Sales Hunter Interview Techniques

Interviewing salespeople is one of the most difficult tasks a hiring manager must undertake. Unlike many other business professionals, salespeople are geared to ‘sell’; and that includes themselves. Since salespeople are not only trained to focus on the positives, but psychologically tuned to gain trust and demonstrate competence in professional and social situations, interviewers, especially those without experience interviewing salespeople, are at an immediate disadvantage.

We have written extensively on how to identify red flags on a sales candidate’s resume, and the questions effective recruiters ask candidates during the interview process to mitigate hiring risk. One topic that we have not focused on, however, is how to detect, what we call, ‘Hunter DNA’, during the interview process. In order for recruiters to effectively utilize these interviewing secrets, we must define what ‘Hunter DNA’ is and why it can make or break your sales hiring efforts.

Sales ‘DNA’ can be defined as the traits and behaviors common among top performing sales professionals. These traits typically include ambition, competitiveness, sense of urgency, confidence, perseverance, optimism, resilience, and the ability and desire to influence others. The weight an interviewer assigns to each particular trait should be based on the particular selling tasks required to drive sales. In a ‘hunter’ position where the objective is to actively acquire and close new business, competitiveness, a high drive to win, resiliency, and the need to interact with and influence others are the traits ‘pure’ hunters are comprised of.

As we describe in our article, Hiring the Right Salesperson: Sales DNA vs. The Resume, the importance placed by the average hiring manager on a candidate’s sales DNA when screening candidates is typically low. Selling experience, on the other hand, usually takes precedence, with the rationale being that a candidate with experience selling a particular product/service has a deep network of contacts that could be leveraged in the new position. While this is sometimes the case, particularly in industries where relationships are paramount and there is limited turnover in buyer organizations, businesses looking to grow revenues through new client acquisition need to assign more weight to a candidate’s selling DNA.

Why? The right sales DNA finds a way to succeed. The right sales DNA acquires the requisite knowledge quickly, figures out who they need to know and makes the right connections. While they may not have a rolodex in theory, they are able to get to the buyers and influencers and find ways to make themselves indispensable to any selling organization.

In order to spot a hunter during the interview phase of the recruiting process, effective hiring managers utilize the following 5 secrets.

Secret #1: Is the candidate talking openly?

Effective hunters project a sense of confidence and possess all the social skills they’ll need to be successful. They are eternally optimistic believing they can close any prospect, and persisting until they do. During an interview they will be excited to discuss how they have grown a territory, closed the largest deals, and penetrated accounts no one else in their department could.  At any time, true hunters are likely able to draw on specific deal sizes, percentage by which they exceeded quota, or awards they have earned.

Secret #2: Is the candidate talking tasks?

Focusing on the right selling tasks is what separates the top performers from the rest. Selling effectiveness is not a generalized trait, it’s a function of the sales task. When interviewing candidates, effective hiring managers listen keenly to how candidates respond to behavioral based questions. Does the candidate intimately describe how they successfully penetrated targeted accounts? Do they discuss their approach to cold calling, getting past gatekeepers, and how they respond to the word ‘NO’? Do they describe how they have adapted their selling tasks as their brand, offering, and technology may have changed in order to consistently hit their quota?

Secret #3: Does the candidate talk about people?

Influencing buyers is a key part of any selling process, and true hunters have the ability to persuade prospects even when they may not be aware they are in need of a particular solution. Hunters will describe how they successfully establish trust with buyers, work to understand their business needs / challenges, and reframe how a buyer thinks. They articulate how they embrace collaboration across the sales process, and how they demonstrate the value of their offering by precisely incorporating the prospect’s requirements.

Secret #4: Does the candidate walk away from poor opportunities?

Hunters also understand that not every sales opportunity is a “good” one, and that customer selection is a crucial decision that will influence their selling effectiveness.  Elite hunters will be able to speak to their ability to walk away from an opportunity where they are not able to offer a sufficient solution and/or spend time on opportunities that make better “business sense” for the long or short term.

Secret #5: Does the candidate focus on solving business challenges?

Hunters take a consultative approach to understanding a client’s needs and identifying the right solution to solve those business challenges.  They will articulate the value that questioning, listening, and understanding prospects requirements are integral in to their selling success and that forcefully pitching yields unfavorable results.

Fight through the façade often established by sales candidates

Identifying successful hunters during the interview process requires an interviewer to fight through the façade often established by sales candidates. By asking the right interview questions and carefully examining the responses provided using the five secrets above, hiring managers can separate the true hunters from the rest of the pack.

Photo via markus spiske


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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