Five Characteristics to Look for When Hiring SDRs

From a leadership perspective, understanding the top characteristics of high performing SDRs is a crucial element in building a winning team. Making the right hire should have a tremendously positive impact on your team’s overall pipeline, but keep in mind making the wrong hire can make an equally negative impact by wasting time and hurting culture. Below are the top five characteristics when looking for fantastic talent on your SDR team.

  1. Grit

Grit entered American slang in the early 19th century with the meaning “courage or persistence.” About 200 years later Angela Duckworth famously published her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance stating grit is the hallmark for success in any industry. She administered a Grit Scale on 11,000 West Point cadets and found it was very reliable in predicting who made it through the academy and who did not.  While this may be controversial in some industries, it’s true in sales development. Top SDRs are consistently the people willing to do anything to succeed: come in early, stay late, make the most dials, and most importantly are never ever satisfied. 

How do you test your SDR candidates for grit? Start by surprising them by asking to do a cold call role play pitching your product in the middle of your initial phone screen. Not only does this give you a chance to vet their baseline phone skills and instincts, but it also allows you to vet “how comfortable are they being uncomfortable?” This exercise helps give you a good measure of courage. To test for perseverance, ask them to tell you a story during the in person portion of your process about a time when they thought they were going to fail, but turned things around and came out on top. 

  1. IQ

Bottom line, you want to hire someone who is going to be able to come in and learn the ins and outs of your product and have a solid understanding of your key customer personas. Depending on your industry, this can be challenging. 

One method to vet for IQ is sending a case study in between your initial phone screen and in person interview. The case study asks your candidate to choose a company in your industry, explain the key operating divisions of that company, find ten good prospects on LinkedIn, and write a mock cold email to one of them. This exercise gives great insight to their early understanding of your business, prospecting skills, and writing ability. This is the type of work they have several days to ask anyone around them to edit, so if you see multiple grammatical mistakes or spelling errors, they likely will make those same mistakes on the job. 

  1. Diversity of Perspective 

Diversity of perspective is key to any winning team. Finding SDRs with a variety of different backgrounds fosters incredible collaboration – because, for the most part, they are used to looking at problems in different ways. On my team success has certainly come from a variety of places, including: lawyers, retirement planners, MBA students, financial analysts, construction, SMB AEs, and recent college grads. 

Finding a team like this isn’t easy, but worth it. Some methods I would suggest include internal recruiters, external recruiters, and your own LinkedIn Inmails. With recruiters, let them know you are looking to cast a wide net and want to take some out of the box chances. Using your Inmails, find people who can prove they’ve been successful in what it is they have done. A great sign for this can be the “recommendations” section at the bottom of LinkedIn profiles, displaying what a candidates colleagues have to say about them.  

  1. Curiosity

Showing curiosity during the interview process is a telling sign for the type of prospector your candidate will be. They should be treating the company they are interviewing with very similar to the companies they will be hunting as an SDR. Who are the key leaders at the organization? Who is the decision maker for their interview process? What are some personal details about these people that will help differentiate them from other candidates? If a candidate comes prepared with information, they will likely use the same level of diligence as soon as they start the role. 

Other indicators for curiosity include taking thorough notes throughout the interview process or specific questions about your company’s process, showing they have researched what the SDR role entails. Finally, listen for tone. If you listen closely for a certain level of excitement when you talk about “why sales” and “why company XXX” you can usually tell who is applying for just another job and who is genuinely curious about the position you are offering. 

  1. Coachability

No matter how much experience your candidate has on their resume, coachability will determine the strides they will take as a member of your team. A great example is coaching new hires to your firms sales methodology. If they are uninterested in learning new tactics or have a hard time taking constructive feedback, you’ll face a much more difficult ramp period. 

If you add a cold call role-play to your initial phone screen process, you now have a great opportunity to vet for coachability. Before the in-person interview, email the candidate and let them know they’ll be expected to do a similar role-play with a member of the team in person. If there is improvement it shows they took notes on the feedback you gave them during the phone screen, a great indicator they are coachable and a good listener. When you give them feedback on the in person role play, watch how they react. Look for them to engage with you and ask questions about what you’re saying. 


  1. Duckworth, Angela. Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance. Scribner, 2018.
  2. Homison, Alea and Donovan, Jeremy. Leading Sales Development The Art and Science of Building Exceptional Teams. 2019.

Sam Buffum is a Sales Development Manager at AlphaSense where he is responsible for accelerating revenue through top of funnel prospecting efforts for their Financial Services and Investor Relations businesses. Outside of work Sam enjoys tennis, traveling, and shooting in the high 90s. Sam holds a political science and history degree from Trinity College-Hartford. 

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  1. These are all important attributes and I’ve always been fascinated to see how having a solid work ethic alone can be success factor. In the information age we’re fortunate to be able to rely on knowing what questions to ask rather than on having to have all the answers. To me, this applies to top sales executives and even CEOs in many cases. In order to understand objections, market trends, and day to day business challenges, leaders also need to be in the front lines conducting cold outreach as some portion of their responsibilities.

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