Determine What Motivates Job Candidates

Mitchell_job candidate motivation December 13, 2021 By: Barbara Mitchell

Knowing what your job candidates want in terms of pay and benefits is necessary, but understanding what motivates them is equally important if you’re looking to add a high performer to your team.

Q: I struggle to find out what a candidate is looking for—not just salary and benefits but, more importantly, what motivates them. Knowing this would help me hire people who are going to do well in my department. Can you give me any tips?

A:  You’re right—it is helpful to have as much information as possible about a candidate. After all, knowing what motivates your staff will be an asset as you put your team together and assign work.

Here are some questions to use with applicants and with your staff members:

  • What does success look like to you?
  • What are you proudest of—either professionally or personally?
  • Tell me about the best thing that happened to you this week—at work or in general?
  • What or who inspires you?
  • What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
  • What motivates and demotivates you at work?
  • What gets in the way of you doing your best work?

Listen carefully to the answers to these open-ended questions. Obviously, there are no right answers, but if you listen, you will learn a lot about what is important to this candidate. Ask follow-up questions to gather even more information. Also consider using the following probes to encourage the candidate to share even more:

  • Tell me more …
  • How so?

For example, a candidate may share with you that their long commute is exhausting and taking time away from family time. This may give you the opportunity to share your flexible work schedule and allow you to make a hire in our highly competitive war for talent.

If you listen, you will learn a lot about what is important to this candidate.

Meanwhile, if the candidate shares that she enjoyed working on a task force with colleagues from a variety of departments, you’ll learn what motivates her is being challenged to learn new skills, expand her knowledge base, and meet new people—which means she won’t be happy doing the same thing day after day.

Bottom line: Ask open-ended questions and listen carefully to what is shared. Probe for more information, and I am sure you will have the information you need to motivate your team members.

Barbara Mitchell

Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR and The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook. Do you have a question you'd like her to answer? Send it to