Don’t Hire Candidates You Can’t Motivate

There are five major motivations that drive people at work. It’s important to identify which motivation fits which role — and then figure out a candidates’ motivation.

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Mar 6, 2023

If you’re interviewing a candidate who’s driven by a sense of adventure and doing cutting-edge work, do you think they’ll be happy if you hire them for a boring and repetitive job? Will a candidate who’s motivated by being in charge feel fulfilled in a role that doesn’t allow much independent thought or decision-making?

When I write such scenarios, it’s blatantly obvious that the candidates will be miserable if they take those jobs. And yet, these types of misalignments happen every day. To ensure that your organization isn’t hiring people who are virtually guaranteed to be miserable in their new roles, you need to figure out what really motivates each of your candidates.

More than half-a-million employees and leaders have taken the online test “What Motivates You?”, and we’ve discovered that there are five major motivations that drive people’s actions at work.

People with a high need for Achievement seek to excel, attain a higher level of personal best, and enjoy difficult goals that challenge them to grow. Those with a high Power need like to be in charge, direct others, and have the authority to make decisions. Someone with a high need for Affiliation prefers work that provides significant personal interaction, and they enjoy being part of groups.

Meanwhile, people with a high need for Security look for continuity, consistency, and predictability in their job and work. Someone with a need for Adventure is motivated by risk, change, and uncertainty.

As you can tell from these brief descriptions, different motivations will fit different roles. Your job is to understand which type of motivational driver best fits the role for which you’re hiring and then figure out the motivation of your candidates.

If your job opening has no security or stability, candidates with a high security drive probably won’t be a great fit. If the job offers little opportunity for collaboration or social interaction with colleagues, your candidates with a high affiliation drive are less likely to thrive. If the job provides no challenge or opportunity for growth, and feedback and recognition are spotty, achievement-driven hires probably won’t be thrilled. And so on.

Figuring out a candidate’s motivations is as simple as either having them take a motivation assessment or asking the following interview question:

Could you tell me about a specific situation at your last job when you felt really excited or motivated?

Individuals with a high need for power might talk about times when they were in a leadership role, in charge of a project, or publicly recognized. Achievement-driven candidates might describe times when they hit a challenging goal or exceeded their personal best. People with a high need for affiliation might describe a great team experience, collaborative efforts, or a time they resolved a conflict.

Those with an adventure drive might describe a risk they took that paid off, when they discovered something new, or created a significant change. And those high in security motivation might discuss stabilizing a broken process, bringing consistency, or eliminating mistakes.

Those are just a few examples, by no means an exhaustive list. But those responses do give a sense of the differences you’re likely to hear when people discuss the specific situations that got them excited. As long as you’re honest with yourself, it will be pretty clear which candidates will (and won’t) fit well in the role for which you’re hiring.

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