5 interview questions you must ask to assess motivational fit

Written by Megan Why, Consultant
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.

This article on the impact of hiring for motivational fit was originally published in November 2016. All relevant content has been updated as of October 2021.

Motivational fit is an important part of any interview process. Without asking questions around motivational fit or job fit, you could miss key pieces of information about a candidate’s likes and dislikes in the workplace. After all, studies have shown that motivational fit is the single biggest predictor of absenteeism, turnover, and overall employee satisfaction.

As a trainer of PSI’s Select Interviewing program for over 15 years, I put a strong emphasis on this during trainings and make sure interviewers understand the impact of motivational fit on their hiring process. This remains an important component regardless of current economic circumstances and size of your applicant pool. These questions should remain a priority within your selection process whether you have one application or 500.

Below are five motivational fit questions that you can use during your interview to better assess the motivational fit of your candidates.

1. What was the best job you ever had? What were your responsibilities? Why do you consider it your best job? Is there anything you didn’t like about it?

Through all of my years of interviewing, these continue to be my favourite interview questions. I think many candidates would agree with that, too. It feels less formal when you’re asked about something in your life that you really enjoyed doing. When recording these responses, you should look for similarities between their favourite job and the job you have to offer them.

If the aspects of their favourite job are similar to what your job will provide, they are more likely to be a good fit for your position and be a happy and productive employee. Matching candidates’ likes and dislikes with what the position that is available has to offer is essential in measuring motivational fit.

2. Tell me about the job that you enjoyed the least? What were your responsibilities? What did you not like about it? Was there anything that you enjoyed about this position?

This is similar to the previous question, but asking about their least favourite position. This question will help you gather information about what components of a previous role did not align with the candidate’s preferences and may have led to them looking elsewhere or leaving. Asking interview questions where you are soliciting a negative response can sometimes be challenging, but this question is simply asking them about their least favourite role and is not always perceived as a negative.

Most candidates can easily come up with a position that was not suited for them, even if they have to go back to early in their career. If during this response they mention many job duties that they will have to perform in the role they are applying for, this may be a sign that they are not a good fit for the position.

3. What type of work environment do you work best in? Tell me about a time when you worked in this environment.

Work environment may have never been more top of mind than now in today’s world, as so many traditional settings are transitioning to remote or hybrid models. It may have a major impact on a candidate’s decision to accept an offer, particularly if they are required to follow a very structured schedule that offers minimal or no flexibility.

A call centre environment comes to mind here. Most call centres require employees to be on the phone for a set amount of time per shift and they have very specific goals and targets to meet. In this instance, it would be important that the candidate understands they will be working in a structured, monitored environment. If they were looking for a role with more freedom in their work and flexibility in their schedule, they are likely low in motivational fit and may not be the best candidate for the role.

It is worth mentioning that including the typical work environment for the position in the job description is always helpful. If a person is looking for strictly remote opportunities and the position is based on-site, chances are they will self-select out long before an interview even takes place.

4 Describe your ideal manager? Tell me about a time when you worked for someone like this? What qualities do you not prefer in a manager?

Leadership is an important part of motivational fit. An employee could be great at their job tasks, responsibilities, and even enjoy their work environment, but if they are not compatible with their manager’s leadership style, they could experience dissatisfaction in their job.

An employee that describes a hands-off manager who gives them freedom to make decisions and shape their job outcomes may not work well for a leader who is highly involved and hands-on with their staff. Similarly, less experienced employees may need a more hands-on manager, and placing them under the supervision of someone who is hands-off and provides a lot of autonomy for their staff may not set them up for success.

Matching a candidates’ desire for a specific leadership style with that of the manager they will be working for is key to ensuring their happiness, success, and longevity in the role.

5 Describe a job where you worked in a similar capacity to the job here at ______. What did you like about it? What did you dislike about this type of work?

This question can be used in conjunction with a description of the available position. Once a candidate knows a bit about the role they are applying for, they can be asked to compare this to a past position. When asking about this previous position, be sure to note what they liked and disliked and compare that to what they will be required to do on the job. If they discuss specific job tasks, shifts, or work environment that they liked about that job, and you are offering those things as well, they are more likely to be satisfied in the new position.

When measuring motivational fit through these types of questions, the interviewer has an important responsibility to match the correct candidate to a position that they will find fulfilling. A candidate may have all of the desired requirements, education, and previous experience, but if they do not have a desire to do the job being offered, they will probably not be happy in the role and eventually leave.

When looking for long-term, satisfied employees who are going to contribute to your organisation, assessing motivational fit is essential to finding top performing employees.

Hiring for cultural fit

What you need to know to get started

Organisations are increasingly turning to the concept of “culture fit” for successful recruiting and hiring. Ensuring that new recruits have values and beliefs that align with those of the existing organisational culture can be even more important than skills, qualifications, and experience when it comes to successful hiring decisions.

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