7 Interview Questions to Assess a Candidate’s Motivation for the Job

job interviewsThe candidates who perform best at job interviews aren’t always the hardest workers. Often, they are the most practiced or natural at interviewing. All job candidates know the importance of creating a positive impression, and most are familiar with the questions employers commonly ask. BambooHR surveyed over 1000 currently employed Americans and found that nearly a third had left a job before completing six months, which is a strong indicator that interviewers are struggling to identify employees who can be retained.

What, then, can you do to distinguish candidates who are genuinely motivated to work for your company from those who simply act the part? You can ask open-ended questions designed to yield cues to your candidates’ true motivations. The following questions will help you determine your candidates’ fit within your organization and team; how they handle direction and feedback; and work ethics, values, tendencies, and aspirations.

  1. Who Has Hired You and Why? Here, you want to identify candidates that have been re-hired by managers from previous companies, as well as candidates that have been promoted within their companies. Conversely, candidates that make frequent lateral moves often do so because their positions are not working out, or instead of working hard for raises.
  1. What Is Your Preferred Work Style? Ask this question early in the interview to determine who is trying to “game” the interview and who is genuinely searching for an ideal employment match. An ambiguous answer here may suggest the candidate wants to win the interview, not explore a potential mutual fit.
  1. What Are Your Passions Outside of Work? You’re not just hiring an employee; you’re hiring a human being. Evidence of motivation lies across the spectrum of your candidates’ activities in and out of work. Are your best employees civic-minded, engaged in the arts or athletic pursuits? Are they interested in self-development? This is an opportunity to match new hires to a prototype for success on your team. 
  1. Describe a Time When You Overcame Adversity on the Job? This question and the next two are behavioral, giving you a window into how the candidate will function on the job or under pressure. Resilience is a predictor of success in most positions. Honest candidates will typically provide more detail in their answers. Candidates with years of experience should have more than one answer to this question, and should be eager to provide multiple examples (as with the next two questions).
  1. Describe a Time When You Went Beyond the Scope of Your Duties? If you have a smaller work environment in which employees often have to learn new responsibilities and cover for one another, this is an especially important question. Highly motivated employees hold themselves to higher standards than even their employers hold them to, which leads to outperforming expectations.
  1. What Ideas Have You Generated and Implemented on the Job? In positions requiring creative thinking and innovation, this question requires the candidate to demonstrate achievements in these areas. Even in positions that do not necessarily require out-of-the-box thinking, achievements in this area demonstrate initiative and motivation. If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, consider probing or turning the question into “What problems have you come up with solutions to on the job?”
  1. What Are Your Career and Lifetime Goals? This can also be expressed as 10 or 25-year plan, with the objective of ascertaining sustainable sources of motivation. Job hoppers tend to have short-term goals, whereas people with durable records of achievement work daily toward short and long-term goals. Interviewers often make the mistake of being impressed by the most ambitious career objectives, but such goals may not align with the position or the organization.

Finally, there are two caveats to keep in mind: 1) Even these less common questions can be answered dishonestly or with embellishment, so consider asking one or two of them in both pre-screening phone interviews and in person to be sure the answers align. 2) We all have biases, so be cognizant of the tendency to take an immediate liking to a candidate and then look for confirmation of an initial positive impression. Try to avoid formulating an impression of a candidate until the interview has concluded.

Once we complete a round of interviews, step back from the process, and synthesize what we have learned, we are in the best position to let our impressions and intuitions about candidate motivation guide us.