7 Interview Questions to Help You Screen for a Hunter Salesperson

July 9, 2015

Those looking to hire talented sales professionals might want to heed the advice of Christopher Croner. With a PhD in behavioral psychology Croner has been studying the traits of highly successful “hunter type” sales people in order to help companies hire candidates who are capable of generating the most sales.

In his quest to figure out how to hire the best salespeople, Croner not only digested 90% of everything written over the last century on the subject, but he’s been actively involved in conducting behavioral interviews with candidates, and then circling back later to find out from their mentors which ones actually become most successful.

What he discovered is worth noting.

“I found many of the traits that you might expect to be important were -- such as relationship skills, organizational skills and persuasiveness. But above and beyond any of those by far were three non-teachable characteristics that continue to really stand out and differentiate the high-performing hunters of the world,” says Croner, who also wrote Never-Hire-Bad-Salesperson Again.

The three traits Croner says are most important are all centered around “drive.”

He breaks down drive into three critical areas: The need for achievement, competitiveness and optimism.

“The challenge is that past the age of 21 or 22, there’s not much we can really do to change a person’s overall drive,” shares Croner. The other side of that is that drive is also the easiest thing for a candidate to fake in the interview process, especially for sales types who can be particularly good at talking a good game.

So in order to distinguish people who have these innate skills you have to really know what to look for. Here are a few screening questions Croner feels are good to use in the interview process.

1. In terms of sales skills overall, and your own personal development, where would you like to get even better? What is the next developmental step for you?

What you’re looking for: With this question you’re looking to find out the candidate’s level of self-awareness and confidence. Someone with a high need for achievement should have a clear sense of his or her developmental needs and the topic will be important to them. On the other hand, if you’re looking for an experienced hunter ready to hit the ground running, you need to make sure their developmental needs and skillset fit the position.

2. Tell me about the greatest goal that you’ve ever accomplished professionally? You’ve got to be proud of that. How do you intend to top that?

What you’re looking for: This question measures a candidate’s need for achievement, says Croner. Be sure to allow the candidate to fully answer the first question before proceeding to the second one. “A hunter sales person will have already accomplished a very challenging goal, and will be excited to tell you their plan to top it,” he says.

3. Let’s review your resume together. As we discuss each job, I would like you to tell me if you were on a sales team, where did you rank? And what got you to move on to the next position?

What you’re looking for: “A hunter type sales person will always know where they ranked on a sales team,” says Croner, so an answer of any kind is important. If the candidate responds to the question about why they moved on with vague or evasive statements, then ask the following question: “If we had a magic wand and could improve three things about that job so you would never want to leave, what would they be?” This is a disarming question, says Croner that will often get you something closer to the truth.

The goal is to discover a repeated pattern about why a candidate leaves employment. “You’re looking for answers that prove the candidate left for a logical reason that was no fault of their own,” states Croner. “Chances are if it has happened repeatedly, it will likely come to bear for you somewhere down the road.”

4. Tell me about a sale where you remained persistent, even though everyone else around you had given up.

What you’re looking for: You’re hoping to measure a person’s optimism, which is one of the three main components of drive. “Look for stories about remaining resilient and sticking to their guns, even after a prospect blew them off or their colleagues decided the situation was hopeless,” says Crowder. “If they lack sales experience, they will tell you about other incidents at work or school where they remained optimistic.

5. What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make to be successful?

What you’re looking for: What kinds of sacrifices has the candidate had to make in order to be successful? You can also listen for what the person considers to be a sacrifice? Was it that they had to come in a couple weekends last year, or was it more substantial? If you get the sense that you’re talking to someone who wants to dial down their commitment to their job, you’re not talking to a hunter.

6. When was the last time you were competitive at work?

What you’re looking for: This question attempts to uncover how competitive a candidate may be. “Very competitive people will likely talk about an intense competition with his or her coworkers and will have consistent examples of wanting to be the best on their team or win customers over,” says Crowder. The hunter type will also likely describe the situation as enjoyable and motivating.

7. Where is your confidence the highest? The lowest?

What you’re looking for: The hunter type will often express confidence in areas that require spontaneity, such as cold calling. If the candidate says their confidence is lowest in situations that demand optimism and spontaneity, then follow up with a challenging question. “Tell me about your cold calling experience. What aspect of cold calling would you like to get even better at?”

If you need a salesperson that is ready to start producing quickly, don’t hire someone who is uncomfortable doing things that require the aggression of cold calling. Hunter sales people are always up for a challenge, he says. “Some of the best sales people of the world are almost constantly on,” shares Crowder. “You could wake them up in the middle of the night and they’re thinking about that next sale and they’re excited to tell you about it.”

He also notes that stereotypes for these salespeople aren’t always true. Sometimes a good hunter isn’t such a talkative and pushy person, he says. “Often they just possess a quiet optimism and determination that leads them to be successful.”

* image by Dennis Church

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