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Five Red Flags to Look Out for When Hiring for Sales Talent

Ask a veteran sales executive how to find a successful candidate when hiring for sales, and they’ll often say: “you know one when you see them.”

However, when it comes to what personality traits predict a successful sales hire, the reality is a bit more complicated. 

We crunched the numbers on REAL client data, and as it turns out, some of the personality traits that match the “sales-y” stereotype you might have in mind don’t necessarily translate to success in this role. 

Here are the five most notable traits we analyzed and some of the reasons why they don’t always point to a slam dunk when hiring for sales.


The show “Mad Men” would lead you to believe that sales is about wining and dining. With all that schmoozing, a bubbly extrovert seems the perfect fit. However, the data tells a different story. Research finds a rather insignificant relationship between extroversion and sales success. While the social assertiveness component of extroversion may be beneficial, our data suggests the sociability component may get in the way. Chit chat may break the ice, but it may actually get in the way when trying to seal the deal.

Confidence in Others

Both parties in a sales relationship are looking to gain something, but they are also competing. One person’s profit comes out of another person’s savings. So while being friendly and trusting (what Psychologists call “Agreeableness”) is beneficial for customer service workers, it is often less predictive of sales success. In certain situations, a more cynical person may be able to better navigate a competitive deal.


On a similar note, there is a competitive advantage to taking strategic advantage of an opportunity. We might personally appreciate dealing with a sincere, up-front sales person. But, research suggests people who are able to keep some cards close to the vest can find advantage in sales.

Outer Attention

Individuals higher in “outer attention” are more attuned to the needs and desires of others. They try to adjust to meet others’ needs. While this is generally a positive interpersonal quality, it can be a disadvantage in a competitive sales context.

Broad Thinking

“Big picture thinkers” don’t like to get bogged down in details. While that can be beneficial for leaders, our data suggests it is not nearly as beneficial in many sales environments. To put it bluntly, salespeople are more likely to be successful when they are able to focus on nailing down the details of the current sale and leave the big picture strategies to those in charge.

What are the takeaways when hiring for sales?

Don’t get caught up in stereotypes. What makes a salesperson successful in one organization may fail the same person at another workplace. 

There’s really only one way to find out what personality traits would make a salesperson (or any employee for that matter) successful in your organization. You need to study the sales performance of your current workforce. 

With the right tools, analyzing sales performance data for your current employees allows you to build a success model that accurately predicts the sales performance of your future hires. 

Learn more about the science behind our success models.