The Secret Benefit of Hiring Multitasking Salespeople

Multitasking has a bad rap these days. Mostly because the research shows that in general, multitasking is less productive than completing one task at a time.

juggling act in sales

This represents a bit of a dilemma for hiring salespeople. The very nature of sales requires having the ability to rapidly switch and prioritize between multiple responsibilities at once. So should you hire salespeople who are proud of their multitasking abilities? Or avoid them?

A new study reveals a surprising advantage of hiring multitasking salespeople.

Why multitasking hurts job performance

Multitasking – also called polychronicity by researchers – is defined as the extent to which a person prefers to be engaged in two or more activities during the same block of time.

A study by Stanford Professor Nass and colleagues found that compared to low multitaskers (or monochrons as researchers like to call them), high multitaskers (polychrons) are:

  • less able to focus on the task at hand
  • less able to recall information
  • worse at switching from one task to another

These inefficiencies seem to be caused by multitaskers’ lower ability to filter out irrelevant information.

A different study by Professors Conte and Jacobs found that polychronicity was correlated with:

  • being late for work more often
  • being absent from work more often
  • lower ratings of job performance

Why multitasking helps job performance

Research by Professors Kaufman-Scarborough and Lindquist found that compared to monochrons, multitaskers were more likely to say that they:

  • perform best under pressure
  • achieve their daily goals more often
  • are less bothered by changes in their schedule
  • are less likely to procrastinate

Why multitasking helps sales performance

A recent study by Professor Fournier and colleagues of 166 B2B salespeople found that multitasking was correlated with:

  • higher ratings of sales performance
  • lower ratings of job-related stress

In this study, salespeople’s preferences for multitasking and staying on schedule accounted for 22% of individual differences in sales performance. That’s a lot!

multitasking is correlated with sales performance

Should you hire multitasking salespeople?

Despite all the popular press telling us that multitasking is bad for sales, the truth is that the ability to adapt to changing priorities and switch quickly between tasks is often a big part of sales success. As the research demonstrates, being a monochron vs. a polychron at work is not good or bad per se.

What matters is the fit between a salesperson’s preference for multitasking and the multitasking requirements of a particular sales role. Unsurprisingly, when salespeople find the right fit between how they prefer to work and how the job requires them to work, they end up less stressed out and more productive.

Do you assess multitasking when hiring salespeople? 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 and data-based recruitment. She writes about trends and research in talent acquisition, HR tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min

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