Can You Actually "Interview"​ for Grit?

Posted 02/08/2023

6 mins read

Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth defines grit as “passionate persistence for a very long term goal.”

After studying individuals everywhere from West Point to the National Spelling Bee, she and her team concluded that, above “IQ” or “intelligence,” grit indicates who succeeds and who doesn’t.

Numbers don’t lie

Statistically, it’s no secret that grit matters.

A study conducted by The Bridge Group found a clear connection between a higher “grit score” and better sales performance.

Using a 90-second survey based largely on Duckworth’s “Grit Scale,” the study calculated grit scores for 30+ outbound prospectors.


The results aren’t surprising: 49% of variance in quota achievement is explained by a linear relationship with grit score. With a p ≤ .001, these results were statistically significant.


“There should be a place in your hiring process for factoring in grit.”

Grit remains elusive

Although grit matters, it's still elusive. It’s hard to identify—especially in an interview.

Right now, hiring managers rely on “traditional” ways of finding grit in potential candidates:

  • They reuse questions from Duckworth’s “Grit Scale”
  • They ask candidates about their “greatest professional failure” or about other experiences that (supposedly) show grit

These methods present 3 major problems:  

  1. Relying on candidates to answer questions on their own assumes a level of reading comprehension or test-taking ability. Neither book smarts nor the ability to answer questions have anything to do with actual grit.
  2. Brief interviews make it impossible to observe someone's work habits day in and day out. Real grit is the ability to see something through over an extended period of time. You can't truly evaluate that quality in a 30 minute interview.
  3. Asking candidates to tell a story about a “time they persevered” leaves the door open for exaggerations and/or neglected details. It makes the hiring process reliant on both a candidate’s story-telling skills and your hiring manager’s ability to accurately interpret that story.

These traditional methods might work once in a while (i.e. you might get lucky and make a great hire), but they don't result in predictable, high performing candidates.

There's a better way

It’s easy to tell someone you have grit. It’s another thing to show them.

That’s the key with grit—you have to see it in action.


  1. Create a department-level personality and workstyles benchmark (for this example, we’ll use sales)
  2. Evaluate real (sales) work in real time

Create a personality and workstyles benchmark

You need a holistic personality assessment tool combined with ACTUAL performance data (stack rank your team based on actual performance) that shows what gritty, top performers “look” like, as a group.

First determine which grit-related personality attributes are critical to the role you’re hiring for—things like persistence, perseverance, and motivation.

Then develop a standardized set of questions that measures those qualities. Optimize these questions internally before applying them to candidates.

With this personality/workstyles benchmark, you can easily assess candidates in your sourcing funnel and pinpoint the ones who “look” like they have grit.

Evaluate real sales work in real time

Creating this benchmark assessment is necessary for identifying characteristics that would imply someone has grit—but it’s not sufficient.

The old sales adage is true: you really don’t know if someone can perform until they pick up the phone.

Because grit matters disproportionately in entry-level sales and marketing roles, it’s important to not just evaluate a candidate’s personality, workstyles and ambitions; it’s also important to watch them work.

By observing your candidates do real sales work in real time—by allowing them to show you grit—you’ll avoid “gambling” on finding the “right-fitting” SDR’s, LDR’s, or BDR’s.

How can you get this first-hand data?

Partner with a sales bootcamp or apprenticeship program. There are many such programs out there. Not all are created equal - Caveat Emptor.

These programs give you information that, coupled with your company’s personality benchmark assessment, will match you with the right candidates and prevent you from taking a “shot in the dark” as you seek your Rockstars.

Phil Hui-Bon-Hoa