How to Hire the Right Sales Associate

Sales Associates. They’re friendly, helpful, chatty. They love talking up their customers to make sure they sell them precisely what they need, and – if you are their boss – maybe a few more things than they originally came into the store for. They’re social. They like working with people. Right?

Not necessarily.

It’s common for StellarEmploy’s clients to request Sales Associates or the equivalent client-facing employee that are team players and social personalities. Yet we’ve found that the best employees for those positions are not always the social butterflies their employers expect them to be.

Take Retailer A, who was stunned to find that 82% of their best Sales Associates preferred to work alone. And yet, upon further inspection, we identified a key reason: Most employees were divided into sections, each responsible for maintaining and selling within his or her own aisle. During much of the day, the Sales Associate was alone, cleaning and stocking. Although it was important for the Sales Associate to be appropriately welcoming and helpful to shoppers when they came through, it was more important for the Sales Associate to be comfortable alone. Sales Associates that were too social got bored alone in their aisle.

The misperception of what characteristics create the best employees may explain why research by academics Danielle Li at Harvard Business School; Lisa Kahn at the Yale School of Management, and Mitchell Hoffman at the University of Toronto suggests that employers regularly choose worse employees than learning algorithms for hourly jobs. Even when managers work side by side with their employees, there is still room for surprise in understanding the underlying characteristics that drive an employee to succeed. And Sales Associates, it turns out, might be loners who experience their sales jobs as individual work.

Sara Nadel is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of StellarEmploy.