Hiring Great Salespeople by Seeking Eagle Scouts, Athletes and Women?

If you were ever in Boy Scouts, you were likely told that being an Eagle Scout would “look good on your resume” (it is, by the way, as long as that wasn’t the pinnacle of your life’s achievement…).

Are you Tougher than a Boy Scout?
Are you Tougher than a Boy Scout?

In Forbes’ magazine Friday, there’s some great analysis by Ken Krogue, President and Co-Founder of InsideSales.com (located in Utah*) about how top athletes and Eagle Scouts are correlated in a way you might not have put together before: They are great salespeople. In Ken’s words:

[In 1994 at Franklin Quest–then the 2nd fastest-growing US company] we were trying to figure out what made up our top performers so we could hire more just like them. We went back and analyzed what factors, at least in the men on the team, made up the leaders in sales. As a side note, all the women on the team were in the top half of all of the performers. Two factors for the men stood out: A strong background of personal athletic achievement… and being an Eagle Scout. I began hiring Eagle Scouts, former… collegiate athletes, and women as fast as I could.

The rest of the article goes on to list comparables between top athletes and Eagle Scouts.  I think the best summary is that both groups are driven to perform better tomorrow than they were yesterday, and not afraid of accountability to themselves and others for their actions. These are crucial in sales, as in life… and, of course, were I to wax philosophic, all business is some form of sales, is it not? Check out Ken’s article on Forbes. Great stuff. And the comments are interesting too. Oh, and forward this to your favorite aspiring Eagle Scout and/or athlete. They might need a little boost, or a little evidence that the hard work is worth pushing through (thanks, mom!).

HR Guy note here: In terms of allowable questions for job interviews, there’s nothing technically wrong with asking someone about the types of things they do outside of professional life (or have done in the past).  However, you begin to probe the grey area, especially when/if you get hung up on certain aspects of their background.  Pressing a candidate too hard about the college they went to, especially if it’s a religious school (or openly anti-religion for that matter**), or if they were ever in the Boy Scouts of America could put the candidate in an awkward position. While it’s not illegal, it could feel uncomfortable. The Gender question is a little more direct. Obviously, you can’t (and shouldn’t want to) discriminate for/against someone because of their gender.  Don’t ever do it. Do not ever create a system or culture or even a line of questioning that could be construed in any circumstance to preferring to hire one “type” of person over another! In ALL your hiring, ensure that all candidates receive equal and adequate cultural/technical screening for the job.  If there are indicators or data-points that seem to identify traits of successful candidates in your research, align questions in your interviews to bring up these possible data points, but never use them as your sole (or primary) hiring criteria.  The job’s posted requirements (education, experience, knowledge, skills and abilities) are the final measure.  If additional affiliations or experiences outside of those posted skills are found in your selected candidate, then congratulations–it looks like you’ve found a good candidate to hire. * Full-disclosure, I have worked in the past with InsideSales.com, both as a client and a recruiter. I am not currently affiliated with them in any way.

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Robert Merrill

Senior Technical Recruiter
I am a Husband, Dad, Recruitinator, Geek. Mormon. Smart-Alec. . Professionally, I am the Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition at Ancestry.com", the world's largest online family history resource. Check out our jobs! Since 2001, I have helped connect companies and talented professionals with a particular style of recruiting, interviewing, onboarding and retention that helps companies change their recruiting processes and capabilities forever. I believe that even small companies can do fantastic recruiting with the right tools and mindset.

3 thoughts on “Hiring Great Salespeople by Seeking Eagle Scouts, Athletes and Women?

  1. Hey Rob-

    Two thoughts on this:

    1) Inductive reasoning. The choice to use “Eagle Scout,” “collegiate athlete,” or even “woman” as factors in the hiring decision for this particular recruiter came about from inductive reasoning: most of the successful salespeople in this company have their Eagle Scout or were collegiate athletes; that must mean that all Eagle Scouts or collegiate athletes will be successful salespeople.

    There’s nothing wrong with using inductive reasoning; however, will it exclude those individuals who don’t have Eagle Scouts or were collegiate athletes but actually possess the trait shared amongst most Eagle Scouts/collegiate athletes? Isn’t it possible that there’s someone out there who doesn’t have an eagle scout or collegiate athletic experience who could outperform those with eagle scout/college athletic experience?

    Why not figure out what specific traits are common amongst the top 5-10% of your sales force and use that as a filter for your candidates? All it takes is a couple Eagle Scouts to not “work out” for a company to create doubt about the use of “Eagle Scout” as the determining factor.

    2) Company culture/management style. What I’m getting at is the idea that perhaps “Eagle Scouts” and “collegiate athletes” succeed at Company X because the leadership or sales management recognize those similarities and thus manage those salespeople differently than the people who don’t have Eagle Scout or collegiate athlete on their resume.

    It’s possible that at a differently led company, Eagle Scout and collegiate athlete AREN’T shared attributes amongst the top sales performers in the company, and therefore choosing salespeople based on these criteria might backfire.

    As I suggested above, why not figure out the traits that are common amongst the top performers in the company? What that gives you is an idea of the kinds of people that tend to thrive in that particular organizational culture, which is unique. You won’t be guaranteed to find success, but you will certainly be able to rule out those who won’t succeed based on more objective measures.

    Now, am I saying to throw the baby out with the bathwater? No, because apparently the Eagle Scout/Collegiate athlete thing is working. But, there are reasons to take a closer look at why it’s working; I think these are two of them.

  2. What is an “anti-religion” school? I do not know of any large universities that fit into this mold, and anyone suggesting that established universities are “anti-religious” reveals an unflattering and ugly bias. HR professionals should be keenly aware of their own personal points of view and how candidates may be judging the organization based on HR’s framing of company values (a framing that investors may find shocking).

    1. Dan,

      Good comment. I don’t know a school that’s “anti-religion”, but that’s not the point I was trying to make. Perhaps I should clarify that I was attempting to show that biases can go either direction. If you press the candidate too hard on information about their affiliations whether they are pro-or anti-religion or conservative or liberal or any other bias, you’re pressing that candidate into an unfortunate situation and, as you said, framing the company’s culture in a light that could be seen as unsavory.

      Thank you for the comment and I hope my clarification may make sense. Please add in if you still feel that I’m misunderstanding or misstating something here.

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