Assessing “Motivation”

A hiring manager recently asked me “How do I assess the motivation of my candidates?” I asked him what he meant by motivation. He replied, “The ability to see what needs to be done and the willingness to see things through.” I’m not sure managers care why people are motivated to work; they care people complete the work.

If you want to assess this manager’s definition of motivation, you can ask questions like this:

  • “Give me an example of a time you saw something that needed someone to do it. What did you do?” Sometimes, the right answer is “I did it and here’s how/why.” Sometimes, the right answer is, “I told so-and-so, so that I could complete my work and someone else could perform this work.” If a candidate says, “I always take on whatever work needs to be done,” that candidate doesn’t necessarily perform his/her work. Be careful; you’ll have to monitor that person’s activities closely.
  • “Tell me about a time you had trouble finishing something. What was it and what did you do?” Listen for the answer. Does the candidate discuss a time he/she asked for help? Did the candidate let the issue drop, never finishing it? Did the candidate create a problem by not finishing? Was not finishing the appropriate choice?

There’s no right answer here. Each person’s experience and how they approach their work will explain about their motivation. Listen and decide if their approach will work for you.

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