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How to Identify True High Performers, Motivation and Grit During Interviews

Somewhere, we learned that if we hire a candidate with the skills we need, the results will be an employee who will do a great job. Wrong!

Skills, work experience and job knowledge can all be acquired by showing up for work and doing a job just well enough to not get fired. But do these skills change the person’s attitude about working, increase their energy level or make them self-motivated in the face of challenge? Will great results suddenly be a by-product of these skills or will they choose to settle for less?

How to Identify True High Performers, Motivation and Grit During Interviews. Source: Shutterstock

How to Identify True High Performers, Motivation and Grit During Interviews. Source: Shutterstock

Skills are not a substitute for motivation—nor a guarantee that someone is highly self-motivated.

These days, interview-savvy candidates have made it tougher for you to accurately assess motivation.

Too often, interviewers simply ask questions like “Are you self-motivated?” or “Tell me about a time you took initiative.” Most candidates can gracefully give an answer without offering a clue to the truth.

Results vs. excuses

What one person believes is impossible to achieve, another person believes is attainable.

At its most basic level, this is the difference between “I can” and “I can’t” thinking. Each person has a perception of control—the ability to sway an outcome—regardless of their skill level. If someone believes they have little or no control over an outcome, then the outcome must be determined by a boss, luck or anything else. They believe their actions “can’t” alter the outcome.

On the other hand, those who believe their own actions can make a difference are more optimistic, seek more solutions, take more action and have more perseverance. High performers have this kind of mindset and, as a result, they find ways to consistently produce good results, rather than excuses.

Research has found that ALL high performers have the “I can” attitude in common.

‘I can’ vs. ‘I can’t’ candidates

Everyone thinks both “I can” and “I can’t” thoughts. However, one way is done more often. The trick is not listening for just one or the other, but rather determining which is predominant. To do this, you must consistently phrase your interview questions to include an obstacle.

Then, whenever any obstacle blocks the path, determine how hard the candidate tried to climb over it, go through it, work around it or was defeated by it (and gives an excuse).

This can easily be done with your skill assessment questions. From there, look and listen for the following:

Perceived control: Look for actions taken towards goals, even if they haven’t succeeded yet. Look for “I can” optimism, problem-solving efforts, persistence and ownership. Beware “good intentions.”

Perceived lack of control. Listen for excuses, blaming or “I can’t” as reasons for lack of action or accomplishments. Determine if the candidate sheds responsibility. Listen for justification for inactions or statements like “There was nothing I could do.” Decide if actions were prompted by an external source.

Determining their perception of control (a.k.a., “locus of control”) in the interview process is a way to more accurately distinguish the high performers from the impostors. You’ll find that some candidates you would have hired in the past you will not hire now. There will also be others you would have passed on who you will now strongly consider—because they have the attitude to achieve, not just the skill.

Motivated-based interviewing

Assessing locus of control is a part of the interviewing method called motivation-based interviewing (MBI), which assesses all three of the components common to the best job performers—skill, attitude and passion.

There are three steps I recommend to improve hiring results. First, effectively train interviewers. (Training is inexpensive relative to the cost of a bad hire.) Second, write and ask effective interview questions that focus on identifying motivation and attitude.

Third, implement a “hire ONLY high performers” hiring standard and hold all interviewers accountable for their hiring results. The idea is not to punish interviewers for bad hiring but rather to make them aware of it. This will get you started on the path to improving your quality of hire.

By Carol Quinn