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Sales Hiring: How to Run a Deliberation on a Candidate 

Hiring for your growing sales team is challenging. You want people who have the right skills, know the industry, and get along with the rest of the team. To avoid building a team of mishires and low performers, it’s important to create an evidence based interview and deliberation process focused on data collection. With this in place, your team and hiring manager will have everything they need to hire the best sellers for your company.  

What is a deliberation?   

Most companies use a typical interview process. They start with a recruiter phone screen, move on to a first round interview, and end with a second round where the candidate meets more stakeholders. After this person makes it through both rounds successfully, it's time for a deliberation.

It’s all about the hiring manager 

A deliberation is a round table meeting where the interview team has a chance to share their feedback and discuss whether a candidate should receive an offer or not. It’s also a good time to identify any additional information you need from the candidate to make a decision.  

Even though this is a team activity, the decision to hire is not a consensus driven decision. There will not be a vote. A deliberation on a candidate gives the hiring manager a chance to hear everyone’s feedback, digest it, and then make their own decision. Set these expectations ahead of time with your interviewers so your deliberation doesn’t devolve from data collection to personal and emotional opinions. 

Assess the right criteria

Most leaders take the time to train their team on how to conduct interviews and ask the right questions, but not on how to deliberate. It’s just as important to teach people how to assess a candidate, share their point of view, and receive feedback with an open mind. 

Start by creating a skill matrix of what you’re looking for and assign each interviewer a specific skill to evaluate. Ask them to assess grit, coachability, salesmanship, persistence, teamwork, or product and industry acumen, just to name a few.

Here are two criteria NOT to evaluate: 

  1. Personality traits 
    We’re not deliberating on whether we like the candidate or not. Their personal qualities are not evidence based and shouldn’t be used to evaluate their future success at your company. 
  1. Culture fit 
    We’re also not deciding whether we want to be friends with the candidate or if we’d go have a beer with this person. You don’t want a team full of people who all approach problems the same way. Diversity of ideas is crucial for a successful sales team.
    After everyone has met with the candidate, each interviewer needs to fill out a feedback form. Once the recruiter has collected everyone’s forms, it’s time to deliberate. This needs to be taken seriously. If someone doesn't fill out the form, they can’t attend the deliberation. 

The most junior person on the team, like an SDR, should always share feedback first. Otherwise, they can be influenced after hearing what their manager, director, or VP has to say. If the director says that they hate the candidate, the SDR isn’t going to feel comfortable sharing that they actually liked the candidate. To avoid this situation, have the most senior person in the room sharing their feedback last.

→ Click here for a list of Interview Traits & Questions ←

How to structure feedback in a deliberation

Each interviewer in the deliberation should share their feedback and say whether they give the candidate a soft yes, strong yes, soft no, or strong no. Since each interviewer was given something specific to focus on when talking to the candidate, you can structure feedback in a uniform way.  

Feedback template 

For an easy way to get started, ask everyone to follow this template: 

“Based on the skills that I was required to assess, here’s what the candidate told me, how I feel about their answers, and my recommendation…”

Example 1: 

“I’m responsible for assessing the candidate’s coachability. To do that, I gave them a pitch test. After their first attempt, I gave them feedback and asked them to try again. The candidate didn’t integrate my feedback into their second attempt and didn’t seem to respond to my coaching. My recommendation is no, don’t hire them.” 

Example 2: 

“I’m responsible for assessing the candidate’s grit. I asked them about a time they worked really hard. They shared a story about how they were able to push through a difficult quarter to reach their target. My recommendation is yes, hire them.” 

Click here for a sample Candidate Evaluation Form

Making the final decision 

The hiring manager will take in all of the data that came from the deliberation. If problems have been identified, it’s up to the hiring manager to decide whether that problem can be overcome. Let’s say a candidate scored high on grit and coachability but low on salesmanship. The hiring manager may be totally fine with guiding the rep through improving their sales skills. 

The deliberation is not the place for making a hire or no hire decision. Things can get pretty emotional and deciding as a group increases the chance that someone will be offended. You don’t want people leaving the meeting thinking, “I can’t believe we’re hiring/not hiring this person!” 

When everyone knows that the final decision will be made by the hiring manager alone, you avoid grandstanding and resentment between colleagues. If there’s a vote, people can jump to conclusions like, “this interviewer doesn’t value hard work from candidates,” or “that interviewer just wanted to win the debate.” This ultimately takes away from truly evaluating candidates. 

One last chance for feedback 

That being said, once the hiring manager makes their decision, they should always send a note to everyone in the deliberation. This gives people a chance to respond privately and push back if they truly don’t agree with the outcome.  

It’s easier and more secure to share any big concerns about a candidate in a private conversation. There’s no psychological safety in a group setting where everyone else has given a candidate a strong yes, except for one person. Hiring managers need to provide an environment where people can tell the truth.

A soft yes is really a no

Sometimes hiring managers leave a deliberation conflicted. In the past, when I was really on the fence about someone, I always asked them to do something extra, like a mock pitch, email, or presentation. 

Every single time I did that and ended up hiring the person, it didn’t work out. The initial assessment and concerns were right and we shouldn’t have hired them. So here’s my rule of thumb: if you can’t get yourself to a strong yes, then it’s a no. Hiring a team full of soft yeses results in a low performing team. 

If you design your interview and deliberation process to focus on assessing key skills, sharing feedback equitably, and evaluating evidence based data, rather than personality traits and culture fit, you’ll have the foundation for a successful hiring plan.

Interested in how to conduct a deliberation for internal promotions? Check out our guide on how to run an internal promotion process at your company. 

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