The Best Hires Often Have No Experience At All. Here Are 5 Unconventional Traits This CEO Looks For When Hiring The Best Person For The Job.


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The best salesperson I ever hired had no experience — at all.

I was running a company selling a SaaS product and payments in the beauty space. When a sales position opened up, I was determined to find someone with experience in at least two of our three core areas: B2B SaaS, payments, and/or the beauty space. While I do value education and military experience when hiring the ideal candidate, those are really just “nice to haves,” not absolute requirements. Simply put, I always want the best person for the job.

In this case, an employee in my company recommended I speak with someone with absolutely no relevant experience. He had not sold software/SaaS, had never worked in payments, and had no experience in the beauty industry. He had no college degree either. After several interviews, I concluded that although he wasn’t the “obvious” choice, I wanted him for the role. He did not have any relevant experience, but here is what I saw in him:

  1. Heart: Simply put, he was a nice guy with a big heart. He cared about people (his family, friends, team, customers); you could tell it was genuine. He had a lot of heart, which was clear to anyone who talked to him and would certainly be evident to our customers and prospects.
  2. Integrity: This trait is not only important; it’s the bedrock of any successful person and team. People want to do business with others they trust who have integrity and are honest and sincere. These qualities are not just nice to have; they are essential for success and creating a thriving work environment.
  3. Organization skills: Some people have great intelligence and character but are so disorganized that they are essentially rendered ineffective. Numerous tools exist for tracking and organizing, and they are intentionally made so everyone can use them effectively. That said, someone who is highly disorganized and naturally operates chaotically will be far less effective than someone who is generally well-organized and operates in that fashion.
  4. Values: I really related to this person’s values, both professionally and personally. He was very dedicated to his wife and family, and I could see he was a great parent. It was clear to me that he had a very strong set of well-grounded values that were well-aligned with my own and our company’s ethos.
  5. Intelligence: Often, what matters is not what someone knows but their capacity to learn new information. In reality, none of the areas where I had hoped to find experience were “rocket science.” Anyone with the drive and the necessary intelligence could learn them. Hiring over the years has taught me to highly value learning ability and intelligence. Nobody has experience at everything, so it’s critical to find a smart person able to figure things out quickly.
  6. Determination/tenacity: This is a super important trait and also not easy to measure, but the signs are there if you look. In this particular example, it was obvious that this candidate was hard-working, determined and a “go-getter.” I could tell that he would drive himself harder than I would even imagine driving him; he had ferocious tenacity, and that’s a trait I highly value in an employee.

Related: What Does It Really Take to Be a Successful Salesperson? The Answer Is Simpler Than You May Think.

Immediately upon being hired, this individual was hard at work, learning, pushing, driving and selling. His calendar was packed every single day with opportunities he created, and the results were quickly evident. The bottom line is that he completely crushed all expectations. In less than a year, I promoted him to lead the payment sales team.

So what’s the takeaway? In short, it’s yes, experience is great, and for some types of jobs, having the required credentials is absolutely essential. However, don’t forget about the qualities I outlined above — they are equally important and, in some cases, even more so, as they speak to the person’s character. But how do you recognize and assess characteristics such as heart, integrity, and tenacity in the hiring process? Here are some crucial and slightly less conventional hiring techniques to help determine the nature of a person:

  • Have a meal together — not in the office cafeteria or break room, but at a full-service restaurant. Observe how the candidate interacts with those helping them, with strangers, and with you in a non-business setting.
  • Get away from the resume. Try to understand the candidate as a person, what drives them, what they are passionate about, what motivates (and demotivates them), what is important to them, etc. The caveat here is never asking anything inappropriate, discriminatory or related to a person’s protected class.
  • Ask some “behavioral interview” questions, focusing on how the candidate has applied their experiences and skills to solve real problems (not necessarily related to your business or business at all).
  • Ask them what they know about your company and products/services. Someone who really wants the job, who is smart, organized and tenacious, will have taken the time to study the company and prepare for the interview. Sometimes, you can learn more about a person based on what they ask you instead of what you ask them.

Related: The 15 Characteristics of People Who Succeed at Sales

Having interviewed hundreds of people and watching what has ultimately worked, I am a big believer in so-called soft skills and non-traditional interviewing. While experience is valuable, it’s not the only factor to consider when hiring. Qualities such as heart, integrity, organization skills, values, intelligence and determination are equally important, if not more so, in some cases. I think it’s important to recognize and assess these characteristics during the hiring process. That’s why I suggest using unconventional interviewing practices for getting to know the person beyond their resume to gauge their suitability for the role.

Give it a try — you might just find your best employee ever.



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