From talking with several thousand salespeople, pre-employment psychometric testing is widely used in sales hiring practices across many industries. Curiously, hiring other professionals – for example, accountants, nurses, or lawyers – apparently doesn’t require personality testing – but you’re hiring a salesperson?! Time to roll out your favorite behavioral assessment profile just to be sure!
In helping the nation’s leading commercial risk management and insurance brokers to recruit Business-to-Business (B2B) sales people, many of our clients rely on various behavioral and psychometric tests to help them decide whether to hire a new producer (the generic title for a sales person in our industry). Understanding that I have some influence on this protocol, I suggest to our clients that they avoid these three common ways that salesperson pre-hire testing can run amuck.
1. Testing too early. Some hiring managers prefer to administer sales testing BEFORE meeting a candidate, justifying this as an efficient way to pre-screen candidates. Sales testing firms encourage pre-interview administration for consistency and to avoid discrimination issues (conveniently, this method also enables testing firms to sell a lot more tests). Asking a person to take a test before they meet anyone in your company is, well, presumptuous and, as we say in the recruiting world, a bad candidate experience. The biggest downside is that you virtually eliminate the largest and most promising group: “passive” candidates who are NOT actively job hunting and therefore do NOT need to take your sales test but are open to an initial exploratory meeting or phone call. Key takeaway: Use tests mid-process, ideally AFTER a first face-to-face interview or exploratory meeting establishes mutual interest, and don’t use a test as a precondition for meeting a high potential “passive” candidate.
2. Seduced by testing “illusion of precision”. Sales aptitude tests are superbly marketed and the reports look impressive. Slickly produced sales testing reports tend to give a hiring manager over-confidence when making a hiring decision. I call this seduction the testing “illusion of precision”. While understanding a candidate’s personality and behavioral traits is useful to gauge how the person may fit the hiring manager and the firm’s culture, unfortunately, these behavioral profiles often come up short in predicting whether a potential producer will be able to successfully DO the sales job in your firm. Just because the test report looks authoritative, don’t assume that it will accurately predict the behaviors that drive sales in your firm. Key takeaway: Use tests that are validated for a specific, important skill. For example, the SPQ*Gold profile assesses a person for prospecting call reluctance, a narrow, yet critically important sales behavior.
3. Over-weighting test results. Read the fine print in the most commonly used personality and behavioral-based sales aptitude test reports and you will find a disclaimer like this: “The profile should account for only 20 percent of the overall hire decision.” Despite the warning label, hiring managers tend to over-weight the profile results in a sales hire decision. Some even abdicate the producer hiring decision to the behavioral test result – literally knocking out a candidate who “fails” a $100 standardized test. Key takeaway: Use tests if they help you to make a hiring decision and then only as a supporting factor — a data point — in an informed decision based on thorough evidenced-based interviewing and background checking.
In summary, I recognize that many hiring managers will continue to use sales aptitude testing to assess producer candidates – perhaps out of fear or habit but also hopefully as another data point to help inform the hiring decision. While most sales aptitude tests are of limited value to assess a candidate that has undergone structured, evidence-based interviews and thorough background checks, wise hiring managers will heed these 3 cautions: don’t test too early in the recruiting process, don’t be seduced by testing “illusion of precision”, and don’t overweight test results.