How to Interview for Motivation
Everyone knows someone like my friend, Gary. Gary swears that he’s an extraordinarily good interviewer, with a strong track record of making great hires. His technique? He can sit down with someone and, using pure gut instinct, determine if they’re a good fit.
Considering that multiple studies find the failure rate of new hires to hover somewhere around 50 percent, most of us don’t fall into the bucket of the mythical “natural interviewer” like Gary with a 100% success rate. (And upon further digging, Gary doesn’t either, even if he’s better than most.)
This ideal, however, makes us feel that interviewing is simply an intuitive skill we should just have. If it comes easy to the Garys of the world, how hard can it be?
The problem is that determining motivation — the X- factor of employee success — can be extremely difficult. You can readily uncover a match in skills, education, and experience. With some creativity in interviewing, incorporating meals and numerous interviewers, you can even get close on culture fit.
But that motivation is a trickier one, and so important. If I had to pick someone with a perfect background and low motivation versus a so-so history and high motivation, there’s no question I’d take the latter. Bet you would too.
Candidates can get extremely good at interviewing. Everyone knows the game is to appear very motivated and energetic. They get asked the same routine questions in similar interview circumstances. (For a set of proven behavioral questions, see this prior post.)
Yet those statistics don’t lie — interviews are a poor predictor of hiring success. Interviewer beware: behavioral economists have warned us well and good that we suffer from perception bias, in which we seek information that confirms our initial perceptions. Be vigilant to not hire people just because you take an immediate liking to them personally.
Can we actually determine motivation in an interview, or is it just a crapshoot for most of us? I believe you can, though it takes more sleuthing than asking questions across the desk. Here’s what I’ve seen work to determine a candidate’s motivation.
Work history. This seems obvious, but the number one place that motivation shows up is in a candidate’s promotion history. Have they stayed in jobs long-term, and if so, did they move up the chain? If they changed jobs frequently, was it for advancement? Did former bosses rehire the candidate in different companies? Have they been plucked out of positions from the outside?
Outside interests. Interview the whole person in interviews, and ask about their goals for their work and their lives. What are their outside interests? Motivated people are motivated not just about work, but about life. They tend to have new, engaging pursuits like running marathons, learning a language, or starting community initiatives. They stay engaged with the world through current events, reading, and self-development.
Ask questions about failure. Motivation is related to resiliency, since it helps someone stay focused and positive despite the inevitable obstacles. In the interview, ask questions about failure, and listen closely to the self-awareness of the responses.
- How did you overcome significant obstacles for which you’re proud? What projects did you tackle without being asked? How did you push through challenges? What’s the lowest point you’ve had at work, and what did you do?
Get off-the-record references. With social media, and LinkedIn, it’s simple to find people who know the candidate beyond the provided references. (If you have to, call in a favor to get a brokered introduction.) Find folks who have worked with the candidate before and ask them specifically about motivation. I’ve found that peers often have a keen insight on the topic. The willingness of others to talk off the record itself can be telling. Everyone’s happy to comment about a great candidate; with an iffy one, not so much. Get quantifiable. Have the off-the-record references rate the candidate 1-5, and only consider hiring the folks who average 4+.
Do you have a sure-fire way to determine motivation in an interview? Tell us about it here, or @kristihedges.com
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. Find her at kristihedges.com and @kristihedges.
This post also appears on Forbes.com.
(Image by Ambro)
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