Question 4: What’s your selfish reason for being here? (or applying to this job, or wanting to join this company, etc.)
We all have motivations in our lives that are outside or not part of our direct job description. Not only is this ok, it’s simply a fact of life.
When I used to ask this question, I’d use an indirect path, asking about their life goals or other lofty, more positive sounding words – the word ‘selfish’ has a bad reputation. But it shouldn’t, and this question calls that out immediately.
I once had a candidate respond to this question incredibly bluntly. They said they were applying to my organization because we had a good brand and they wanted to pad their resume as a jumping-off point for their career. They saw themselves working for 1-2 years and then moving on, either up in the organization or out to another.
That person ended up doing a wonderful job with the organization for 2 years. They had the skills necessary and the role they applied for typically had a 1-2 year tenure, so their ‘selfish reason’ actually aligned perfectly; I knew this person would be motivated to hit targets and get success because that would raise their personal brand. Further, they weren’t planning on sticking around, so I knew there was motivation to get impact quickly for their ‘selfish’ goals.
By acknowledging that it’s ok to have a ‘selfish’ reason for wanting something, you get a much closer relationship with the person who shares that with you. Not only do you know a bit more about their motivations, you can use that to learn more about their background. It also helps assess suitability for the role and company, since if they want something you have no means of providing, they may not stick around long.
How to ask
I often follow this question up with some form of “this question isn’t about making a decision to hire you, but instead knowing where you’re aiming to go so we can best empower you or provide what we can.”
When to ask
This, for, me, comes near the end of the interview. Potentially even after you’ve given them the offer, if you’re worried that asking during the interview will taint the process and leave the candidate with the impression you’re judging them.
Asking it up front may put the person on the defensive or think that I am judging their candidacy based on external factors. On the contrary, this is for me to decide how I can help them if we end up working together.
Turning the questions inward
If you don’t have a team or aren’t planning to hire for your business, try asking these questions honestly of yourself (or ask someone to “interview” you for the role you already have – CEO). You may learn a lot more about why you love or hate certain tasks, since you can look at them through the lens of what you’re good at, what you want, and what your selfish reasons for working are.
Regardless of the person answering these questions – whether a candidate or yourself – be genuine in asking them so you have the best chance of getting genuine answers.