The most important interview question you forgot to ask

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Interviewing is a vital, but often difficult part of the hiring process.  Can you sort the top applicant from those who present well in less than an hour? And once you have made your pick, do you really know what makes them tick?

There’s one vital question you might be missing, if you want to know the best way to motivate, engage and retain your potential employee, according to CEO Dave Elkington  .

That  multi-choice question is:

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

  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,” Elkington said. “Now, the magic of the question isn’t the answer, but how the answer matches or contrasts your company’s culture and environment.”

Candidates’ answers can be interpreted in the following way, Elkington said:

More Money
This candidate is prioritizing income over job satisfaction.  They can be very driven, focused and effective at work, but are constantly looking for more income.  They often have a history of ‘job hops’ – short stints of one to three years – and they might keep their options open for the next opportunity by keeping their resume posted online.

What it means for you: 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.   You can still make the hire, just know and expect that you will not be likely to retain this person long term. If you want to retain employees long term,  look for people with a track record of staying in a job  for about  five years.

Better Benefits
Candidates who answer with this option often ‘work to live’.  They are looking for increased holiday, sick and PTO days, better health/retirement and company perks. These employees will often sacrifice income for these benefits, and will be very loyal when they find a company that provides what they’re looking for.  The best in this category are bright and smart enough to do 10+ hours of work in 7-8 hours and because of their IQ, and can sometimes outperform the best from other categories.

What it means for you: If your company offers a lot of benefits and perks, you could find an employee with long term loyalty. They may not be the type who are driven and motivated to do extra, but they’re reliable and do their job. The risk with this type of candidate is that they might begin to leave  early and  arrive late (abusing the flexibility) while not maintaining minimum performance requirements. 

Different Culture
Unlike the candidates  described above, these candidates  often ‘live to work’. They want to enjoy their work environment and the people they work with, and will leave jobs with good income or benefits if the culture and people don’t fit.  The risk with this employee is that they over focus on the social aspect of work. They tend to work longer hours and will take work home with them.  Recognition and appreciation are very important to these employees.

What it means for you: 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.

Growth and Opportunity
Those focused on growth usually like to learn, work hard and perform. They look for companies that have opportunities for education, promotion, mentoring, training and  place high demands on their employees. The risk comes when they push too hard, overextend themselves and make major mistakes.  If they understand their purpose, they will work hard and long hours, but they do require recognition.

What it means for you: 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. For growing companies, the best of these candidates can become your leaders.  If they see an opportunity, they will solve big problems and take ownership.


  • mark allen on 2012-09-17 6:34:26 PM

    are the points made here research based ? or just someones opinion ?

  • Edwin Paul; on 2012-09-18 6:29:01 AM

    this article is fantastic. i've been a HR for last 5 years, and in a nutshell this questions and the explanation for the options provided gives you the instinct of the employee. Perfect one i would say

  • Doris Kelly-Capyk on 2012-09-18 11:14:40 AM

    I too have the same questions as Mark Allen. It would help if the supporting research was cited.

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