The W2 Doesn’t Lie

tax statement W-2

I’ve recruited salespeople since the start of my career.  But I’ll never forget one candidate I interviewed who proudly claimed to be #2 in his sales organization.  That is impressive.  I quickly responded, “Out of how many?” and after his face turned red and after a few “umms..” and “ahhs…” he sheepishly admitted, “Out of three.”  Not so impressive.

Many find it difficult to interview salespeople.  But measuring potential sales skills and the past success of sales recruits doesn’t have to be.  It isn’t all about soft skills or showing you that they can sell you a pen. It’s not about how impressive their last company was or what their rank in their sales team was. It’s not about how impressive they are in the interview – they are in sales, they should be able to sell themselves!

The key to knowing how good an experienced salesperson is truly comes down to one thing – what it says on their W2.  That and only that will tell you how good a salesperson truly is.

Let me explain. 

Massachusetts passed a law against asking previous salaries, but that doesn’t go into effect until July, 2018 so don’t worry just yet. Besides, if not comfortable asking salary you can always ask what their quota is and what % of quota they achieved each year and quarter to get similar results.

First, ask the candidate what their previous, or current, salary is.  Then ask them what their OTE (on-target earnings) is.  Finally, ask, “What did your W2 state your earnings were last tax year?”

If the candidate has a $60k base salary and their OTE is $120k but their W2 was $80k – well, let’s just say, “Houston we have a problem…”  However, if their W2 was $140k then they exceeded their quota.  This proves they are motivated and know how to sell.

But, wait.  We’re not done yet.

You should follow up with, “What was your W2 the year before?” I am now looking for consistency. Also high? At or above quota?  Now I am impressed. This person can sell.

If they have a great personality too, won me over in the interview, and maybe even sold me my own pen, then we know we have a sales superstar (Make them an offer as soon as you can!). Often times a great salesperson will tell you their W2 as a badge of pride proving they excel in sales.

Ranking is relative.  And smooth talk doesn’t matter. Always ask about the W2 and/or when possible.  After all, the W2 doesn’t lie.

Have you used this technique before and how did it work out for you?  Are you planning on trying it in any upcoming interviews?  Let us know how it works out!

Jonathan Samuels

Hey I’m Jonathan. I created The Sales Club ( and love talent acquisition! I have 20 years of recruiting experience and innovation. I like to work out, watch silly TV shows and maybe have a slice of pizza to break up my healthy eating habits. I hope you enjoy my blog page. Please share them with your friends!

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