Finding and Hiring for Grit Among Sales Candidates

Written by
Lucas Price
December 27, 2023
7 minutes

In sales, it’s all about persistence. There’s hardly one trait more important than the simple ability to persist in the face of challenges and changes; it’s one of those characteristics that sets exceptional salespeople apart from the rest. In other words, you have to have grit.

Grit is a type of resourcefulness that can make or break success in sales. Today, we’re exploring why grit matters in sales and the types of sales positions where it's particularly important. Then, we’ll share a comprehensive guide on how sales leaders can interview sales candidates to uncover their grit.

So, What Does Grit Mean in Sales?

Let’s take a moment to define grit and what it looks like in sales. Grit describes a person’s ability to persevere and maintain their passion and persistence over an extended period, often in the face of adversity. In the sales context, grit is an essential quality that helps sales reps stay motivated and focused. Think about it: if a sales rep got defeated every time someone hung up on a cold call or a deal didn’t go through, they wouldn’t last long!

Sales Roles Where Grit is Essential

While all sales roles require a degree of persistence, there are specific situations where grit becomes even more critical.

Early-Stage Sales: In startups and emerging companies, sales reps have to lean on grit to navigate uncharted waters. Grit can help sales reps work through situations where established playbooks and lists of leads are lacking. This characteristic is key for turning challenges into opportunities and developing creative solutions independently.

Market Changes: As market conditions change and the sales landscape becomes more uncertain, deals often take longer to create and close. Sales reps need grit to refresh their strategies and adapt their approaches to meet new challenges. 

Upper Mid-Market and Enterprise Deals: At the upper mid-market and enterprise level, deals become complex with lengthy sales cycles and multiple voices in the room. Grit is there to aid sales reps in thinking on the fly and finding innovative solutions to unexpected obstacles. 

Using Behavioral Questions to Assess Grit

Behavioral questions are one of the most effective ways to evaluate candidates for complex roles like sales. Why? Well, they encourage candidates to share specific experiences and describe how they performed in challenging situations. So, when you’re assessing grit, behavioral questions can help you gauge the candidate’s ability to work through difficult situations and achieve success. 

Behavioral questions typically start with phrases like, "Tell me about a specific time when you faced a certain challenging situation." On the other hand, hypothetical questions are often framed as, “Tell me what you would do [in a certain situation].” A hypothetical question is helpful in evaluating a candidate’s intelligence in dealing with certain situations, but intelligence can be misleading. Intelligence should be a requirement, but so should effectiveness.

So, behavioral questions shift the focus from hypothetical scenarios to authentic experiences. That way, you can assess how candidates have demonstrated grit in their past roles. You’ll be able to evaluate intelligence and effectiveness related to resourcefulness simultaneously. 

What to Look for in Grit Interviews

When interviewing for grit, remember that a candidate’s example doesn’t have to have a happy ending to demonstrate grit. Look beyond the final result to uncover moments of persistence over a long period of time. In other words, grit is also about the journey, not just the destination. 

Candidates who exhibit high levels of grit but may not have achieved their goal can still provide valuable insights into their character and problem-solving abilities. Be more critical of candidates who give up easily, lack ambition, and look to blame others without displaying persistence and grit. 

When interviewing, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t put the answer in the question (e.g. tell me about a time you overcame a certain challenging situation).
  • When interviewing for competencies, choose fewer, better questions with lots of follow-up for each question instead of asking more questions.
  • Ask each candidate the same questions so they are easier to compare against each other.

Here's what else to consider during grit interviews:

Persistence Over Time: Look for candidates who persist in the face of adversity over a long period. Be open to stories of grit even if the ultimate goal was not achieved.

Ambition: Assess whether candidates show ambition and a willingness to overcome obstacles rather than giving up easily.

Accountability: Evaluate how candidates handle situations where things don't go according to plan. Do they take responsibility for their actions and decisions, or do they look to blame others?

Crafting Grit Interview Questions

Remember, you want open-ended questions to encourage candidates to share their experiences and responses. Here are some sample questions tailored to uncover grit:

  • Tell me about a specific time you were working on a deal that didn't go according to plan and what happened after.
  • Tell me about a specific time you've had an objective to meet and lacked the resources to accomplish it.
  • Tell me about a time you made personal sacrifices to accomplish something important to you.
  • Tell me about a difficult problem or time in your life or career where others bailed, but you stuck with it.
  • Tell me about a specific time in your career that was especially difficult.
  • Tell me about a specific time you were working on an opportunity that didn't go according to plan and what happened after.
  • Tell me about a specific time you set a challenging goal.

When conducting interviews, select a few of these questions that best fit the role you are hiring for, and be prepared with follow-up questions. In a 45-minute interview,  expect to ask 3 to 4 questions so you can delve into the details of candidates' responses. So, select just a few that fit best for the role you are hiring for, and make sure you are prepared with many follow-up questions.

During grit interviews, it's essential to have a set of follow-up questions prepared to dig deeper into candidates' experiences. Here are some areas to explore:

Specifics of the Situation: Ask candidates to provide more details about the situation they described. Understand the context and challenges they faced.

Actions Taken: Inquire about the actions candidates took to address the challenges. What strategies or approaches did they employ?

Results: Evaluate the outcomes of their actions. Did they achieve their objectives, and if not, what did they learn from the experience?

Lessons Learned: Ask candidates to reflect on the lessons they gained from the challenging situation. How have they applied these lessons in their subsequent experiences?

Application of Lessons: Discover how candidates have applied the lessons learned in their careers since the challenging situation. Assess their growth and adaptability.

Overall, look for situations when the candidate demonstrates grit by continuing to persist when others would have given up in professional situations, sales situations, personal life, academics, sports, to pursue passions, etc.

How to Reinforce Grit Through Training and Development

Of course, characteristics such as grit are like a muscle. They grow as you flex them. Once you’ve got a candidate on board, how do you make sure they retain and develop their grit muscles? The following efforts can help.

Ongoing Training

Ongoing training programs are fundamental in enhancing grit among sales professionals. Be sure to provide opportunities for individuals to acquire new skills, deepen their knowledge, and refine their sales techniques. Training sessions that focus on specific sales skills and characteristics help reps become more competent and resilient in their roles. This can help to foster confidence and determination, enhancing grit in the face of challenges and obstacles.

Mentorship Programs

Seasoned sales leaders can share invaluable tips and lessons with mentees through mentorship programs. Offer formal and informal opportunities to share stories of facing and overcoming adversity. These personal anecdotes serve as powerful examples of grit in action and inspire mentees to develop their own determination. It’s always beneficial for sales team members to have someone to turn to for advice and encouragement.

Coaching for Grit

Coaching plays a crucial role in developing grit among sales professionals. Coaches can identify areas where individuals may need to strengthen their determination and provide personalized guidance to help them reach their full potential. Through regular feedback and performance evaluations, these coaches help sales professionals recognize their strengths and weaknesses. This feedback loop fosters a growth mindset.

Offering a Supportive Environment

Beyond mentorship and coaching, be sure to offer a supportive environment that encourages persistence and resilience. One way to do so is to recognize and celebrate small victories and milestones. Acknowledging efforts and achievements boosts morale and reinforces the idea that determination pays off.

From there, allow sales reps to express their challenges and seek guidance without fear of judgment. This creates a culture of support and collaboration. Encourage sales teams to view failures as learning experiences. When mistakes are seen as building blocks to success, people are more likely to approach challenges with grit.

Succeeding in Sales with Grit

Being able to identify grits in sales candidates makes all the difference when it comes to hiring decisions. The key to finding potential sales leaders who possess grit is to focus on specific experiences and moments of persistence in the face of adversity. 

Lean on a well-structured interview process centered around essential traits. Doing so allows you to uncover candidates' problem-solving abilities, adaptability, and resilience. From there, you can build a sales team capable of persevering through the toughest challenges and achieving long-term success.

Spot A-players early by building a systematic interview process today.

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