How To Measure Work Ethic When Hiring Salespeople

As a company that specializes in job matching, Ideal Candidate assesses 16 personality domains that predict sales performance. Measuring these domains in job candidates using data, and then comparing their scores against your top performers, is how we match salespeople to your role.

how to measure work ethic when hiring sales reps

In this first part of the series, “How Job Matching Works,” I explain what these domains are and what benefits you can expect to gain by measuring them when hiring salespeople.

The first personality domain explained: work ethic.

What is work ethic?

Academics refer to work ethic as “conscientiousness.” Conscientiousness, one of the Big Five or OCEAN personality traits, can be further divided into subdomains including:

  1. Achievement Drive: being hardworking, persevering, and motivated to achieve superior work performance
  2. Dependability: being reliable, organized, and respectful of rules and authority

Although both subdomains are considered to be attractive in job candidates, in general, work ethic is perceived to be more similar to Achievement Drive than Dependability.

What correlates with work ethic?

Achievement Drive – or work ethic – is a very popular research topic because intuitively, it should predict all kinds of important workplace outcomes.

Research conducted by Professors Vinchur and colleagues found that people’s self-ratings of their Achievement Drive correlate:

  • .25 with supervisor ratings of sales performance

achievement drive correlates with sales performance ratings

  • correlates .41 with objective sales outcomes (e.g., sales volume, revenue)

achievement drive predicts sales revenue

That means that work ethic explains about 6% of the differences in performance among salespeople as measured by supervisor ratings and about 17% of the differences in performance among salespeople as measured by objective sales outcomes. That’s a lot!

To put these numbers into context, research by Professors Franke and Park found that years of sales experience correlate:

  • .21 with supervisor ratings of sales performance explaining about 4% of the variation in performance
  • .26 with objective sales outcomes explaining about 7% of the variation in performance

sales experience predicts sales performance

How do you measure work ethic?

The most common method to measure work ethic in job candidates is using a psychometric assessment.

Self-ratings using a psychometric assessment

Most of the time, job candidates are asked to rate their own personality using a scientifically designed survey.

With all the concerns of faking on a survey, why do we use a self-rating method? Simple: it works. The data presented above demonstrate that people’s self-ratings significantly correlate with important workplace outcomes like performance.

Other-ratings using a psychometric assessment

Another way to measure work ethic is by asking friends, romantic partners, or work colleagues to assess the job candidate. Research by Connelly and Ones found that conscientiousness rated by others was more highly, but similarly, correlated with job performance (.29) compared to people’s self-ratings. In other words, the extra cost and effort required to use other-ratings to assess work ethic resulted in pretty much the same payoff as using self-ratings.

Other-ratings using social media profiles

A more novel way to assess work ethic is through other-ratings through people’s social media profiles like Facebook and LinkedIn (of course, in order to assess the accuracy of these other-ratings, you still need people’s self-ratings of the same domains to compare against).

Intriguingly, research by Cavanaugh and Landers on other-ratings of personality from people’s Facebook profiles found that these ratings were in fact correlated with job performance. But as Professor Landers cautions:

Because the information from social media is so unique and new, it’s not recommended that employers replace self-tests – they are more useful together and complement one another.

The takeaways

Measuring work ethic in job candidates seems like a no-brainer. But it’s not enough to know what to measure but how to measure it properly.

Of course, I’m biased. But if you don’t want to listen to me, listen to the data: if you want to hire top performing salespeople, getting people to rate their own work ethic is one of the most common and accurate ways to predict sales success.

This is part 1 of the “How Job Matching Works” series, in which I explain the 16 domains our assessment uses to match candidates to your sales role.

How do you assess work ethic in your sales candidates? Let me know in the comments or tweet @recruit_smarter.

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Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices in data-based recruitment. She writes about research and trends in talent acquisition, recruitment tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min