What Size Russian Doll Are You Hiring?

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Jun 17, 2024 by Sean Luce

When searching for a new sales rep in the pool of recruits, is there a list of magic-bullet interview questions to use when searching for the fire-breathing, wont-take-no-for-an-answer over-achiever?

David Ogilvy, the advertising guru and founder of the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, Inc. took his managers in a conference room one day and handed them a set of Russian nesting dolls. The "matryoshkas," as the are called, are wooden, hand-painted dolls that have a number of dolls nested inside of them. Starting with a large doll, the wooden doll breaks in half and opens up with smaller dolls inside of each doll. By the end, the last doll is only one half inch in size.

Ogilvys managers were dumbfounded. What could possibly be the purpose of this exercise with the dolls? When they got to the smallest doll, Ogilvy explained, If you hire people smaller than yourself, well be a company of dwarfs. If you hire people bigger and better than yourself, well be a company of giants.

Building a sales force of giants is easier said than done. If given the choice between a Harvard MBA who demonstrates paralysis by analysis or a street-smart fighting tiger, I will always choose the latter. Here are five questions that sales managers can ask during an interview to determine if the potential rep will have the head and heart to be one of the giants that constitute the successful sale team.

1) What is your favorite book? I want to know if potential hires are educating themselves. I consider continual self- improvement one of the most important characteristics that a sales rep can possess? I think that it is important to know if they are reading the latest sales and marketing books, studying the economy etc. If they are reading Charlie Sheens book of poetry, that tells me all that I need to know.

2) What trade magazines, websites, or blogs do you follow? This question closely follows question #1. I want to know if they read the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Fortune, or Fast Company. I like to know that they are keeping up with current events and developments in the marketplace. In addition, a sales managers existing staff should be reading the same publications.

3) Who is your favorite superhero? Is it Superman, Spiderman, or Daffy Duck? This answer could give a manager some insight into their psyche. Does the recruit see themselves as a street fighter or pacifist?

4) What do you consider your biggest failure, and what did you learn from it? This question is not intended to be personal. If the interviewee volunteers a personal story, that is their prerogative. A manager can learn if the person was ever hand to mouth at some point in their life. Maybe they started their own business and failed. I would ask how they got back on their feet after the failure, and what was the driving motivation for them. I am also interested in how they paid for their education, and if they worked while studying for their diploma. The founder of Macys department stores said he never hired a manager unless they had failed miserably at least three times before they got to him.

5) Do you listen? A former sales manager of mine always started an interview with this question, Do you know who won last years Stanley Cup? (Find a sport that the interviewee is not familiar with.) The rep would say, No, and he would tell them the answer. At the end of the interview, he would ask them about the Stanley Cup again. If they did not remember the answer, they were not considered for the position. If they did remember the answer, they were one step closer to getting the job. Being a good listener is probably the singlemost important trait of top performers.

These questions are not the final event in the decathlon for the Olympic gold medal in sales. However, these questions could help a sales manager understand what makes a potential rep tick. When looking for the giants to hire, do not be afraid to ask the tough questions. Based on the following resume would you hire a Eureka College graduate or a polished attorney? The American people chose the street smart Ronald Reagan to lead the country over the polished resume of Walter Mondale.

Sean Luce is the Head International Instructor of the Luce Performance Group and can be reached sean@luceperformancegroup.com

As seen in Radio Ink Headlines October 29, 2012

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