Are You Evaluating Sales Candidates for Willingness to Learn?


In my 25+ years in mortgage banking, one thing that has remained constant is that most lenders recruit sales professionals who are experienced in mortgage origination instead of hiring rookies. These companies hire experienced “C” players rather than potential “A” producers who need to be trained and developed.

There are two main beliefs that have made this a standard practice in our industry. First, managers feel they don’t have time to train rookies. Second, many managers believe that recruiting experienced producers is the fastest way to scale a sales force. While this approach might have worked in the past, a different strategy will be required to achieve future sales success.

I think one of the many lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic is that an originator’s ability to adapt and learn new selling strategies is more important than the number of years he or she has spent in mortgage banking. In today’s business world, technology is advancing at breakneck speed and originators will need to become proficient with new sales tools and techniques to stay ahead of the competition.

The Apple Playbook

There is no question that the retail selling landscape has undergone dramatic change for sales professionals and consumers alike. Mortgage firms who want to stay relevant will be tasked to hire individuals who can readily adapt to rapid shifts in the marketplace. A closer look at the iconic tech company Apple provides key insights for our industry.

In 2007, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, it sent ripples throughout the technology sector. But, I think the more remarkable, often overlooked fact is that the iPhone replaced Apple’s most popular product at the time, the iPod touch. Instead of waiting for a decline in iPod sales to discontinue it, Apple decided to lead with something better.

Apple’s approach to lead by innovation set the standard for how successful businesses operates today. Similar to Apple, Amazon prioritized innovation in its transition from bookseller to online retail giant. Both companies made essential changes when other firms would have waited to do so.

Being Proactive vs. Reactive

This year has been a financial blockbuster for lenders and producers with an estimated $4 trillion in mortgage loan origination — a new record for mortgage sales. As a result, management teams have a choice of whether to rest on their laurels or make the mortgage loan process easier and faster for consumers.

Improving the customer experience will require lenders to invest in new technology. For lenders that take this step, the bigger issue will be encouraging originators to use the new tools. Managers who leave the decision up to their originators are at risk for losing hard-won customers. Consumers who have a disappointing home loan experience with your lender are not coming back.

In my view, hiring managers should screen sales talent for the ability to adapt and use technology the lender has purchased. During the interview process, candidates should be given the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to learn new skills. Whether in the form of abstract reasoning assessments, sales  simulations, or asking behavioral questions, lenders that evaluate candidates for the willingness to learn will build a sales force that can handle future challenges with ease. I think Steve Jobs would have agreed!