In my 20-plus years as a recruiter, it has been my experience that evaluating sales candidates is the most difficult of any role.
Most roles have a gentle slope of competence, in that accomplishment is difficult, if not impossible to quantify. But sales could not be simpler — how much did you sell compared with how much you were asked to sell that year, i.e., “making quota.”
If you make quota, you are a star. If you exceed quota, you are a superstar. If you miss making quota, you are on thin ice, and go downhill from there.
So candidates should do everything they can to make it easier for hiring managers or recruiters to identify their quality. Here are some rules:
Be succinct in what you accomplished. The easiest sales résumé to write is that of a high performer. Don’t bury your core accomplishments. I have often seen résumés of high sales performers that detail every responsibility accomplishment and minor change in role. I sometimes challenge these people by suggesting that they would be better off with a business card that said “Made quota 5 years in a row” than the lengthy document they prepared.
Don’t assume knowledge of past employers. Or of the products you sold. Instead of just naming them, describe them, even if it is a form that is a name brand in its industry or society.
Use active, not passive terms. This is a best practice for any résumé, not just sales. Using passive verbs gives the impression that you were tangentially related to the work accomplished. Don’t be humble. Describe succinctly what you did. And for a sales role, no one cares about facilitating, administrative work, etc.
Don’t make excuses for past failures. If a company was shut down while you were working there, indicate that. But I don’t want to read the reasons you didn’t make quota. You either did or didn’t.
Make clear how your employers sell their products. Was it inside sales, outside sales, channel management? Make it easy for employers in industries that have similar buying behaviors to find you.
Describe your strategic accomplishments. In smaller organizations, a salesperson may have more responsibility for gathering customer requirements or market intelligence than in a larger organization. Make it clear you have these skills; they are valuable, though they don’t replace sales success.
Tell the reader what sort of role and organization you seek. Don’t make them guess. A successful salesperson ought to be able to describe what size organization and types of industry they are best at, rather than leaving it open ended. Remember, your goal is to find your next successful role, not simply to get hired.
Isaac Cheifetz is an executive recruiter and strategic résumé consultant. His website is catalytic1.com.