The must-ask questions for every potential employee interview

It may be blunt, but you need to ask people what they are good at, what they want, and their selfish reason for wanting to work with you

The best way to work with someone is when you know what motivates them. Too often, companies and HR departments assume that is money. While many studies have debunked that, citing things like time off and flexible work conditions as more important than a salary bump, those features refer to employee engagement and retention. These are fundamentally surface-level things that will keep someone working hard and keep them around long enough to get value from your salary investment.

I prefer to go a bit deeper than surface level motivation. To get there requires a comfort with asking blunt questions on your side and some self-awareness on the candidate’s side. The result, though, can be magical: an intrinsically motivated team that needs guidance, not a carrot, to do their work and do it well.

In my experience interviewing a couple hundred candidates myself and dozens of HR professionals who have decades of experience interviewing thousands of candidates between them, I’ve discovered the three questions that, when asked in the right order and with the right words, help bring to light:

  1. A candidate’s self-awareness
  2. What intrinsically motivates them
  3. Win-win external motivation levers

Question 1: Where does this job fit in your career path?

Asking this question makes a few things really clear. For one, you show awareness that you don’t expect the candidate to stay at your company for the rest of their career. The second thing is that you give the candidate the opportunity to be up-front, honest, and genuine. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about them as a person.

How to ask

This one doesn’t need much sugar coating or changing. The only advice is to say it in the way you say it, “um’s” and “ah’s” included. Speak naturally when you ask this one – otherwise it may seem scripted and the candidate will be less likely to be honest.

When to ask

This can be added at almost any point during the interview, except perhaps not as the first question. It can be fairly raw and personal, depending on the person’s story and journey, so coming out of the gate with this question may put people off (and you won’t get the insight you’re looking for).