The Most Important Interview Question Never Asked

The un-asked interview question

Interviewing people for a job is a difficult task.  There are dozens of different styles and approaches to performing interviews.  Some interviewers ask ‘skill’ questions; others ask ‘problems solving’ riddles.  Still, others look into background and weaknesses.  I don’t think that there is a correct or incorrect method; an interview style is a reflection of the interviewer, and is a reflection of their personality and needs as they look for someone to join their team.  The future success of the interviewer will become, in part dependent on the person they hire, and therefore need to make sure that it is a best possible fit.

There are different categories of questions that can be helpful during the interview that I will discuss in a later blog, but there is a single question that is essential to ask that is rarely ventured:

“What is it that you are looking for in your next job?”

This is a dangerous question to ask without some guidance for the interviewee. Without boundaries in the options, they will try to makeup something that they think you want to hear.  A technique I like to use is to give a set of options that are mutually exclusive to a question I ask.  The options to this question are as follows:

What is it that you are looking for in your next job (pick the most important)?

  1. More Money
  2. Better Benefits
  3. Different Culture
  4. Growth and Opportunity

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer.  Rather, the interviewee’s answer will reveal what motivates them in the workplace.  Now, the magic of the question isn’t the answer, but how the answer matches or contrasts your company’s culture and environment.  Each answer contains job candidates that can be top performers and under-performers.  I will explain each.

More Money
Candidate: Candidates who answer with this option usually prioritize income over job satisfaction.  I have found that they can be very driven, focused and effective at work, but are constantly looking for more income.  They often have shorter stints at each job, and will sometimes ‘job hop’, one to three years at each job.  They often change jobs to get an increase in pay and/or title.  These candidates will generally keep their resume posted on resume sites like Monster and will take interviews as opportunities arise, usually looking to maximize their income.

Company: If you are willing to pay top dollar, you can attract and retain top producers from this category.  If not, you will lose this type of employee.  One risk with this type of job candidate is that they may have pushed for income and title in their previous jobs over their skill set and capacity, and are looking for work because they couldn’t ‘pull it off’ at the last job.  You can still make the hire, just know and expect that you will not likely retain this person long term.

Better Benefits
Candidate: Candidates who answer with this option often ‘work to live’.  They will work as much as needed to maximize time and focus for their personal lives.  These candidates are looking for increased holiday, sick and PTO days, better health/retirement and company perks (free things, drinks, iPads, etc).  These employees will often sacrifice income for these benefits, and will be very loyal when they find a company that provides these benefits.  These candidates are less focused on short-term drive, and are there for the long haul.  The best in this category are bright and smart enough to do 8+ hours of work in 5-6 hours and because of their IQ, can sometime out perform the best from other categories.  They love environments that allow lots of freedom and flexibility.

Company: If you are a company that provides lots of benefits and perks, you will find long term loyalty from this type of employee.  They are not usually the type that like to stay late, are driven and motivated to do extra, but are reliable and do their job (some can do it with excellence).  The risk with this type of candidate is that they begin leaving early and coming late (abusing the flexibility) while not maintaining minimum performance requirements.  These candidates are often a best match for companies that are in ‘maintenance’ or ‘status quo’ mode.

Different Culture
Candidate: Candidates who answer with this option often ‘live to work’.  They enjoy what they do and love being at work.  They want to make sure that they enjoy their work environment and people they work with, and will leave jobs that may have good income or benefits if the culture and people are not satisfying.  The risk with this employee is that they focus on the social aspect of work and under perform.  They tend to work longer hours and will take work home with them.  This type of employee will sometimes define themselves by what they do and how good they are at it.   Recognition and appreciation are very important to these employees.

Company: Good company culture, fun events (in and out of work), good workspace, and recognition are required to maintain satisfaction with this type of employee.  Like benefit oriented employees, culture focused employees will stay with their company very long term if the culture has the necessary elements.  These employees build long-term relationships and friendships with co-workers, and as such, need the correct environment/workspace/events to foster those relationships.

Growth and Opportunity
Candidate: Candidates focused on growth usually like to learn, work hard and perform.  These candidates do well in a meritocracy.  They look for companies that have opportunities for education, promotion, mentoring, training and have high demand on their employees. Without structured career paths and movement, these employees will look for other jobs that do have growth opportunities.  The risk with this type of employee comes when they push too hard and perform activities that they do not have the skill or ability, overextending themselves and making major mistakes.  If they understand their purpose, they will work hard and long hours, but require recognition.

Company: If your company focuses on tenure and relationships for promotion and recognition, these candidates are a bad fit even though they can be effective in other companies.  They need the opportunity to learn, try and fail.  They will push for growth either way, but will succeed with structured training and investment for education.  For growing companies, the best of these candidates can become your leadership.  If they see opportunity, they will solve big problems and take ownership.

As you interview, find out what motivates the candidate, and make sure it’s a great fit for the candidate and your company.  You spend at least half your waking life at work with these people.  If the candidate is a wrong fit, you will be starting over after fixing problems and will be explaining why you made a bad hire and spent so much time fixing it.  Start right and ask the question.

Since being published on the Sales Insider, this article has also been published on Click here to view it on Forbes.

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