How to Handle the “Not Hitting Quota” Interview Question

The “not hitting quota” question will happen in one of these scenarios:

  1. A salesperson starts interviewing. At the same time, either employed or unemployed.
  2. The hiring manager(s) wants to see numbers and quota attainment.


Interviewing in Panic Mode in Iowa


Dear Panic,

Here are a few suggestions. Try to remember you are interviewing them more than they are interviewing you. No matter the situation.

Option 1

“Like a lot of companies right now, they are realizing they projected wrong based on the economy and they did their best to try and grow the business as best they could for as long as they could. And for that, I am grateful for the opportunity they provided.

I am curious, how have you all handled the current situation?

I mean, it says a lot about your leadership and company culture since you are still hiring.”

Wait for the answer and then ask…

“So, based on what I explained, truthfully, on a scale of 1-10, how comfortable would you be hiring me based on that one answer alone? Oh, and you cannot say the number 7.”

Wait for the answer and then ask…

“Great, in your mind what’s the difference between a ___ and a 10?”

Wait for the answer and then ask…

“Thank you for your honesty, I’m curious, of all the people you’ve ever interviewed, how many tried to close you better in the interview than I did just now?”

Ok, you might be thinking, “This last part may be too much Richard.” But it is what we think, no?

Why it can work:

  1. You are stating the truth.
  2. You are complimenting your current/previous employer.
  3. You are complimenting the current company leadership and culture.
  4. You are turning it around on them.
  5. You are testing your potential new boss.
  6. Even if you don’t get an answer you want to hear, you get an honest answer and you can move on faster.

Option 2

“Before we even start I’d like to address one thing I bet you are going to ask me. It’s about quota attainment.”

They will say, “Ok”.

“So, as you can see I am at ____ to goal. The challenge at the organization is that only ___ of ___ are hitting numbers. They are good human beings there, and they mean well. AND…. I think they simply convinced themselves to believe in numbers that were out of line with reality. I’m curious, have you ever felt that way in your career somewhere?”

Why it can work:

  1. You brought it up first and they appreciate boldness and directness.
  2. You are acknowledging reality.
  3. You explained a situation of creating false idols without speaking poorly about them.
  4. You specifically used the word “and” not but. And is additive, but is negative.
  5. You turned it back on them to answer the question because we know it’s happened to them. And if they say never, then they are lying. And this now gives you pause as to whether or not you want to work for someone like that.

Feel free to comment or DM your suggestions on LinkedIn as well. Let’s chat!

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