Silver-tongued and disarming, salespeople can be the most vexing job applicants to assess. Dazzlers can talk their way into a job but may not bring in revenues. Advanced Network Design (AND), a third-party telecommunications handler in La Mirada, Calif., designed two "activity" tests to discern the verbally competent from the truly skilled.

Toward the end of a lengthy interview in a conference room, Dave Wiegand, AND's president, gives the candidate an assignment. "I'm going back to my office," he says. "I want you to call me from the conference room, pretend I'm a potential customer, and try to set up an appointment." Then Wiegand turns on his speakerphone and waits in his office with two colleagues.

He's looking for answers to three questions. First, is the salesperson honest? "The worst way to start a new sales process is to lie to a secretary and say that the potential customer knows why the salesperson is calling," says Wiegand. Second, does the salesperson go after the goal? After being turned down, many salespeople segue into a sales pitch. Wrong move, says Wiegand. Finally, is the applicant persistent? Wiegand makes the applicant ask for the appointment at least three times.

The second test is designed to give Wiegand a feeling for the salesperson's selling style. Wiegand gives the applicant the specifications of two products. Then he asks the candidate to sell him one over the other. Wiegand doesn't care which product is chosen, but he does want to know the salesperson's selection rationale, as well as his or her sales strategy. Wiegand also observes how the salesperson handles objections and adapts to unexpected developments.

The tests make it easy to eliminate weak contenders. But they also help unearth candidates who excel at selling, though they may be only mediocre at interviewing.

-- Ellyn E. Spragins

* * *