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What Makes a Great Sales Candidate?

By Emily Sider | July 11, 2018
What Makes a Great Sales Candidate?

Since Plum’s launch in 2012, over 180,000 people have taken our assessment, thousands of job experts have told us what kind of applicants they want to hire, and our proprietary database contains 24 trillion deep behavioral data points (and counting).

One of the largest groups in our proprietary database is applicants for sales professional and quota-carrying roles, such as business development reps, inside sales reps, sales associates, and sales managers. In the Spring Edition of our Talent Trends Report, we did an analysis of our 2017 data, which included 15,241 sales professional applicants across 96 different companies. We saw some interesting gaps between what hiring teams desired in a sales professional, and the typical sales professional applicant profile.

Here’s a glimpse at our findings.

[Read the report: Get the full version of the Talent Trends Report: Sales Professional Edition here]

What Kind of Applicants Are Applying for Sales Roles?

According to our research, sales professional applicants score HIGHEST in…

  • Experiential disposition, which means they likely thrive in a sales environment that offers new challenges.
  • Industriousness, which means they aspire to high sales targets and don’t give up when roadblocks emerge.
  • Assertiveness, which means they aren’t afraid to provide evidence to back up their point and voice counterpoints to objections.

Sales professional applicants score LOWEST in…

  • Orderliness, which means they tend to struggle with keeping track of progress toward targets and following plans to reach goals.
  • Problem solving, which means they may struggle with figuring out a solution to challenges that emerge during the sales process.
  • Stability, which means they tend to falter under pressure to reach targets or when unexpected challenges arise.

What Are Employers Looking For in Sales Professionals?

Organizations NEED applicants that score high in…

  • Industriousness, which means they drive to meet or exceed sales targets.
  • Orderliness, which means they are meticulous with funnel management and sales operations processes.
  • Stability, which means they thrive in a fast-paced, high-pressure sales environment.

Organizations DON’T NEED applicants that score high in…

  • Compassion, which means they prioritize empathy at the expense of a deal.
  • Assertiveness, which means they seem pushy to new prospects.
  • Intellectual disposition, which means they do things the way they want to, instead of following procedure.


There is evidently a gap between who is applying to sales and quota-carrying roles, and what employers are actually looking for. Namely, hiring teams are looking for candidates who exhibit orderliness and stability, but these are two traits that sales applicants score lowest in. Alternatively, sales applicants frequently score high assertiveness, probably because of a long-standing mentality that “sharks” are the best types of salespeople. Our research shows that the “aggressive salesperson” stereotype no longer translates to top performance in sales; in fact, 0% of the 96 companies studied listed “assertiveness” as an important trait in any of their sales roles.

To dig deeper into our findings, and to learn how to attract sales talent that exhibits traits that are critical to on-the-job success, read our full Talent Trends: Sales Professional Edition report here.

What makes a great sales candidate? Here's what data from 15,241 sales applicants had to say.


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