I’m often asked how to gauge if an SDR is going to be successful when they’re coming straight out of school or if they’re an industry changer and have no previous experience in a lead generation role. When you’re hiring AEs it’s easy… look at metrics and have them pitch or run a demo to demonstrate their skills, but SDRs aren’t as cut and dry. Or are they?
After years of working with startups and seeing different interview processes fail to actually test a candidate’s ability to do the day-to-day role, I’ve started to implement what I call Step 1A into SDR interviews for our portfolio companies. This is the SDR interview step you’re overlooking. It’s nothing crazy — just an email challenge that shouldn’t take the candidate more than 30 minutes, but is arguably one of the best ways to identify if this person has the raw skills that make a competent SDR. This step first came to my attention when Robby Allen, now the Director of Sales Development at Flexport, was leading the SDR team at Zenefits and needed to scale quickly without cutting corners on quality. I’ve seen a few companies toy with different models of this, but the outlined process below is what I have found to be the most successful model over the years.
If we break down the typical SDR interview, you usually have 3 rounds (not including references):
1) Initial phone screen with the hiring manager
2) On-site to meet hiring manager and members of the team
3) Final round interview — usually another onsite to meet the C-suite and/or Founders
At the end of the first phone screen, assuming the candidate was well-spoken, did their research, and closed the interview, let them know that there is an email assignment as a next step. The prompt on the hiring side is to only send the email assignment once the candidate has sent a follow up thank you email after the interview. No thank you, no next step.
Assuming a good candidate does send the follow up thank you, reply with the email prompt. Keep the prompt high level and be sure to include these points of information:
- Target recipient (i.e. CFO of a F5000 CPG company)
- Any high-level background info you want to provide (i.e. what tools they may be using for ticketing, customer service, etc.)
- The prospect’s pain point (or what you suspect it may be)
- Goal of the email: Try to get the prospect to take a meeting to learn about your company in 75-150 words.
- If you want to be especially helpful, you can also provide 3-4 links of helpful resources for them to use.
**Most importantly, add a due date of 24 hours either at the beginning or end of the prompt.
What to look for once the prompt has been sent:
- Interest in the opportunity. This is a great way to weed out people who aren’t truly interested in the role. More often than not, someone who isn’t genuinely excited won’t take the time to do the email and will self-select out of the process. Great! Now you’ve saved yourself (and your team) time to find someone better and you haven’t wasted 3 hours bringing this person on site.
- Excuse-makers. If someone claims that they can’t get the email back in 24-hours because they’re “really swamped” at work or have other obligations, startup life might not be for them. As I mentioned before, this shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes and we all have 24 hours in a day. Someone who is going to be successful at a startup will figure out a way to get it done.
What to look for when the email test is returned:
- Attention to detail. Do they take the time to read the prompt carefully and get the email back on time? Were their grammar, punctuation, and spelling all correct? If this person can’t write a grammatically correct email, you can’t trust them to send emails to your most important clients. Lack of attention to detail when it comes to timeliness and grammar are cause for automatic rejection.
- Did they address the correct decision maker and did they use the information you provided to ask for a meeting? If this person has never been in an SDR role before, this first attempt will probably be a very raw email, so it’s important not to be overly critical of their first shot at the prompt as long as they’ve answered the question that was outlined given the information provided.
If the candidate checks these initial boxes, invite them in for an in-person interview.
Once they’re on-site, have their original email pulled up or printed out and walk through feedback points with them. Ask them what they struggled with and how they might have changed it now looking through it again. This is the step in the process where the goal is to test for coachability and receptiveness to feedback. Give the candidate some tangible feedback and tips (without rewriting the email for them) and then ask them to take them 10 minutes to rewrite it and leave the room.
Once you come back, have the candidate go through their new email. Did they implement the feedback you gave? Were they defensive? Was it much improved or were they only able to retain one of the many feedback points you went over? What you’re doing in this instance is testing a few things: coachability, listening skills, receptiveness, and retention.
By this point in the process, you should be comfortable knowing whether or not this candidate is worth moving forward in the process because you’ve been able to vet for attention to detail, receptiveness, listening skills, timeliness, coachability, and retention. Whether you decide to use this model or something similar, I highly encourage founders and hiring managers to use more tangible tests for candidate competency during the interview process, because at the end of the day, an extra hour at this point is nothing compared to the countless hours spent firing and rehiring someone new because the first hire wasn’t qualified in the first place.
If you liked “The SDR Interview Step You’re Overlooking” and want more content on how to scale your startup, check out other relevant blog posts from the Bowery Capital Acceleration Team.
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