Editor's Note: This article is adapted from Richard Bryan's keynote address to Versatile Dealers at the recent 50th Anniversary Dealer meeting in Winnipeg.

By Richard Bryan

One of the most challenging aspects of running a great business is figuring out how to hire the right people. What do you look for when hiring? Are there signs a candidate might not be a good fit? If you could construct the ideal staff member, what characteristics would he/she possess? While the tips below are about hiring salespeople, they can be applied to any position within a dealership. These questions and more can be answered by identifying the following “A Player” traits:

1.  Look for People with Transferable Skills and a Great Attitude

Don’t just hire someone from another dealership. This is a quick fix but chances are if they are any good, they would stay where they are and continue to build their customer base. Former dealership sales people also come with all sorts of preconceived ideas about how a sales department should operate. Worse, they may have an attitude of entitlement in terms of what percentage commission they should be paid, what vehicle they should drive, how many days off they should get, etc.

Instead, look for people with transferable selling skills (e.g. solid communication, friendly attitude). These individuals are seeking good career opportunities and are keen to be trained in the way you want them to sell. If you combine this with someone who has a great attitude toward work and looks after your customers, you are on the right track. Try looking in other retail stores as those individuals have built up a good work ethic (long hours, excellent customer service).

2. Host a Telephone Screening Interview to Save Time & Money

Once you have a promising candidate who has completed an application form with details of their career to date, have a 15-20 minute telephone interview. The goal is to determine if this candidate is worth interviewing face to face. It can save you a lot of time by eliminating candidates who are not suitable for a sales position with your dealership.

Ask questions like:

  • What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
  • What are your strengths at your job?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Who was your last boss and how would he rate you on a scale of 1-10?
  • What words would your colleagues use to describe you?

Use the same questions with everyone so that you can compare candidates and know what answers you are looking for from a good prospect.

3. Conduct the First In-Person Interview with a Third Party

Once you have identified a promising candidate who has the skills and attitude you are looking for, invite them in for a face-to-face interview, which will last a maximum of 30 minutes. Conduct the interview with a fellow colleague and have them facilitate the questions so that you can focus on listening to answers and watching the body language of the candidate.

Ask questions like:

  • What were you hired to do in your current job?
  • What achievements are you most proud of?
  • What are some low points in your current job?
  • Who are some of the people you work with now?
  • What will your boss say about you when we call for a reference?
  • What would your colleagues and teammates say about you?
  • What keeps you at your current job? or Why did you leave that job?

4. Personality Profile or DISC

If you have a candidate who performed well at the interview, ask them to do a personality profile online. My favorite is the Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Conscientiousness test (DISC). It is cost effective (about $30 per test) and amazingly accurate. It will tell you how this person will behave at work should you hire them.

For a sales position, you are looking for someone who has very high Influence. The “I” quadrant should be their highest score. They should also have a reasonably high Dominance score but low in Steadiness. This is called the “Persuader Pattern” and ideal for a salesperson. DISC will even generate questions to ask should you decide to do a second round of interviews. 

5. Conduct the Second Interview with a Sales Manager

At this point in the process, you should be pretty sure you have a candidate who can sell. However, you want to make sure that you have a good fit, so perform a second interview with the sales manager who will be their boss. If you are the sales manager, ask another sales manager or general manager to sit in. The purpose of this interview is to use the DISC profile results to ask questions that ensure you get a good fit.

Ask questions like:

  • Would you describe yourself as an optimist? Give us an example why you answered yes/no.
  • Your profile suggests that you become indecisive under pressure. Do you agree with this observation? How would you cope with this if you get the job as part of our sales team?
  • How do you handle structure, systems and processes? Do you think you would fit in well to the sales process we operate at this dealership?
  • Would you describe yourself as a team player? Give us an example.
  • Do you agree with the statement “The customer is always right?” 

6. Ask for References if Available

This is a vital and often overlooked step in the recruitment process. References from current and former colleagues and bosses can reveal a third party’s perspective on the candidate’s work ethic, attitude and overall approach to business. Some dealers will offer a candidate the job, which is subject to satisfactory references. Or, you may want to speak to references before even meeting with a candidate face-to-face. Regardless, references can be helpful resources and aid in your decision-making.

If you find references will seal the deal in making the job offer to the candidate, consider asking them the following:

  • In what context did you work with the candidate?
  • What were their biggest strengths?
  • What were their biggest areas for improvement?
  • How would you rate their overall performance on a scale of 1-10?
  • The candidate mentioned that they struggled with ___________ on the job. Can you tell me any more about this?

7. Make the Job Offer

After all these steps, it’s time to make a job offer. This should be done face to face if possible, but if not, over the phone is fine. In addition, follow up the offer in writing with a contract for the successful candidate to sign.

To ease the transition, include a 3-month trial period during which training will be given and initial performance measured. Chances of the candidate being successful increase dramatically if you can buddy them up with a more experienced member of the sales team to act as a mentor. There should be some sort of incentive for this sales person to help the new employee to get through the first few months, which can be the most challenging as they adapt to a new environment.

Richard Bryan, who was the keynote speaker at the Versatile Dealer Meeting in November, is a former CEO of a family-owned car dealership. Today, he owns a successful real estate development company and is also a leadership speaker, author and trusted advisor to business owners and senior executives. Versatile has a limited number of copies of his book Being Frank. Contact your rep for availability.