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Recruitment and Retention: Why Motivation-Based Interviewing Works Best

Ben Renner

Ben Renner



Recruitment and retention is all about finding the best candidates for your company and keeping that talent in house. As always, employee communications is key, but identifying the best personnel before they’re hired is the best way to keep the talent pipeline open.

Motivation-based interviewing is a concept I first ran across in a book by Carol Quinn, titled, appropriately, Motivation-Based Interviewing: A Revolutionary Approach to Hiring the Best. In it, Quinn breaks down her method for determining a candidate’s skill, attitude, and passion, the three most important aspects of quality workers and high-performers who will add to the corporate culture.

Obviously, a prospective job candidate has to possess the basic skills to do the work. There’s no way, even if I come in highly motivated, in an immaculate suit and with a firm handshake, that the San Francisco 49ers will consider paying me to fill their vacant position of starting quarterback (or even third-string quarterback). Skills are not difficult to assess. It’s the attitude and passion that can be a little tricky. Quinn’s assessment strategy deals with the candidate’s eagerness to do the work—their motivation. A job candidate’s motivation to do the work is the most important factor to consider in interviews after you’ve seen proof the candidate has the basic skills to do the job.

Motivation: A Recruitment and Retention Easter Egg Hunt

Finding candidates who are truly motivated to do the job is not as easy as it may sound. Anyone who has had to recruit workers for sewage treatment plants can tell you this. But recruitment and retention for any job is difficult because candidates don’t wear their true motivations on their sleeves when they come in for interviews.

New-Hire Onboarding

What you want as a recruiter and hiring manager are “high performers.” These individuals will go above and beyond for your company, their direct supervisors, and their peers. As mentioned, skill, attitude, and passion are the three components all high performers share, and of those three, only skill can be improved after the hire. Attitude and passion feed into what truly motivates them, and that’s the root of what you have to get to in the interview and candidate selection process.

To test for motivation, you have to assess attitude and passion. To get at a candidate’s attitude, you have to determine how they respond to obstacles. When we come across an obstacle, sometimes we give up and turn back while other times we try to figure out a way around it. Even though we all have both tendencies, one of these two ways of responding to difficulty is predominant. Giving up never seems ineffective or negative at the time; it seems realistic when you don’t know how or think you can’t do something. Let’s face it however, the defeated attitude doesn’t get anyone very far. When you’re interviewing someone, learning how to expose their “real” attitude is key to predicting future job performance and success. Consistently ask skill assessment questions that involve an obstacle of some kind. And don’t ask what they did to “overcome” the obstacle or “solve” the problem. Never assume they did! Simply ask how they responded and let them fill in the rest. Not everyone approaches a problem with the right kind of attitude and passion that produces the best results. Do it right and a motivation-based interview approach will expose a pattern of reacting to obstacles – information that interviewers will find very valuable when it comes to making the right hiring decision.

A Dynamic, Passionate Workforce

A group of self-motivated people will have the passion and dynamism you want in your workforce. You don’t need everyone to agree all the time; end-to-end, crystal-clear employee communications all the time is impossible. But what separates high-performing teams from all the rest is what happens when the chips are down. Are your employees looking at the clock and the exit when they run into problems, or are they looking for solutions? Assessing the right motives and a general sense of self-motivation dedicated to your company is a crucial recruiting step.

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