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  • Mike Piddock

Sponges not Diamonds: How to hire the best SDR talent

As we hope you'll discover from reading this guide, addressing the challenge of finding and hiring emerging SDR talent with this mindset is counterproductive. The rough edges are what makes these candidates unique, engaging, and effective. They allow them to cut through the noise and make an impression, irrespective of where they went to school or what they've learned so far.

Instead, we like to think of this process as a search for 'knowledge sponges' in the deep ocean of talent that exists in our communities. Individuals that can be a bit spiky, but are passionate about learning and absorbing information, techniques, and skills.

This guide is about where to look for those sorts of people, and how to hire them.


When people think about uncovering 'special talents' from a murky pool of the unknown, they often speak about 'diamonds in the rough,' or someone that needs the 'hard edges rubbed off them.' We think this is the wrong way of looking at things...

The stakes are high and the cost of bad hires is significant, making it essential to have a better candidate sourcing and assessment process to increase the likelihood of hiring the right candidate for the job.

Research shows that the average cost of a bad hire can be up to 30% of the employee's first-year earnings, and that hiring the wrong person for a role can cost a company up to £200,000. This includes direct costs such as severance pay and recruitment fees, as well as indirect costs such as lost productivity, damaged morale, and impact on team dynamics. The cost of a bad hire can be particularly high in the world of sales, where missed targets and lost revenue can quickly add up.

Furthermore, the time and resources invested in training and onboarding a new hire can be wasted if the individual is not a good fit for the job.

By implementing a better candidate sourcing and assessment process, organisations can increase the likelihood of making successful hires and reducing costly turnover rates.

We'll explore the key strategies and best practices for finding and hiring the best new SDR talent, from defining your ideal candidate profile to assessing candidates effectively. We’ll look at technology and data to create a candidate pipeline, as well as evaluating skills and fit through structured interviews and practical exercises.

We’ve decided against covering the topics of enrolling and onboarding new sales hires, as well as ramping them and managing/motivating them through their SDR career. That’s because these topics will be covered later in this series.


Hiring SDRs is hard. According to recent studies, 40% of SDRs miss their quotas and 30% leave their job within a year. With such high turnover rates and low performance, finding and hiring the best new SDR talent can be a daunting task for any organisation.

According to a study by the Bridge Group, the primary goal of an SDR is to "generate qualified opportunities that the sales team can close." This means that SDRs play a crucial role in the sales process, and their success or failure can have a significant impact on the overall success of a sales team.

It's important to note that SDR roles can vary depending on the organisation and industry, but the core responsibilities remain the same - to identify and qualify potential customers and set up meetings for the sales team to close deals.

By understanding the key responsibilities and goals of an SDR, organisations can better define their ideal candidate profile and assess candidates effectively to find the best fit for the role.

Key skills and attributes of successful SDRs

Successful SDRs possess a unique blend of skills and attributes that enable them to excel. According to a survey by Sales Hacker, 43% of top-performing SDRs listed "sales skills and techniques" as the most important factor in their success. This includes skills such as prospecting and qualifying leads.

However, we fundamentally believe these skills are completely trainable. This part of the SDR role has become a science, underpinned by technology, and supported with a wealth of knowledge and best practice. Instead, attributes that indicate that someone is coachable, driven, and has a growth mindset are more valuable, and these are not something easily trained.

Effective communication skills are also critical for SDRs. This includes the ability to build rapport with prospects, listen actively, and articulate value propositions clearly and concisely.


To understand how to find and hire the best new SDR talent, we first must be clear about what an SDR is and what they do. A Sales Development Representative (SDR) is a sales professional who is responsible for generating leads and qualifying prospects for the sales team.

By focusing on lead gen and qualification, SDRs enable AEs to focus on high-value activities like relationship building and deal closing, ultimately driving revenue growth.

According to a report by The Bridge Group, organisations with an SDR team in place experience a 9% higher sales growth rate than those without an SDR team. This is likely due to the fact that SDRs are able to generate higher-quality leads, which in turn leads to a higher conversion rate for AEs.

In addition to driving revenue growth, the SDR role also plays a critical role in developing the next generation of sales talent. SDRs often serve as a training ground for future AEs and sales leaders, providing them with a foundation in the key skills and techniques required for success in sales.

By investing in the development of their SDRs, organisations can ensure a steady pipeline of top sales talent to fuel future growth. reports that the top-performing SDRs make an average of 15 attempts to reach a prospect, compared to 8 attempts by their peers. Hence, resilience and persistence are key attributes of successful SDRs. Sales is a challenging and rejection-heavy profession, and SDRs need to be able to handle this and stay motivated in the face of adversity.

Finally, coachability and a willingness to learn are essential attributes for SDRs. A recent HubSpot report highlights coachability as one of the top qualities that sales managers look for in candidates. This includes openness to feedback, learning from mistakes, and continuously improving performance.

In fact, at Second Voice, we prioritise these attributes over everything else. We look for signals that people are coachable, driven, and have a growth mindset.

By identifying these key skills and attributes and assessing candidates against them, organisations can increase the likelihood of hiring successful SDRs who can help drive business growth.


A clear and well-defined job description is a critical first step in finding and hiring the best SDR talent. A snappy, well-written job description ensures candidates understand the responsibilities of the role and the qualifications and skills required to be successful.

It's a job advert, not a job description. Good, interesting copywriting can inject personality into the advert, help establish the company's culture, and attract more of the right hires for your business. Like any advert, you need to capture their attention and imagination and get them to take action.

So it was no surprise that when we started headlining our job adverts with "Come work by the beach" we doubled the response rate, and the people we attracted already had a sense that we'd be a relaxed bunch of people to work with.

Glassdoor data suggests a poorly written job description can lead to a 30% reduction in the number of qualified applicants. A vague or confusing job description can also lead to a higher risk of turnover, as candidates who are not a good fit for the role may still apply and be hired, only to leave soon after.

A clear job description also helps to align expectations between the organisation and the candidate. By clearly outlining the goals and objectives of the role, as well as the key performance indicators (KPIs) used to measure success, companies can ensure that candidates have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. This helps to reduce the risk of mismatched expectations and potential conflicts down the line.

And don't forget to take care with acronyms and abbreviations: we fully expect many of our future SDRs to have no clue what an 'SDR' is...


According to LinkedIn, employee referrals are the most popular source of quality hires, followed by career sites and social networks. It's essential to use a mix of traditional and non-traditional channels to ensure you're casting a wide net and attracting top talent.

Traditional channels include job postings on popular job boards such as Indeed, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn, where you can reach a broad audience of job seekers actively searching for new opportunities. These platforms offer advanced search filters that help you narrow down candidates by experience, location, and education level, among other criteria.

Referrals and networking are also powerful tools for sourcing SDR candidates. Encourage your current employees to refer candidates from their network and offer them incentives for successful hires. Attend industry events and conferences to meet potential candidates in person and network with other professionals in your field. Additionally, consider reaching out to alumni associations or industry groups to connect with top talent in your field.

Another candidate channel is social media and online communities. LinkedIn and Facebook offer targeted advertising options that allow you to reach specific demographics. Reddit or Slack groups dedicated to specific industries or interests offer a niche pool of candidates. Ensure you tailor your messaging and approach for each platform.

Finally, we've had huge success building referral partnerships with organisations such as local universities, non-for-profits, community job boards, and local employment centres.

Using technology and data to find the best candidates can be effective in streamlining the sourcing process and finding candidates that match your ideal candidate profile. An applicant tracking system (ATS) can help automate the candidate screening and tracking process, saving time and improving efficiency. You can purchase a dedicated ATS or use more generic tools like Notion.

Using data analytics can also be an effective way to identify trends in the sourcing process and optimise your recruitment strategies. By analysing data on where successful candidates are coming from, you can focus your efforts on the channels that are most effective for your organisation. Additionally, data analytics can help you identify areas where your recruitment process can be improved and provide insights into how to attract and retain top talent.

Creating a candidate pipeline is essential for companies looking to hire the best SDR talent. A candidate pipeline is a proactive approach to recruiting that involves building relationships with potential candidates and keeping them engaged until a position becomes available. Building a strong candidate pipeline ensures companies have access to a pool of qualified candidates when they need to hire quickly.

By creating a candidate pipeline, companies can reduce their time-to-hire and increase the likelihood of finding the best SDR talent for their organisation. According to a study by Glassdoor, a strong candidate pipeline can reduce the cost-per-hire by up to 50%. Additionally, companies with a robust pipeline are better equipped to weather unexpected turnover or expansion, ensuring that they have a pool of qualified candidates ready to step in when needed.

A steady flow of quality candidates is fundamental to our business model - especially since our best SDRs ultimately leave us to join our clients as AEs. We're constantly sourcing, interviewing, and hiring, so a clear process underpinned by technology is an absolute must-have.

We use Notion as our applicant tracking system, using its Kanban functionality. We run a pipeline of 12 stages including video interviews and tasks, recording when they are booked but also when they've taken place, for a very granular view. We measure the stage at which each candidate falls out of the process and conduct internal reviews to ensure this is fair and not a fault with our approach. We monitor the cadence of candidate progression to ensure everyone feels like they are moving along and not ghosted.

We hire 1 in 8 people that start our process, and everyone gets feedback.


Having a structured interview process is crucial for identifying the best SDR candidates. A study by the Journal of Applied Psychology found that structured interviews are twice as effective in predicting performance compared to unstructured interviews.

A structured interview process involves asking every candidate the same set of questions in the same order, providing a clear evaluation rubric, and involving multiple interviewers.

By using a structured process, you ensure that you are asking the right questions, evaluating candidates consistently, and identifying the most qualified for the role. Plus, you're not wasting time thinking of questions on the spot.

To create a structured interview process, start by defining the key skills and attributes that you are looking for in a candidate. From there, create a list of questions that will help you evaluate each of these criteria. It's also essential to provide a clear evaluation rubric, so interviewers know what to look for and can rate candidates consistently. Involving multiple interviewers can also provide different perspectives and ensure that you are getting a well-rounded assessment of each candidate.

Types of interview questions to ask

When conducting interviews with SDR candidates, it's important to ask a variety of questions that will give you insight into their skills, experience, and personality traits.

There are several types of interview questions:

Behavioural interview questions are designed to elicit information about how candidates have handled specific situations in the past. For example, you might ask a candidate to describe a time when they had to handle a difficult customer, or when they had to overcome a particularly challenging obstacle. With junior candidates, remember that they may have very little work experience, so these scenarios need not be from previous jobs, but life in general.

By asking these types of questions, you can gain insight into a candidate's problem-solving abilities, communication skills, and ability to handle pressure.

Situational interview questions are similar to behavioural questions, but they ask candidates to imagine how they would handle a hypothetical situation in the future. For example, you might ask a candidate how they would respond if a customer was unhappy with a product they had purchased.

These questions can help you understand how a candidate thinks and how they might handle real-life situations.

Role-playing exercises and case studies can also be effective in assessing SDR candidates. These exercises can help you see how candidates would actually perform in the job, and can give you insight into their sales skills, communication style, and ability to think on their feet. For example, you might ask a candidate to role-play a sales call with you, or to analyze a real-life sales case study and come up with a plan to close the deal.

Practical exercises to evaluate skills and fit

While interviews can give valuable insights into a candidate's skills and fit, practical exercises and simulations can provide a more comprehensive evaluation. These exercises can range from role-playing sales scenarios to product demos, and they can help you understand how a candidate performs in a real-life work environment.

For SDR positions, practical exercises and simulations are particularly important. You could have candidates make cold calls, pen emails, or see how they handle objections. At Second Voice Pro, we have them create a video sales pitch for a sample client, demonstrating their ability to research an industry and tailor their messaging to different customers.

In addition to assessing sales skills, practical exercises and simulations can also evaluate a candidate's fit with your company culture and values. You could have candidates participate in team-building exercises or group projects to see how they collaborate with others and communicate their ideas. These exercises can also provide a glimpse into a candidate's work style and problem-solving approach, which can be critical in determining their potential success.

Overall, practical exercises and simulations are a valuable addition to any SDR hiring process. They take more time and effort to implement, but they provide a more accurate assessment of a candidate's skills and fit for the role.


Hiring without looking at CVs doesn't mean winging it completely. Quite the opposite, as without the crutch of a list of companies and experiences, we have to ensure an effective and regimented line of questioning that gets into the soft skills that we care about.

All of our candidates are scored against twelve traits which each map to four key criteria we look for in every hire.

Our four key criteria are:

  • Coachability

  • Communication

  • Resilience

  • Growth Mindset

For each of the twelve traits, we identify key things we are looking for and construct a line of questioning designed to extract this information as fairly as possible.

Our candidate assessors score against a set system designed to ensure consistency across the group, and we regularly calibrate candidate assessments to check this consistency is maintained over time.

Our twelve candidate traits and an example question:

Open-mindedness: Are they open to new ideas or perspectives and receptive to feedback, even if it may be uncomfortable at times?

We believe SDRs should not be commissioned - how do you feel?

Willingness to learn: Do they have a thirst for knowledge, ask questions, and be willing to put in the effort to absorb new skills?

What resources did you use in order to prepare for your video pitch?

Self-awareness: Are they aware of their strengths and weaknesses and willing to take ownership of their actions and outcomes?

What might get in the way of you doing a good job in this role?

Active listening: Are they fully engaged in the conversation and asking questions rather than just waiting for their turn to speak?

Do you have any questions about the role as I've just explained it?

Clarity: Do they convey their message clearly and concisely, using language that is appropriate for the audience?

You said you were excited about the role, why do you want to join us?

Empathy: Can they put themselves in the other person's shoes, understand their perspective and tailor their message accordingly?

How would you explain the role of an SDR to an elderly relative?

- Adaptability: Can they adjust to new and challenging situations, able to shift their thinking when faced with the unexpected?

I'm an alien on earth for the first time. Sell me something you love...

Positive mindset: Are they able to find the silver lining in challenging situations and focus on the opportunities for growth?

How do you think this interview has gone?

Emotional discipline: Can they regulate their emotions and maintain a level of stability during difficult times?

If we let you start this interview over again, what would you change?

Embraces challenge: Do they see opportunities for growth rather than obstacles to be avoided, enjoying it outside their comfort zone?

When you last stepped outside your comfort zone, what did you learn?

Persistence: Are they resilient in the face of setbacks and failures, seeing them as temporary and opportunities to learn?

When did you experience rejection and how did you deal with it?

Inspired by the success of others: Do they see other people as a source of motivation and learning rather than a threat?

Who is your idol? What inspires you about them?


Compensation is a crucial factor for attracting and retaining top SDR talent. A competitive compensation package can set your organisation apart from others and help to secure the best candidates.

Negotiating a compensation package that works for both the employer and candidate is an important step in the hiring process. It's important to research industry standards and salary ranges for SDR positions in your location. This can help you to set a realistic salary range and ensure that your offer is competitive. Benefits and perks, such as healthcare, retirement plans, and flexible working, can also be important considerations.

It's vital to be transparent and communicate clearly about the compensation package. This includes discussing the base salary, commission or bonus structure, benefits, and any other perks. Being open to negotiations and willing to listen to the candidate's needs and expectations can help to create a positive and collaborative atmosphere.

Ditch the gong: Why we don't pay SDRs commission

Hold up? No commission? Yes, you heard us right: A sales organisation that doesn't believe in commission. We think it encourages the wrong sort of behaviours, such as handing off low-quality leads for short-term gain.

Instead, our model incentivises our SDRs by giving them the very best training and a potential career path into our clients' organisations, where they can become top-tier Account Execs and achieve a step change in their earning potential.

And guess what? This REALLY resonates with applicants at the start of their journeys.

Making the offer and closing the candidate

Once you have determined that a candidate is the right fit for your organisation and you are ready to make an offer, it's important to keep the process moving along.

According to a survey by Glassdoor, the average interview process takes 23 days, but top candidates are often off the market within 10 days.

When making the offer, it's important to provide a clear and detailed breakdown of the compensation package, including salary, bonuses, stock options, benefits, and any other relevant perks. This can help avoid any misunderstandings or miscommunications down the line.

And once the candidate has accepted the offer, do not ignore the process of welcoming them into the team. Introduce them to their new team members, send a welcome package, and provide any relevant information about the onboarding process. A positive and welcoming onboarding experience can help ensure that your new hire is excited and motivated to start their new role.

Put yourself in their shoes

The final stage of the process is often the most rewarding. You've just given someone what might be access to the first rung on the ladder, and you're confident you've found a star-in-the-making that's going to fire up your lead engine.

So at this stage, go the extra mile and make sure your pre-joining communications create the right impression.

Don't forget what it felt like when you took your first job, and have empathy for the things your new SDR might not know. For example, P45s, P60s, and tax codes remain a mystery to tenured staff, so help explain what these are. Make any reference process flexible (they may not have any references), and give them support around any identity checks required.

Finally, make sure (as far as possible) that employment contracts are in plain English, or at the very least explained in plain English.


We've covered the essential steps to find and hire the best new SDR talent. We've:

  • Defined the SDR role, including their key skills and attributes, and how they fit into the sales organisation.

  • Determined your ideal candidate profile, creating a clear job description and identifying must-have and nice-to-have criteria given company culture and values.

  • Discussed ways to source candidates, including traditional and non-traditional channels, and creating a candidate pipeline using technology and data to find the best.

  • Explored assessing candidates through a structured interview process, using different interview question formats, and using practical exercises and simulations to evaluate their skills and fit.

  • Covered the crucial step of making the offer, including negotiating the compensation package and closing the candidate.

We hope this helps you find and hire the best SDR talent to suit your company's needs and culture. Investing time and resources in your hiring process can have a significant impact on your success, so take it seriously, or lean on us to do it for you...

Practical tips:

  • Review and update job descriptions: Ensure they accurately reflect the skills and qualities you are looking for in an SDR, that they are clear and concise, and that they highlight your uniqueness.

  • Define and use a structured interview process, including a mix of behavioural, situational, and skills-based questions, using practical exercises and simulations to evaluate skills and fit.

  • Invest in ongoing employee development and training, keeping them engaged and motivated, and helping them to continue to deliver results.

  • Continually evaluate and refine your strategies over time, as finding and hiring the best SDR talent is a continuous process.


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