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How to Tell if a Job Candidate is Self-Motivated

by Mike Esposito

Every manager and leader knows this conundrum. On one hand, you’re supposed to motivate your employees. On the other hand, we all know the best employees are self-motivated. It’s always a disappointment when you hire a promising job candidate who ends up doing the bare minimum of their job requirements.

Fortunately there are ways to identify self-motivated individuals during the job interview process. The first step is to be able to recognize the general characteristics and traits of self-motivated individuals. The second step is to craft interview questions designed to reveal these characteristics and traits.

How do you recognize a self-motivated individual? First and foremost, these people have a purpose in life and live it. The reason they work is to support this purpose, whether that’s family, success, a hobby or wanting to give back to the community. Motivation is also closely related to initiative. If you tell a self-motivated person to do something and they don’t know how to do it, that is not an obstacle to them. They have the initiative to figure it out, learn on their own time if necessary and get the job done.

Additionally, self-motivated people:

    To identify these traits, it’s important to have a formal interview process. First, form a hiring committee and require every job candidate to interview at least twice with each member of that committee, even if the candidate isn’t going to work in that department. A unanimous consensus among all hiring committee members is necessary before any hiring decision is made.

    Next, craft a series of questions designed to identify whether the person has the traits listed above. Examples of questions related to motivation include:

      Tell us why you want this job, why you think you are qualified and why you believe you are a good fit for our culture. Also tell us your personal or professional “why,” meaning what motivates you every day.

      What does the word “successful” mean to you? Do you believe you have achieved success in your previous positions? What level of success would you like to achieve in this position? This question is important because most people decide early in life how successful they want to be.

      Describe the job you liked the most and explain why you liked it.

      Describe the job you liked the least and explain what you didn’t like about it.

      The reason to ask these questions is because people who are self-motivated can lose their motivation if they are in the wrong environment. Listen carefully to what the job candidate says about why they didn’t like a position. Listen for similarities to your own company culture and workplace. If the environment they described that did not motivate them has similarities to yours, chances are they won’t be motivated at your dealership either.

      Tell me a time when you felt motivated and a time when you didn’t feel motivated. Ask this separately because the candidate’s favorite job may not have been the one they felt the most motivated in. Dive into the specifics of the environment and managerial styles in each environment that the candidate describes. Again, compare the environments they describe to your environment, looking for differences and similarities.

      For example, if a candidate says they were motivated by a hands-on manager who set strong expectations and held them accountable, they may not work well under your hands-off manager. However if they say they don’t like to be micro-managed, it may be a good fit.

      What is your motivation for changing jobs? Sometimes its just money, but other times people are looking for exciting work, smart coworkers to learn from, opportunities to move into management, etc. The latter group will be more motivated to perform. If it’s just about money, the first group might be motivated in sales, but not necessarily in other roles.

      Describe a time when you went above and beyond to get a project finished. If a candidate has put in extra effort on nights and weekends to get the job done, ask them why. Was it fear of punishment for missing the deadline? Or were they just super excited about the new process or technology they were working with? Was it to ensure that a customer’s expectation was met? The goal here is to find out if a candidate is motivated to please customers and are driven by a connection they feel to their work.

    Admittedly these questions are not easy to answer, but it’s important to not let your job candidates off the hook if they can’t answer to your satisfaction. Keep digging and continue to be persistent. Self-motivated people know the value of their work ethic and are happy to promote that value.

    If you find a self-motivated person to hire, take great care of them! Don’t take advantage of them just because they’re willing to go the extra mile. Foster a work environment where they can learn, advance and self-manage. Show your appreciation, and they will return it with loyalty.

    What tips do you have for identifying candidates who are self-motivated?


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