What Jon Taffer Can Teach Us About Sales Hiring: “The whole interview process is BS”

Inc.com recently posted an entertaining video by Bar Rescue TV Host Jon Taffer on what he thinks about job interviews and what he does instead.


What Jon says

Hiring the right people is just breaking down a system.”

“The whole interview process is B.S. I ask you a question, you know what I want to hear, you tell me what I want to hear, I write down the B.S. that you tell me, and the whole structure of it makes it inappropriate.”

“And how many of us have hired people and then found someone totally different on the floor the next day?”

“I hire people based on personality, not experience. I ask no experience questions in an interview.”

“I sit down and write down eight adjectives for every job description in my business.”

“Examples might be team player, energetic, passionate…”

“Then I stare at those eight adjectives and I don’t interview [asking about them directly], I don’t ask, “Are you a team player?” Because what are you gonna say, “Yeah, I’m the best…” I ask you, “Tell me about yourself in high school. What did you like to do?” If your answer is, “I was in the library seven days a week,” then I’m probably not going to hire you. If your answer was, “Yeah, I played in teams, I coached teams, etc.” then I can start to understand your personality. I might hire you. “

“Here’s my rule: I put eight adjectives on a piece of paper that describes every job. If you don’t have six of those eight adjectives, even if the Pope sent you, I will not hire you.”

What Jon gets right

What Jon gets wrong

  • Not verifying whether his eight adjectives really predict successful performance. The most accurate way to do this is by analyzing which knowledge, skills, and characteristics are required to be good at the job.
  • Creating pet theories about candidates’ answers to interview questions. For example, how does he know someone who spends a lot of time in the library isn’t a team player? He doesn’t. This type of “common sense wisdom” is almost never verified because there’s no counterfactual. Who goes, “This interview answer is wrong but I’ll hire this person anyway,” and then checks whether it ended up being a good or bad hiring decision based on that person’s subsequent job performance? No one. Is this why hiring has a 50% failure rate?
  • Using an arbitrary scoring system. Again, there’s no verification that scoring at least 6/8 on interviews actually leads to hiring the best employees. Would people scoring 5/8 have been just as good employees? Who knows.

The takeaways

Interviewing the right way is hard, and interviewing for sales can be especially tricky. Not only do you need to put in the effort of coming up with the right interview questions, you also need to figure out and verify what the right answers are too.

There’s one thing you can do today to improve your sales interviewing: Close the loop.

Verify whether the questions you’re asking are really assessing actual job-related selling behaviours and knowledge.

Potential answers to interview questions are supposed to be brainstormed by sales leadership and the sales reps already doing the job and then categorized (e.g., weak, good, best) to create a scale against which job candidates’ responses are supposed to be rated and compared.

Track the interview scores of the salespeople you end up hiring and then analyze how correlated they are with their sales performance metrics.

By taking these (admittedly effortful) steps, you’ll truly be engaging in strategic hiring instead of just guessing.

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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