illustration of a giant head, filled with puzzle pieces, and two people are putting pieces into the head that fit within the other pieces, to show that understanding a candidate's motivational fit is an important piece of the "hiring the best person for the job" puzzle


How to Interview for Motivational Fit

Learn why it’s crucial to interview for motivational fit and how to do it well.

Publish Date: January 26, 2022

Read Time: 12 min

Author: Ruth Moskowitz

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Though motivational fit is often downplayed compared to knowledge, experience, and competencies during the hiring interview, learning about an individual’s motivations is as important as knowing where the person has worked and what they know. There may be many qualified candidates. However, you want the one who is both qualified and excited to perform well—not the one who’s going through the motions while looking for the next opportunity somewhere else.

In this blog, I’ll define motivational fit, discuss why it’s so important to consider when hiring, show how you can interview for it, and more. But first, let’s explore some reasons why some of your best talent might be leaving in the first place. I’ll also explain the connection between turnover and motivational fit.

Why Is My Best Talent Leaving?

If you’ve noticed more of your best talent leaving, then it’s time to figure out why. You could ask them in exit interviews, and they’ll probably tell you that it’s a good time to try a new career, industry, or location. They also might say they want more coaching, feedback, authenticity, empathy, or inclusion.

Recently, there was a great study that showed that 9 out of 10 millennials would take a pay cut to work at a company that has values which mirror their own. This study seems to indicate that the next generation of leaders is looking for more from employers. They value a culture of inclusion, empathy, and growth and development over pay. And if their values don’t align with the organization’s? They’ll leave.

Proof of this happening is in today’s high turnover rates. According to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021 research, more than half of organizations are seeing an increase in turnover. Thirty-three percent of organizations we surveyed in September 2021 reported an increase in turnover from earlier in the pandemic, and 20% said they’d seen a significant increase.     

Decrease Turnover by Evaluating for Motivational Fit

But when opportunities arise, why do some choose to stay and others leave? There are many factors that lead to turnover, but the root cause often boils down to weak motivational fit—a poor match between the person’s ideal job and their work realities.

When a person’s job, organization, or location preferences are out of sync with the work opportunities, they quickly lose motivation and commitment. Eventually, their departure disrupts your team and you incur expensive replacement costs. How can you improve your hiring process to increase the odds that those you invest in will stay committed for the long haul?

You can nip turnover in the bud by evaluating job candidates’ motivational fit during the hiring process. Interviewing for motivational fit is a quick and easy way to determine whether there’s a sufficient match between what a person likes and what’s available in the job to keep the candidate satisfied, engaged, and committed.

What Is Motivational Fit?

There are many definitions of motivational fit floating around the talent management arena. DDI uses this definition because it’s comprehensive yet very practical for assessing job candidates:

The extent to which activities and responsibilities available in the job, the organization’s mode of operation and values, and the geographic location provide personal satisfaction.

Looking at a candidate’s motivational fit tells us how closely their likes and dislikes align with the work characteristics. It also gives a good indication of how satisfied and motivated they’ll be in the position. Evaluating motivational fit is different from evaluating competencies because we’re trying to predict what the candidate “wants to do” as compared to what the candidate “can do.

We can all think of very capable people who looked great on paper but just weren’t motivated to put forth the effort. They had the qualifications and they could do the job well. But because they weren’t happy with their work situation, they weren’t willing to demonstrate their best selves.

Confusing Motivational Fit and Bias

We’ve heard the concerns: If our managers focus on motivational fit during the recruiting process, can’t biases creep into their decisions and limit diversity? Is “fit” just a code word for finding “someone who fits in?” We remind them…motivational fit is about understanding a candidate’s likes/dislikes to determine how satisfying they will find the job. It’s not an excuse to discriminate or hire only people that have similar ethnic, religious, or cultural backgrounds.

You can look for candidates with strong motivational fit while still prioritizing inclusion and diversity. Help hiring managers see that there’s more than one way to be successful in a position. Even though an individual’s approach or style looks different, they can be equally effective and motivated.

To avoid bias when evaluating motivational fit, make sure selection criteria are based on objective job requirements, NOT hiring manager preferences. A robust, fair, and inclusive hiring process always begins with a job analysis. This is where work content experts define the knowledge, experience, competencies, and personal attributes (including motivational fit) required for success.

Additionally, every Success Profile should include an objective definition of the job fit, organization fit, and location fit characteristics that predict motivation and long-term commitment in that job. Then your interviewers can compare each candidate consistently to this established profile.

What Are the Different Types of Motivational Fit?

There are three components of motivational fit—job fit, organizational fit, and location fit:

1. Job Fit 

Job fit looks at the overlap between the job activities and responsibilities and things that make the job satisfying and meaningful for the employee. In other words, will they find the work itself satisfying?

Common job fit factors include achievement, challenging work, coaching others, compensation, travel, relationship building, and task variety. Examining job fit answers questions such as:

  • Does a candidate prefer to work in the office, from home, or would they enjoy frequent travel?
  • Would commissions be motivating or would they prefer salary-based compensation?
  • Is this person motivated to lead or would they prefer individual contributor roles?
  • Is this candidate happy to spend their day supporting customers and resolving complaints?

2. Organizational Fit 

This component of motivational fit looks at whether the organization’s culture, mode of operation, and values line up with what the prospect values. Common factors include bias for action, customer focus, civic responsibility, continuous improvement, and technology orientation. Examining organizational fit answers questions such as:

  • Will this candidate thrive in a fast-paced environment or would they prefer a slower pace?
  • Is the employer’s mission/purpose important to this candidate?
  • Will this prospect value a culture of innovation?
  • Will this individual appreciate a diverse and inclusive workforce?

3. Location Fit 

Location fit looks at how well the characteristics of a geographic location match the characteristics a person finds satisfying. For example, a person who enjoys outdoor recreation might be happiest in an area with parks, golf courses, biking, or hiking trails. However, families might focus more on the quality of the local school system.

It’s especially important to assess location fit when relocation is part of a job decision. New hires often leave their jobs if the new location doesn’t fit their desired lifestyle.

When you have an open position, refresh the motivational fit profile to reflect changes in the work environment and the way work gets done. Most of our jobs have changed drastically over the past few years and think about how fast they’re still changing.

You can imagine the impact on the motivational fit profile when an in-person job suddenly changes to work from home (or vice versa) or when technology is introduced that transforms a critical work process. The job, organization, and even location profile looks very different and so does the person who will be most engaged and committed.

Why Is It So Important to Determine a Candidate’s Motivational Fit?

Over the years, studies have shown that motivational fit is a consistently strong predictor of job satisfaction, absenteeism, and turnover. Assessing motivational fit is also critical to ensure that an individual will be satisfied, thus greatly increasing the chance they’ll remain in that job as a productive, engaged employee. 

And, as icing on the cake, motivated employees perform better. They’re more likely to take accountability for their performance and take on new responsibilities. They’re proactive and provide suggestions to improve processes, products, and services.

We’ve all seen what happens when a candidate’s motivational fit doesn’t figure prominently in the retain/reject decision. You invest in onboarding and upskilling and then, when the candidate’s expectations aren’t met, they become dissatisfied and often leave within the first year. Or, if this dissatisfied employee stays, their performance suffers.

Now you’re investing time in turning around poor performance or firing that person and hiring someone else. In the meantime, you’ve lost time, your talent investment, and productivity. Not to mention the hefty cost of turnover.

Organizations end up spending a lot of time and resources trying to overcome this “misfit” between the requirements of the job and what people like to do. So, you need to spend the time up front to make sure that you're getting the right fit.

Interview Questions to Discover Motivation

What does a motivational fit interview look like? The interviewing team starts with a motivational fit profile defined by job experts who agree on which job, organization, and location fit characteristics are most important for employee job satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) and retention.

Then, during the interview, they ask the candidate questions targeted at those same characteristics. After that, the interviewer compares the candidate’s past likes and dislikes to the motivational fit profile for the job, looking for overlap and discrepancies.

Similarly, talent management experts agree that behavioral interviews focusing on a candidate’s past experiences give us the best candidate information to predict future performance and retention. You can easily add motivational fit questions to a behavioral interview, but it often gets short shrift when trying to cover knowledge, experience, and competencies.

So, DDI structures the interview guide and trains interviewers to ask motivational fit questions to quickly gather information to make accurate evaluations. This method works whether the interview is conducted in person or virtually.

Motivational fit questions ask:

  • When the person has been satisfied or dissatisfied with a past job-related task or characteristic.
  • What specifically the candidate liked or disliked about that characteristic.
  • Why the situation was satisfying or dissatisfying.

Job Fit Example Questions

Here are example questions to help you evaluate for job fit:

  1. Tell me about a time when you worked on a high-profile assignment for which you received a lot of attention from others. How satisfied or dissatisfied were you with that? Why?
  2. Tell me about a job you’ve had where continuous learning was necessary and important for you to stay effective. How satisfied/dissatisfied were you with that? Why?

You might notice that these examples don’t include leading questions or theoretical questions. If you were the candidate, how would you respond if the interviewer asked you, “We move at a fast pace on our team, how would you like working in that environment?” The interviewer has just told you the “right” answer and you can wholeheartedly agree that you would love that!

But has the interviewer learned anything about your past satisfaction or dissatisfaction to predict how you will really feel when facing a tight timeline? Stick to open-ended behavioral questions that focus on the candidate’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction with actual past work experiences.

Once the interviewer gathers examples of candidate preferences, they evaluate the candidate’s job, organization, and location fit by comparing the candidate’s likes and dislikes to the profile for the position, looking for matches and discrepancies. The number and strength of the matches and discrepancies help make an informed prediction of the candidate’s motivational fit.

Interview Questions to Determine Commitment

There are more opportunities during the interview process to gather information that predicts a candidate’s long-term commitment. Look at their resume and work history for trends in their tenure and job moves. Ask clarifying questions about their past decisions to leave. Look for gaps in the candidate’s work history and, without making assumptions, ask about the details. Past career decisions offer great information about the person’s priorities and preferences that you might not uncover elsewhere.

As the interviewer gathers information about the candidate’s likes and dislikes, they should share information about the position to help the candidate determine their own motivational fit. Make sure you share enough job, organization, and location information so the prospect gets a realistic view of the position to make an objective decision. You can greatly reduce the risk of turnover caused when a new hire’s unrealistic expectations aren’t met.

In Conclusion:

Motivational Fit Interviews for the Win

Hiring decisions are a two-way street. Ensuring a strong fit between a new hire’s preferences and the work facets benefits both the candidate and the employer. Both parties are making an important long-term decision with significant risks and rewards. It’s got to be mutually beneficial for it to last.

It’s in the employer’s best interests to select the candidate whose preferences align best with the job opportunities. This helps to ensure longevity and results. At the same time, it’s in the candidate’s best interests to get a realistic view of the job to make an informed decision.

The motivational fit interview accomplishes both goals. It’s also a great time to sell features of the job that might not be readily apparent to a prospect. Your unique motivators could differentiate your job offer from your competitor’s. In a competitive labor market, motivational fit becomes even more important to both the job prospect and the hiring organization.

Explore Targeted Selection®, DDI’s behavioral interviewing system, or learn more in our on-demand webinar, “Hire the Best to Bounce Back.”

Ruth Moskowitz, Ph.D. is a senior consultant at DDI. She’s inspired most when helping the sales force, consultants, and clients hire and develop better leaders for a better future using DDI’s competency-based solutions. Nature, music, family, yoga, and travel are her favorite energizers.

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