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The 5 Personality Traits You Need to Evaluate When Hiring Salespeople

Jamie Shanks
Jamie Shanks
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No one wants the greasy car salesperson on their payroll. This article takes a look at the research behind personality in the workplace and particularly, on your sales team. This information will help you assess and identify strong salespeople pre-hire. These five traits will help you know what to look for while interviewing.

Where do these five traits come from? “A common personality classification system referred to as the “Big Five”  (Digman, 1990) demonstrates a large majority of human behaviors can be categorized into one of five factors: Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Emotional Stability, Openness to Experience, and Agreeableness,” explains Ideal’s Head Data Scientist, Ji-A Min.

Using the “Big Five” as a classification system and combining it with the results of a groundbreaking meta-analysis of 117 studies by Barrick and Mount, there is a lot for us to learn. Don’t have time to read 117 studies? Let me summarize.

This is what you need to know about the Big Five personality traits in sales performance:

1) Conscientiousness:

Interestingly, conscientiousness was the trait with the highest correlation to sales performance. Very conscientious individuals are responsible, organized, achievement-driven, and work hard. They respect leadership and pride themselves in a job well done.

2) Extraversion:

Unsurprisingly, extraversion had the second highest correlation with sales performance. This falls in line with the extraverted personality we usually picture salespeople to have. However, it is also possible to be too extroverted in sales. (You may be interested in Ji-A Min’s previous post on the curvilinear relationship between extraversion and sales, it might surprise you.) What is the definition of extraverted? It depends who you ask, but, generally, extraverted individuals are energetic, assertive, talkative, and the centre of attention. They are the classic people-person.

3) Emotional Stability:

Emotional stability is a spectrum. Individuals who are on high in this trait are calm and “stable,” while those on the low end may be more temperamental, anxious and nervous. Emotional stability showed a positive trend with sales performance, but the relationship was not strong enough to be statistically significant. This means that although emotional stability is a positive trait for sales, salespeople are not dependent on this trait to be successful.

4) Openness to Experience:

Somewhat counterintuitively, being open to experience was not correlated with sales performance. What does “openness to experience” mean? Individuals who are high on this trait are imaginative, and creative. They are open to trying new things and new methods of working.

5) Agreeableness:

Another interesting one, agreeableness showed no relationship with sales performance. Agreeable individuals are cooperative, good-natured, trusting, and tolerant—exactly what you would expect in a top salesperson. However, it’s possible that highly agreeable sales reps lack the necessary closing abilities that are essential to the job.

What To Look For

While each trait is important, this research demonstrates that you should be paying special attention to candidate’s Conscientiousness and Extraversion scores. How do you measure these qualities? Begin by implementing a structured interview process. This means asking the same questions to each candidate and creating an objective measuring system for each trait. You can find a number of targeted interview questions online.

There are also sales recruiting assessments that determine the unique selling style of your candidates automatically. You can even cross-reference this data with your existing top performers and identify what makes for the best fit on your sales team.

Using scientifically validated research to inform your hiring decisions will set you apart from your competition. Sales hiring is a complicated art, but there is also a science behind it that you can use to your advantage.

Arm yourself with the most advanced sales hiring tools and you will find a ripple effect in all of your sales processes. After all, the best sales teams start with the best sales reps.

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