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The Drive Interview® follows a formula we labeled the 3 Ps for ease of memory: (1) Planning, (2) Probing the Past and (3) Patterns.

Step 1: Planning

Planning is the process of preparing for the interview. It is absolutely critical that you, not the interviewee, control the interview and gain the information you need for a valid assessment of the candidate’s potential to succeed in this position.

Remember, the candidates’ coaches are recommending the opposite (i.e., that they control the interview). It takes structure and discipline to keep candidates on point so you can gather the right data and make accurate observations.

Step 2: Probing the Past

Probing the Past is the second P in our 3 Ps interview process. The best way to predict a person’s future behavior is to carefully examine what he or she did in the past. It is therefore critically important that throughout the interview you use experience questions, which speak to behavior, as opposed to philosophy questions, which speak to aspirations. Remember, the ultimate name of the game for you is not finding people who can (or think they can) sell, it is finding people who will sell.

Here is an experience question we like to use in determining Drive: “Tell me about a time when you thought you had a sale but were surprised and disappointed by the prospect or customer. What was your next move?” Notice we didn’t ask, “How did you feel?” It’s too easy to give a glib answer to that question. We want to know how the candidate reacted. Did this person bounce back quickly? Did he or she learn a lesson and apply it to the next case?

The foregoing example is the kind of question that probes the past for clues that the candidate has applied Driven characteristics before and will do so again for you. We provide a list of such questions below.

Step 3: Patterns

Patterns hold the third P key to a successful interview. Structure your process to connect individual questions into a web of patterns which, once identified, are virtually sure to reemerge (both positively and negatively) when the candidate comes to work for you.

Let’s say that you want to understand if the candidate can successfully multitask because the position in question requires a variety of actions.

You might ask: “Are you better at juggling a number of priorities or projects simultaneously or attacking a few projects one at a time?” A smart candidate, having researched the position, might answer the basic question by stating, “I prefer doing several things at once; it keeps me stimulated.”

So far so good, but later in the interview, you loop back and ask when the candidate’s confidence is lowest: “When is your confidence the lowest?” If the candidate replies, “When I am overwhelmed with information,” whoa! Time out! You need to probe deeper with a follow-up inquiry such as:

“Tell me about the last time you got overwhelmed.”

If the answer includes having “too much on my plate” at the time, you now have contradictory information that requires another follow-up.

So, you say:

“Give me one more example of a time you were overwhelmed.”

If the candidate responds with yet another example of having a lot on his or her plate, you have made an important discovery. Now a pattern of breaking down when asked to multitask emerges, despite this candidate’s coached answer about loving variety.

Establishing patterns is a very enjoyable part of interviewing. It is like detective work: searching for evidence that the candidate is truly Driven by uncovering paths he or she has taken in the past—and will no doubt take again in the future—in trying to succeed as a salesperson.

Sales Interview Questions We Love to Ask

We are looking for Driven salespeople. We know that Driven salespeople share three outstanding characteristics: need for achievement; competitiveness; and optimism. Use these interview questions to help you dig deeper into a candidate’s past and understand his or her career intentions. These questions should give you a feeling for the way psychologists probe for Drive.


Individual Characteristics

Need for Achievement
Look for
1. What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make to be successful?
1. Substantial past sacrifices for success at work (time, other pursuits, etc.)
2. Tell me about a few times where you exceeded expectations or went beyond the call of duty
2. Has regularly exceeded expectations for projects, making sales numbers, customer service
3. How do you know when you’ve truly succeeded?
3. Has been a sharp critic of own efforts; is tough on self in judging accomplishments
4. Over the last few years, how many hours have you worked in an average week?
4. Has regularly shown effort beyond the typical 40-hour workweek
5. What’s the toughest goal you’ve ever set for yourself? How do you plan to top it?
5. Has accomplished a very challenging work goal; has a specific plan to top that goal
6. Tell me about your last success at work.
6. Tells a story about a major accomplishment and hard work to achieve it
7. What is the hardest you have ever worked to succeed in your job? How often do situations call for that kind of effort? How did you feel about having to work that hard?
7. Has a story about exerting a tremendous effort leading to a major accomplishment; has done so regularly; feels that such effort is simply par for the course

Look for
1. When was the last time you were competitive? Another time?
1. Has more than one recent example (work, home, sports)
2. Consistently ranks at or near the top of the sales team and gives permission to verify
2. Where do you rank in the sales team? May I have your permission to contact your boss to ask about your rank?
3. What is the most fun you have ever had winning a customer over?
3. Tells about enjoying the process of winning over a difficult customer
4. How would your manager rank your competitiveness compared to your peers? What makes your manager see you as competitive?
4. Manager ranks candidate as among most competitive
5. Tell me about the most competitive situation you have ever been in at work. How unusual was it for you?
5. Tells about a competition with coworkers or with competitors over a customer; describes it as a common occurrence

Look for
1. Describe a sale where your persistence really paid off. Another time?
1. A history of substantial effort to secure a new customer
2. Think back to the last time you lost a deal. What did you do to recover?
2. Quickly put the situation in perspective and bounced back by working on another sale
3. Tell me about a sale that went wrong. What did you attribute it to?
3. Attributes a problem to a temporary, unusual situation out of own control
4. Tell me about the worst customer problem you ever faced. How did you recover?
4. Again, quickly put the situation in perspective and got going on another sale; came back strong after tough times

Combined Characteristics

All Three Characteristics
Look for
1. Which parts of your job excite you? Which parts bore you?
1. Enjoys elements of the job involving achievement or competitiveness or resiliency; is rarely or never bored, unless unable to show Drive
2. What do you feel driven to prove?
2. Motivated to prove excellence; wants to be the best; or can rebound from any setback
3. Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of? What about it makes you proud?
3. Takes pride in hard work, surpassing others, or remaining persistent

Core Skills

Here are some examples of probing questions for the other core and specialized skills.

Confidence—Tell me about a time someone rejected you. What did you do?
Persuasion—Give me three examples of closing a difficult sale. What did you say?
Relationship—What have you done in the past 30 days to deepen relationships with key accounts?
Organization—When was the last time you felt overloaded, and how did you recover?

Specialized Skills

Problem Solving—Tell me about a difficult customer dilemma that you resolved.
Profit Priority—Tell me how you balanced volume and profit in your last position.
Independent—Tell me about a time when you took action without explicit permission.
Listening—Tell me about a time when you were with a customer and had to read between the lines to figure out what was important to that customer.
Tact—Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an obnoxious person in an argument.
Detail—Give me a detailed description of how you manage your paperwork and reporting to the company.
Analytical—Have you ever had to make a sale based on analysis of data? Describe the process in detail.
Conceptual—Are you more comfortable dealing with concrete, tangible, black-and-white issues or more abstract, complex concepts?
Strategic—Tell me about a time when you had to adapt to a complex customer strategy.
Technical—What technical aspects of the business do you need to learn to increase your sales?
Executive Presence—How has your style of interacting with senior executives changed over the years?
Motivator—When did you last have to motivate a rep? How did you do it?