How to Hire your Sales team – is ‘Gut Feel’ enough?

sales-hiring1We’ve all done it – you’re running a company, business is buzzing and you need a new sales hire, you’re under pressure, you know what you need, and you need it fast, but you have no time, no resources and little money! Suddenly an opportunity arises – a great candidate, great track record, you arrange a meeting, get on really well and, though it seems too good to be true, you hire him/her.

6 months- one year down the line, results are just not what was expected, and you are facing losses and damage control.

What happened? You probably made the decision on ‘gut feel’.


Whilst there is no perfect guarantee of success in any hiring decision, we know that usually, gut feel alone is not enough to weed out ‘false positives’ in selection. Oh and by the way, it also results in a high number of false negatives too – the good ones who got away….


Gut feel is something we feel, it’s an emotion which is a result of our reactions to information received. The problem with emotions is that they are driven by our personal past experiences, opinions, fears, prejudices. ego – the hidden part of our make-up which makes us ‘who we are’.

If let loose on unsuspecting candidates, this ‘basket of who we are’ can unconsciously run riot, with uncontrolled biases affecting our decisions, not only resulting in discrimination and prejudice on basis of gender, race, colour, religion, (a serious consequence for the candidates, morally and legally unacceptable in majority of cases) but also, a serious consequence for you: false positives and false negatives.


Selection decisions should be based on one question – ‘who is going to perform the best to my expectations of this role’?

Not ‘who do I like best’… or ‘who looks good’? or ‘who talks well’

Or – worse- ‘who do I not like’ or ‘who doesn’t look good’ or ‘who doesn’t talk well’.

So what is ‘Bias’ and how does it affect decision making? There are several kinds of bias – ‘group think’, ‘halo effect’, ‘recency effect’. In selection, one of the most common biases when using ‘gut feel’, is ‘confirmation bias’.


It goes something like this.

Scenario 1: You are told the candidate is promising, strong, good, has a good track record, your friend has referred him. When he walks in he looks smart, presentable and enthusiastic.

What is in your mind?

Scenario 2: You are told that the candidate has a good track record but otherwise doesn’t seem to be a good fit; when he walks in, you find he has a scar across his face.

What is in your mind?

What tends to happen, if we just follow our instincts?

In scenario 1, we may have already formed a positive impression of the candidate. We start looking for more positive evidence to support or ‘Confirm’ our initial impression that this will be a good candidate.

In Scenario 2, we may have formed a negative impression of the candidate. We start looking for more negative evidence to support or ‘Confirm’ our initial impression that this will not be a good candidate.

Do the candidates get a fair and equal chance? No

Might you select a smooth talker who can’t deliver?  Yes

Might you miss a potentially great performer because you didn’t like the scar on his face?  Yes

This is ‘Confirmation Bias’ at work – evidence gathering is driven by our initial impression; if you are relying on gut feel alone, if your interviewing and selection processes are not structured in advance to ensure equal treatment of every candidate, this bias will definitely affect you.



But, I hear you say, “I’m not biased!!”  None of us want to know that we are manipulated by these nasty biases, but believe me, they really do happen to all of us, and it’s on our heads to put processes in place which catch them in a net right at the start. The clue is: Assume that you ARE biased (along with everyone else doing selection). Then plan your methods.


How to minimise bias in selection:



  • Invest some time pre planning your process, make it structured

  • Define the Knowledge, Skills and Behaviors required for effective performance in the role
  • Choose two or more assessment methods and combine the results – well designed Structured Interviews and a valid/reliable Psychometric test will provide a solid set of data
  • Design structured interviews (one design for Technical/knowledge interview, one for Behavior Interview) get trained to use the ‘STAR’ technique to probe
  • Choose a psychometrics vendor who is trained and certified by the British Psychological Society (ask for registration number)
  • Choose a test which has high validity (fit for purpose) and high reliability (proven to be consistent) (ask for free copies of the Technical Manual- no Manual, no validity/reliability)
  • If you can afford it, choose a vendor who will help you correlate all your results to generate a meaningful overall score

Hiring your Sales team-is ‘Gut Feel’ enough? Definitely not!


Val owns Talent Makers, a boutique assessment consulting company

Talent Makers are approved suppliers of psychometric Tools, Training and Consulting from Psytech International

Val is registered with the BPS since 1995 reg. no 120965

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