BusEmployee engagement starts with the hiring process. Some professionals, no matter how great they look on paper, will never be engaged in the work environment.

Why? Because their career goals and motivations are radically different from the employer’s goals and motivations. And if an employee isn’t passionate about their work, they won’t be happy. In fact, 53 percent of U.S. and Canadian employees surveyed by Virgin Pulse this year said “interesting and challenging work” is the No. 1 reason they love their company.

Understanding what makes candidates tick is critical to hiring the right person for the job, but many employers aren’t getting this information. Among employees surveyed by Saba Software this year, 31 percent said they would share their goals, background talents, and motivations with employers — but employers aren’t asking the right questions.

When asking questions about candidate goals and motivations, you should focus on learning what a person loves to do, what they’re good at doing, and what they want to do more of.

Unfortunately, most companies don’t focus on these things. Instead, they ask questions like the following — which should be avoided at all costs, because they’d don’t elicit the kind of information an employee really needs:

1. ‘Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?’

Why this question doesn’t work: You ask candidates this question to learn about their overall career goals. Do they want to move up to management, or are they interested in starting their own business? Do they want to travel or stay put?

But in an interview, job seekers are focused on one goal — getting the job. To do well, candidates give answers they think you want to hear. They see themselves in the type of role you’re offering, and they see themselves sticking with the same company. They think that if they mention ambitions unrelated to the job or an interest in starting their own business, employers won’t hire them.

The right question: ‘If you had $40,000 to build your own business, what would you do?’

Creating a hypothetical situation allows job seekers to discuss their goals without the fear of giving the wrong impression to interviewers. Candidates can talk about what type of business they would create, giving you a deeper insight into their passions and goals without limiting their ability to express themselves.

2. ‘What Motivates You?’

GlassWhy this question doesn’t work: When you ask candidates what motivates them, you’re not really asking them anything. Although you’re looking for important information, the question is way too broad.

Candidates know they can’t say they’re motivated by money or benefit. Worse yet, they often show up with a scripted answer to the question. They can tell you they’re motivated by challenges, by helping others, etc., but these tidy answers don’t tell you how a candidate works best and what keeps them engaged.

The right question: ‘What’s your ideal work environment?’

Ask candidates about how they like to work and what keeps them going during the workday. Do they work best in loud or quiet spaces? Do they prefer collaborative or individual work?

Also, you may want to ask candidates about the qualities they look for in a boss or supervisor. Who were their favorite leaders to work for in the past, and why?

3. ‘What Are You Passionate About?’

Why this question doesn’t work: What are candidates passionate about? Whatever your open position involves. They’re excited about the work, what your company does, and the company’s values.

When answering this question, candidates will try to please you with broad answers. Their answers won’t get into the nitty-gritty of the tasks they enjoy and excel at — or the jobs they’d rather not do. If you don’t know a candidate’s actual likes and dislikes, you could end up hiring a professional who isn’t excited by the responsibilities of the job at all.

The right question: ‘What did you enjoy most about your past jobs?’

Asking specific questions about what a candidate loved most about past jobs will give you a better idea of their strengths and the work they genuinely feel passionate about. Are their interests and goals aligned with those needed for the position? Will they be motivated by the responsibilities of the job every day?

4. ‘What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?’

Why this question doesn’t work: Candidates want to paint themselves in the best light, and they aren’t going to admit any true weaknesses. Although it’s important to know the strengths and weaknesses of applicants, it’s more important to understand what a professional doesn’t want to do on the job.

If a candidate doesn’t enjoy a primary part of the job, things will not work out. They’ll be miserable and disengaged, and you’ll be unhappy because the employee isn’t doing their best work.

The right question: ‘What is aSlant task/responsibility you were proficient in, but wouldn’t want to do again?’

Answers to this question can show you the tasks job seekers really aren’t excited about. When you assume the candidate is good at the task in question, you put the candidate at ease. They won’t feel like their skills are on the chopping block — and they’ll be more honest as a result.


Pinpointing the goals and motivations of professionals before you hire them isn’t easy, but doing so will help you hire an engaged team.

How do you evaluate the goals of your candidates? Let us know in the comments below!

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