This article is excerpted from Chapter 1 of
Motivation-Based Interviewing: A Revolutionary Approach to Hiring the Best (SHRM, 2018) by Carol Quinn.
Motivation-Based Interviewing: Stop Asking the Wrong Interview Questions
Motivation-Based Interviewing: When Candidates Blame the Environment
After thousands of interviews, along with tracking the job performance of those hired, I discovered the real difference between high performers and everyone else. It’s not how eager a person is to
get the job, or even about their bounty of skills, but rather, it’s how eager a person is to
do the job. The million-dollar question was, how could I make this distinction
before they were hired? I knew the answer would lead me to a place where I could genuinely tell the difference between the great hires and the not-so-great ones. Then it hit me:
everything revolves around how we assess self-motivation.
Motivating employees has always been a hot topic in the business world. As supervisors, we’re continuously trying to come up with ways to prod workers to take action, produce results and achieve higher goals. We spend countless hours seeking ways to make workers want to perform better. We coach and counsel. We dangle carrots. Sometimes we discipline and threaten job loss just to get them to do the job they were hired to do. Around the turn of the century, this age-old problem got a new name: "Unmotivated employees" are now called "disengaged employees" and the act of motivating employees became "employee engagement." It’s the same problem, just a new name.
Have you ever noticed that the word "motivation" is often preceded by the word "self"? One would think we could just say a person is motivated or isn’t. But somewhere along the line, someone attached the word "self" to the word "motivation" to make a distinction. When we refer to motivation, we aren’t automatically talking about the ability to put oneself into motion, not at all. This is where many interviewers go astray. They think all they have to do is assess whether or not a candidate is motivated.
So, go ahead and ask a candidate about his motivation. Ask him, on a scale of one to 10, how much effort he puts into his work or how important he thinks "initiative" is. Or how about a candidate who finished a project. Can we assume she is motivated? The project got done and that’s what counts, right? What if the boss told her prior to the project, "If you miss this project deadline the way you have missed so many others, you’ll be fired"? What if the boss constantly had to check up on her progress and push her when she lagged behind? What if this employee made excuses and argued with her boss, insisting that the boss was being unreasonable, that there was no way it could all get done? What if the employee spent too much time on the phone or took long smoke breaks? The project may have gotten finished barely on time. But during a job interview, this person can brag about how she finished a tough project. Talking only about the success of the project and conveniently leaving out the details about the boss’s push, this candidate probably appears to have been self-motivated. But she wasn’t. She had trouble with the "self" part.
If you fail to assess motivation correctly during the interviewing process, you can become the proud supervisor of employees who lack self-motivation and will be dependent on
you to motivate them—a process also known as employee engagement. Too often these people slip through the screening process and are hired.
Carol Quinn is CEO of Hire Authority and a national speaker with more than 30 years’ experience in interviewing and hiring. She has taught thousands how to hire High Performers using motivation-based interviewing.
Please visit the
SHRMStore to order a copy of
Motivation-Based Interviewing: A Revolutionary Approach to Hiring the Best by Carol Quinn.