Startups, Take Note: Candidate Experience IS a Key Factor in Sales Recruiting

November 28, 2016 Amy Volas

This post is written by Amy Volas, a sales fanatic, recruiter and entrepreneur for 20 years, working both for and with household brands like ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Jacobson, Yahoo! and DataTrend. She is currently the Head of Avenue Talent Partners

Now, more than ever before, the kinds of salespeople who will directly impact the growth of your startup have options. They know your business can’t succeed without a killer sales team.  These titans of the product- and service-pushing industry hold a great deal of power.

That said, not all the power is theirs.

For you to attract and land the kinds of game-changing sales talent your startup needs to properly scale, it’s critical that you regularly play one of the most important recruitment “aces” in your hand—candidate experience. We need to bring the principles we apply to sales processes outside the company and apply those same principles to our own recruitment processes.

Often overlooked and unused, it might be the very thing your startup needs to distance itself from the rest of its competitors when waging a heated sales recruitment war.

Below, in addition to other things, you’ll learn why candidate experience is germane to the sales recruitment process and how to go about enhancing it.

Sales Candidates Are Customers Too

Generally speaking, when we think of big brands like Apple, Google and Amazon, our minds are instantly drawn to the products and services they offer. In our heads, each is a household name because of what they regularly do for their customers.

It’s the same thought process that, should the opportunity ever arise, would have us intrigued with the idea of working for one of those companies.

Oddly enough, though most startups aren’t even remotely close to joining the likes of the world’s biggest, most booming brands, they feel that the bulk of their sales recruitment efforts should come down to the exact same thing—reputation.

Don’t get me wrong, reputation certainly plays a massive part in the recruitment process, but for game-changing sales talent to join your dynamic team, you’ll need to focus on something you might not have expected—treating them like customers, too.

This is where customer experience comes into the picture.  

Similar to a customer, they are attracted to who you are, what you do and most importantly, how you do it. In short, prospective salespeople are customers in their own right—it’s time you treat them as such.

Why Startups Should Care About Sales Candidate Experience

Regardless of whether or not a hire is ultimately made, sales candidates of all backgrounds and abilities deserve a positive experience with your business.

Yes, this might require a bit more from your end, but putting forth the effort to ensure this happens is worth your time, energy and attention. Remember: these salespeople your company is trying to hire will be putting their blood, sweat and tears into representing you. They’re not emotionless robots, disguised as mere words on a résumé. One of these candidates will be showing up every day to the office a couple of weeks from now.

Furthermore, they’re part of a large, tight-knit community that likes to talk...and not only about the good stuff, but the bad stuff, as well. Studies show that negative experiences are far more likely to be remembered (let alone shared) than positive ones.

Thanks to our friends like Google, Glassdoor and Indeed, if your brand makes a name for itself as one that creates a less than stellar interview process, word will travel fast, ultimately working against you.

Talented staff with options will look beyond remuneration: they’ll expect to be taking care of that themselves by blowing quotas out of the water. Instead, when considering a new job they’re looking for a day-to-day that sounds attractive, and a line on their resume that furthers their career. In that sense, they’re the most important customers you’ll ever have. They’re on the same subreddits, social media groups and Quora threads as the people waiting in your outer office: word will spread, and if you treat prospective hires like they’re not worth much, pretty soon you’ll be right: the great ones won’t even call you.

I’ve seen it before, and I’ll see it again—proceed with caution.

Ensuring A Positive Experience During The 3 Phases The Hiring Process

Modern sales organizations do a huge amount of their recruiting and research online. While that gives fast access to a spread of information that was unimaginable 20 years ago, it has had a not-so-stellar impact on startup recruitment by encouraging negligence.

The biggest problem? It’s without question effective, but not everything can or should be automated.  Remember, we’re dealing with people here.

I’m serious about all of this—check out what iCIMS had to say on the topic:

  • 46% of candidates rate their candidate experience as poor to very poor
  • 64% said that they share information about their candidate experience via social media

Here’s the deal: in each of the three phases of a hire, top performing sales talent is all too often met head-on with experiences that turn them completely off to potential employers.

Some of them are automated; some of them aren’t.

Still, for your startup to see the kind of growth it needs in an increasingly competitive sales landscape, there’s no longer an option—you must provide an impressive interaction for candidates, regardless of the employment outcome.  The “Golden Rule” is top of mind when I think about candidate experience and the hiring process.

Based on the above numbers, they could be the difference between you and a rival employer.

But enough talk—below, you’ll find real, actionable tips for giving sales prospects the kind of interaction they crave when entertaining their next sales gig:

Phase #1: The Application

Do you recall the last time you had to fill out an application online?

If it’s been a good while, allow me to share with you the words of an anonymous job seeker in a survey conducted by Software Advice, an applicant tracking system consulting firm — they are as follows:

“The application had a questionnaire section that took almost 45 minutes. I had to upload a résumé, then fill in all of the information on that résumé, then fill in each part on individual pages.”

The worst part?

The above candidate wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

In fact, the study’s findings reported that 55% of candidates felt that the application process was a key player in them having had a negative experience with a potential employer.

So, if your startup is set on giving talented sales prospects the uplifting experiences they deserve, start by creating a short, simple, user-friendly application that’s not repetitive with the information it solicits. Remember, technology is here to streamline the process, not replace human interaction.

Personal inquiries and skill tests? Maybe at a later date, but not here.  

And last thing—a quick word about the job descriptions that attract candidates in the first place. To further solidify early-stage experiences, forego language that’s confusing, irrelevant or boring—you do want them to take action after all.

Phase #2: The Interview Process

During a sales interview, please keep in mind that you’re speaking with a real person. As such, keep your conversations as authentic as possible. Being genuine doesn’t mean you’re ineffective—it’s a great way to test a candidate’s emotional intelligence (EQ).

Seems simple enough, right?

Almost—there are two parts to a candidate interview.

There’s the interview itself—nobody forgets about this. But as far as candidate experience is concerned, it’s the second stage that’s most important—providing helpful, timely feedback.

Let me make myself abundantly clear with this one—no matter the phase in which you’re interacting with a sales person (at any level mind you), communication is without a doubt going to be your biggest ally for providing a positive experience.

And while simply checking the post-interview feedback box might put you favorably ahead of most businesses, it’s by no means going to guarantee a positive experience for your candidate.

On average, corporate jobs attract upwards of 250 résumés. Of that group, between four and six applicants will be brought in for an interview. Spoiler alert—only one person gets hired.

Though startup openings might not get the same kind of attention, the process is an arduous one.

Because of this, for those who’ve survived the first round of cuts and invested the time to learn more about your opportunity, don’t toss them aside to “read the tea leaves.” Instead, embrace the idea that you may want to hire them in the future (or ask for referrals), provide specific, concrete takeaways as to what you liked about them, and what conclusively led you in another direction. This is a tremendous opportunity to provide insight on what they could’ve done differently to help them in the future.

Employers can see this as giving something to those failed candidates for free. Why spend the time and effort on that, especially with a new hire to onboard?

This is a major driver of candidate experience perception. Candidates ask for feedback all the time. Everyone who ever got turned down for anything by anyone wanted to know, “why?” This is an emotional need; neglect it and candidates will supply their own answers. And yet, 70% of employers do neglect it.

Nobody likes to have this conversation, but it will be greatly appreciated and pays dividends in the long run. This is where your employee experience starts. These same candidates could be great in other positions, or they might come back a year from now, with the requisite experience, ready to make it rain—for someone else. (And who knows? The tables could be turned in the future and they’ll be looking to hire you!)

Note: A healthy interview process (complete with feedback) shouldn’t last more than 30-45 days MAX. Should your interviews drag on any longer, applicants will either lose interest in the chance to work with you, or will assume they’ve been passed over for employment, putting a bad taste in their mouths.

Phase #3: The Hire

You’d think that making a hire would be enough of a positive experience for a candidate, right? That’s true—but you can still fudge the process and create a bad feeling.

To avoid this, keep most “cooks” out of the kitchen.  

Naturally, you’ll want to speak with other in-house employees to get their take on what’s needed to elevate your business, but as the decision maker, yours is the opinion that matters most.

Simply put, make a decision.

There’s no need to settle, but paralysis by analysis not only keeps the growth of your sales team and business at a standstill, it kills interest in working with you. Do your due diligence, be confident in your thorough, efficient process and take action to make a decision.

More importantly, don’t make your coveted, potential sales hire jump through hoops to appease a broken process that merely turns them off while satisfying your convoluted “process”.

For me, though, the process of making a great hire doesn’t end here.  It’s critical to “Wow!” a hire with the offer you send their way.

To do this, you’ll want to have an open and honest conversation about realistic compensation, goals, incentives and employee perks. Place special emphasis on the enthusiasm with which you speak to your newfound hire.

To increase the likelihood of them accepting, sticking around for a while and making a big impact, do the following: be swift with the making of your offer, solidify realistic performance expectations in the process, be honest about the stage you’re setting, be accessible to answer any questions, keep in regular (proactive) contact, roll out the red carpet, welcome them with a well-executed onboarding plan and a killer first day that screams personalization.


New research suggests that nearly 84% of candidates would consider leaving their current job if a better offer were made. With tried-and-true salespeople forming the backbone of any up-and-coming startup, you can’t afford to have them jumping ship while things are on the up and up.

The best way to keep in-demand sales talent a weight-bearing part of your startup? You guessed it—building loyalty right from the get-go through an incredible candidate experience.

The more consciously you look to implement the above strategies through each phase of the hiring process, the more likely you are to do just that.

Featured Image Source: Waterstreet Coffee Bar on Location for a Meeting by Startup Stock Photos CC0 Pexels

About the Author

Amy Volas

Amy Volas has been a sales fanatic, recruiter and entrepreneur for 20 years, working both for and with household brands like ZipRecruiter, Indeed, Yahoo! and Jacobson. Currently the Head of Avenue Talent Partners, she spends her working hours growing startups through one of her clients’ most valuable assets—salespeople. When she’s not working, she’s spending time with her cat, dog and husband—in that order (jokes).

Follow on Twitter Follow on Linkedin
Previous Article
How to Divide Sales Territories Using Technographics
How to Divide Sales Territories Using Technographics

Learn how to create and manage modern SaaS sales territories using technographics, which allow you to segme...

Next Article
How to Turn Your Lowest Performing Sales Team Member into a Top Selling Machine
How to Turn Your Lowest Performing Sales Team Member into a Top Selling Machine

9 tips on how to turn your lowest performing salesperson into one of your best. Tactics include reviewing t...