Secrets Buried in a Salesperson’s Resume

In my sales management career, I would bet that I’ve seen about 5,000 resumes for salespeople. Yet, I still haven’t seen one that shows someone who has achieved 40% of quota. Every single resume shows 100%, 200%, or 2,000,000% of goal. Where are all of the people who have had less-than-stellar sales performances? Did they all leave the sales profession? If all of the resumes that I saw truly represented the performance of the individual, the U.S. economy would be thriving, to say the least. Every company would be enjoying record revenue performances.

If you have read my past articles, you’ve felt my passion for creating sales marriages, those relationships whereby a mutually-beneficial relationship is formulated between a sales professional and a company based on synergistic matches of needs. This is not easy to do as, right off the bat, the relationship begins with a flawed tool: a resume. It is this tool, not necessarily the individual, that dupes, tricks, and stretches the truth of a person’s pedigree. Yet, as an employer, that is what you have to work with when hiring a sales professional. You need to find a way to mine through the information in a quest for the complete truth.

There are also cases where the tool isn’t at fault, but the truth has been stretched. I spend a tremendous amount of time preaching about the importance of honesty and integrity in sales. Those are two words that are not often associated with the profession. As such, I believe that the quest to find salespeople who represent a company’s brand well starts with a thorough resume review. Plain and simple, dishonesty in a salesperson’s resume means he or she doesn’t play on my team. There are more than enough statistics to support the issue of what I call “resume inflation.”

I can recall a time when I ran a sales organization in the employment screening industry, a company that provided pre-employment background screening for other companies. We made an offer to a sales candidate who had impressed everyone he met, including the CEO. When we ran his background check, our core business, we found that his claim to have worked for a company for two and a half years was actually two and a half months.

The funny part is that when we asked him about the discrepancy, he lied again and said his former employer made a mistake. Fifteen minutes later, he called back (I think he remembered that background screening was our core business) and confessed. Needless to say, we couldn’t have this person selling our background screening services.

Think about this: If someone would apply for a sales job at a company whose core business was employment background screening and lie about his background, what candidates do you think you are seeing? Every day, new technologies are introduced to the marketplace to make the screening process better and easier for hiring managers. Yet, none of these technology companies advocates using their technology as a replacement for a strong screening process. Assessments, for example, serve as a tool for the process, but they do not replace the process itself. Thus, it all begins with a strong resume review.

The resume review should not occur for the first time with the candidate sitting in front of you. An effective interview requires preparation. As such, the resume should be studied and areas of questions identified so that questions can be asked of the candidate during the interview. What areas should be perused? Here are five areas of a sales resume that require detailed attention.


In sales, there is an old expression that says if you can’t prove it, don’t say it. This usually refers to the dialogue between a salesperson and a prospect, but it is also applicable for a resume. As a hiring manager, you are well within your rights to ask candidates for documentation of the accomplishments they list on their resumes. If they don’t have documentation, perhaps a request for a reference for that accomplishment is appropriate.

Checking every single accomplishment is over the top, but checking one or two accomplishments makes sense. I suggest those that seem the most impressive to you about the candidate be verified. If someone told me that they personally doubled the size of the company in one year, I would want to see proof of that!


Salespeople have more titles than there are prospects in the world. I can’t keep track of all of them anymore. However, those titles don’t necessarily correspond to responsibility. A small company may call their only salesperson a vice president, while a large company may call a person performing the exact same role a sales representative. While reviewing the resume, don’t limit your perusal to the title. Dig a bit into the responsibilities that the individual had. During the interview process, ask questions to understand the role and responsibility that goes with the title.

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Where some companies get into trouble is when they look to hire a senior salesperson and don’t consider candidates with higher-level (vice president, for example) titles. Analyze the responsibilities that the individual had in his or her capacity to see if this individual matches your needs, regardless of what you call this role. If the resume is unclear about this, ask the candidate for details.

Employer Dates

If a salesperson has a gap, or gaps, in his employment, meaning he did not leave one job and go directly to another one, he will show years of employment, but not months. This creates the illusion of continuous employment. If you background screen as part of your hiring process and employment verification is part of that scope, this will be identified at that time. However, that takes time and dollars. (If you haven’t seen my white paper titled, “Are There Criminals on Your Sales Team?” send me an email for your copy.)

But, why wait until the end of the process to learn something you can know now? When you see years on a resume, ask the candidate to provide months of employment, too. Ask questions to understand the gaps. You may still elect to hire the person, based on the explanation. At least you get the complete picture.

Training Programs

Many salespeople list the training programs that they have completed on their resume, but no one verifies that. When hiring IT professionals, it is common to check training and certification completion. Not so with salespeople. So, the salesperson has no risk by stating that he has completed the “Miller-Heiman Strategic Selling” course on his resume. Ask for a copy of his completion certificate. If he has truly taken the course, you will see a confident reaction. If he has only read the book, or perhaps not even that, you will see him squirm in his seat.

College Degree

When I look at the education section on a resume, I expect to see college name, degree completed, and graduation date. However, I regularly see that degree or graduation date or both are omitted. Red flag! Sure, a background check will expose that too, but why wait until post-offer to find out?

When you see missing information on the resume, ask candidates point-blank if they graduated college, what year, and with what major? Some omit their graduation year to hide their age, but others do it to create the illusion of degree completion. Unfortunately, you will find many salespeople who list a college and year, hoping you won’t ask any other questions.

I don’t believe that most salespeople intend to dupe their potential employer, but I’ve also been around the block long enough to know that the percentage that “inflate” is high enough to warrant a circumspect analysis of the resume.

Editor’s note: On March 26, join Lee Salz for a free, one-of-a-kind webinar entitled “Why Can?t I HIRE the RIGHT Salespeople?” Click here to learn more.

Lee B. Salz is a leading sales management strategist specializing in helping companies build scalable, high-performance sales organizations through hiring the right sales people, onboarding them effectively and efficiently, and aligning their sales activities with business objectives using his sales architecture® methodology. He is the President of Sales Architects, the C.E.O. of Business Expert Webinars, and author of the award-winning book Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager. Lee is also the host of the Sales Management Minute and creator of The Revenue Accelerator. He is a results-driven sales management consultant and a passionate, dynamic speaker. Lee can be reached at or 763.416.4321.


6 Comments on “Secrets Buried in a Salesperson’s Resume

  1. I think it is important to look for a number of other areas on a salespersons resume and to probe in the interview including:

    Is the candidate more effective at new account development (hunter) or account management (farmer)

    Is the candidate effective not just at selling product but selling solutions

    Does the candidate simply make quota by selling x amount of product or are they effective at selling business that is profitable for their employer

    Does the candidate have success with specific clients, industries, solutions

    Does the person work well as part of an account team or are they individually driven only by their own personal goals

  2. I recruit mainly retail sales people, and am a former retail sales person myself. I know which questions to ask and I know what the answers should be, and I am still right about only 50% of the time in my selections.

    Sales people are adept at making the truth be whatever the customer wants it to be; that is their stock in trade.

    All sales people will tell you they are number one, sold the most anyone ever has at the company, and has the largest repeat clientele ever seen in the sales profession. If these things are true, why are they leaving their jobs? Sales people are highly motivated by being #1. If a candidate is already #1, what is the real reason s/he is leaving? Granted, sometimes the company cannot support the aspirations and ambitions of sales people, but most companies will bend over backwards to retain a seller who produces good sales and has great customer relationships.

    Of course, retail selling is very different than b2b or outside sales, but the core skills remain the same-the ability to build and retain real, meaningful relationships, and the ability to provide the customer with products that meet the customer’s needs, not the salesperson’s. Winning is not all, being #1 is not all-satisfying the customer time and again, is.

    By the way, I was rarely the number one seller on my team. Too much pressure, And,being 1st was less important than truly satisfied customers.

  3. Lee,

    That is all good stuff. What frequently happens in companies is that they are looking for some magic bullet – some ‘superstar’ to come in, get on the phone or pick up accounts and generate tons of business. You see this in small businesses moreso, so they see impressive credentials or a book of business (name accounts, names dropped) and hire the guy. Couple months later, the guy is fired for not making numbers because his ‘book’ was a diary of calls he made.

    The other thing to add is CONTEXT, which I mentioned before. There is a difference between a salesperson who achieved, but had a huge marketing/sales support organization behind him and a person who sat in a small start-up generating business with zero marketing support. What type of environment was the person working in…ask HOW did the quota get achieved.

    To your point, I knew of a situation where a company hired a VP of sales. Turned out the person was largely an individual contributor who had very little to no real management experience. The team quit after being to subjected to some of the worst micromanagement and disrepect! Making a bad sales hire can RUIN a company, I cannot emphasize how important these points are – especially in a Small/Midsize Business!

    As always, salesguys are trained to sell whether they have natural talent or training. They will sell you – separating the ‘sales pitch’ from the true value is the onus of interviewer or hiring manager.

  4. Lee,

    As a resume writer I found your article right on target. As former Sales Manager I love working with sales professionals but have found that they are the ones most comfortable with stretching the truth. I advocate providing factual, verifiable information and will often ask for copies of performance reviews and goal/quota reports. I too have caught people in outright lies which led me to wonder if they’ll lie to someone working on their behalf, what might they say to an employer. We all have a responsibility to keep the integrity in the hiring process.

  5. After reading the posts to this article, it’s a wonder any company hires these lying snakes called Sales People! Seriously though, speaking as someone who has been in business development (notice I didn’t say sales) for over 15 years, I always knew the biggest obstacle to overcome with a new prospect was the ‘perception’ of sales people, which we all know is reality most of the time.

    I have seen some great interview questions posted in this thread, and my favorite is, ‘Tell me what you think the difference between business development and sales is as it relates to bringing on new clients?’ Depending on your business, industry and cient base, I believe the way the person answers this questions can provide you with a lot of insight to how they think and what they think of others, and how they might fit into your organization, if at all…also, it’s really hard to lie on this one, try as they may.

  6. Hiring for an account executive (hunter) or an account manager (farmer). This duty is a significant part of my role at Intellect. Here is my advice. When I begin speaking to a potential prospect, I frame out the fact I ask a lot of questions—tough questions and use a conversation style of discover; notice I said discovery not interview.

    1. I feel you have to ‘objectify’ your hiring criteria and hiring process. I have 29 specific observation points I try to collect data to assess. No, it does not take much more time and often the data is discovered by observance verses a direct question. Avoid the ‘hire by gut feeling’ since I have never meet a sales representative I did not like. Hire someone you like that—has a measurable record verses someone you like without a record that after 6 months you still like but they have not produced.

    2. Check references—check references—check references! Not peer or associate, not neighbors, not college friends, not clients from 8 years back, call the candidates last 2-3 direct managers for references. Be firm on this one. Be alarmed if you get any push-back from the candidate or any feedback that is not in lock-step alignment with the data points you have collected pre-reference check. Sales people have great abilities to adapt/change persona when necessary. They are selling themselves.

    3. Unlike the disclaimer for the stock market, with sales, prior perfromance IS an indicator of future performance. Any sales person that does not know their production numbers (profit NOT revenue or the delta) in the front of their mind or on a production report is not your best candidate. Successful sales people are proud of what they do. They wear production numbers like badges of honor. Example: the sales guy with his last few years of W2 gross earning amounts to the penny and the correlating PROFIT production numbers on his resume. The numbers are the scorecard for success. Find a person who knows their numbers (and the numbers are above average) and you are much more likely to have a ‘game-changer’. Successful businesses are measured by actual profit created not revenue or the amount of improvement. We has all seen ‘…increased sales by 50%.’ Fifty percent of what? Fifty percent of a fraction of the quota you have not hit for past 2 years?!

    4. Assess personality traits. We use the Asher Training CPQ personality assessment. The CPQ measures 9 core personality traits and the alignment of those traits for the ‘hunters’ verses ‘farmer’ roles. Here at Intellect we feel the successful sales person is much more from the ‘nature’ side of the ‘nature or nurture’ argument than the ‘nurture’ side.

    I realize there will be a few people who will take issue with my contribution here. I am open for any conversation and encourage anyone to give me a call on the topic. Last key point: remember the population of sales people is just that, a large population. By the laws of statistical probability the best people in any occupation or sport will be in the top 16% of thier population of peers. Find ways to determine if the candidate is in the top 16% of their peer group. By their nature top performers are rare. Be prepared to ‘say no’ until the ‘game-changer’ is discovered. A lesson I learned the hard way.

    Joe Welbourn
    Vice President of Recruiting Delivery

    Intellect Technical Solutions, Inc.
    Bay Vista Complex
    15950 Bay Vista Drive, Suite 235
    Clearwater, FL 33760

    Toll-free: (800) 599-8781 x2005
    Office: (727) 533-9797 x2005
    Mobile: (813) 928-9887
    Fax: (727) 533-0685

    ‘Drive Your Business, With Ours’

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