title of entry-level candidates. For our purposes, we’ll say it is anyone with fewer than five years of business experience after graduating college. Already we are at one of the checkpoints for finding the best sales candidates. You want to look, if you can, how long it took them to complete college. Ideally you want someone who completed college in four to five years. More than five years could mean they let life distractions get in their way of completing tasks. Less than four years could mean they could be too smart for sales. Now this last point might not make any sense but as the old saying goes, “A students teach B students how to work for C students”.

The next thing you want to look at is what they did in college. Did they work full time? If so this could indicate a strong work ethic, and if their college job is related to their degree program it is an even larger plus. Don’t discredit college students that work in the service industry during college, however, as I have found this is a great industry to look for new sales talent. They are accustomed to working with people and have a great customer service skills. Also by making tips they will be more accustomed to a commission base compensation package.

Now, the next checkpoint is one I am sure most of you are already aware of, but you might not know why. Did they play sports in college or high school? It is widely accepted that former athletes make great sales professionals and most would say it is because of their competitive spirit. However, some of the most competitive people I have ever met never played sports a day in their life. Additionally, in sales it is all about producing, not being better than your colleagues, and if someone is over-competitive they may get a case of the Ricky Bobby “If you’re not first you’re last” mentality and give up if they can’t become number one in the company.  Sports and sales go well together because everyone has to produce as a team to win. In sports, when you do not play well you hear it from your coach. This ability to be coached translates directly into a sales manager-sales rep relationship, thus making former athletes great sales professionals.

Another attribute to look at is how involved someone is in school related clubs and programs. Fraternities and sororities are always a plus as students learn early on how important it is to build strong networks and connections. I would be cautious, however, of the over-decorated graduates. I have often found that those candidates with all their collegiate accolades are extremely disconnected with the real world and have trouble adapting into a working environment.

So enough about what to look for in recent graduates. What about those candidates a few years after college? First and foremost, you want to look for job stability. Someone who completed school less than five years ago should not be on their fifth job. At that five-year mark I would say a maximum of three jobs is the number that I would consider appropriate, but ideally one or two. Most students leave college and feel great pressure to have a job lined up when they graduate and often find out quickly that it is not for them. Don’t be afraid of that candidate that has less than a year of work experience after graduation, as they can often be great candidates. Here is a list of some of the top companies I like to pull from for entry-level candidates:

·         Enterprise Rent-A-Car – great training program and most people there are tired of washing cars in suits.

·         Verizon – often outsources their workforce, who work 100 percent commission and are ready to leave the retail environment.

·         ADT – heavy commission driven environment and most reps do not want to work the residential market

·         Yellow Pages (YP) – selling advertising can be hard but this company has a good training program

·         Cbeyond or Birch– Heavy B2B hunting position but sales reps traditionally do not have high earning potentials

These are just some of the more recognized names in their respective industries and of course their competitors would also be a good place to pull from. All of these companies have a great training program and do a fantastic job introducing entry-level candidates to the work force. I have had less luck with candidates who have insurance sales background, which is why they are not on this list.

Now just because a candidate played sports in college and has been working at Enterprise Rent-A-Car for the past two years does not mean they will be your next rock star sales rep. In my experience, about half of this candidate pool will want to be in management and not sales. It is strange talking to a 25-year old with two years of experience who is only looking for a management position; they fail to realize the majority of the workforce out there has many more years’ experience then they do, and I have found this a battle not worth fighting.  You want that other half of the pool who did what they were supposed to do — went to school, got a good job — but they are nowhere close to what they need to be financially. On average everyone from the companies listed above is going to W2 somewhere between $35,000 and $45,000. Most recent graduates, including myself several years ago, thought that every job you get after college is guaranteed to be over $60,000. I am not sure where we all got this number from but it can be a tough reality for someone to deal with a few years after graduation. This group of candidates is extremely motivated by money, and once they start making the income they desire they will either be an extremely happy employee or be pushed to make even more. This is your honey hole, and this new hire will create tremendous revenue for you and your company.

Now that I have done my best to explain to you what my ideal entry-level sales candidate looks like, and why, let me give you a direct answer. It is a former college athlete who bartended during college and has been working at Enterprise Rent-A-Car for the past two years. He is making about $40,000 a year and ready to take the next step in his career. He  is not trying to get into pharmaceutical sales, which in my book is not a true sales profession, and is looking for a long-term home. He says “yes sir” and “no sir” during the interview and sends you a thank you note after meeting with you. There is no non-compete to worry about and you will not break the bank on the base salary. If you are really smart you will find a way to get referrals from these candidates to find others like them — good people know other good people.

As a personal disclaimer, this article in no way intends discrimination against anyone for any reason. There are plenty of talented individuals out there who did not attend college and could not play sports due to a disability or condition. This article is simply intended as a guide to considering candidates you might not have considered previously. I hope this information has been able to provide you with some inside knowledge that will allow you to make better investments in entry-level candidates to help grow your business.

Steven Branstetter is an executive recruiter at Crawford Thomas, a nationwide executive recruiting firm based in Orlando, Fla., with offices in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. He has extensive knowledge with recruiting in the office technology industry for both OEMs and independent dealerships. Branstetter can be contacted at 1-321-257-0811 or