Interview questions and structured interviewing
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Two Critical Interviewing Questions

Yvonne LaRose

There's one interview question that is sometimes asked. Not only is it a good question, but it also reflects a concern that the recruiter, employer and candidate should be asking all of the time.
"Why do you want to work here?" You've heard it before. No doubt you've asked it at some time in your recruiting career. It's a screening question, just like, "Why did you leave your last job?" The purpose of it is to hear what the candidate has learned about the company through the interview they've just had, how much research they've done about the company, and whether they have valid reasons for desiring inclusion in your culture. The question is also focused on revealing whether they're looking for a career or just job-hopping until they come up with something they think they'll like.

There are two other interviewing questions that are just as critical for screening purposes. They identify truly motivated, qualified candidates. These are not profound in any way. One of them periodically gets asked in some version. The other is almost never asked publicly and very rarely does it get asked privately.

The Other Asked Question

The other screening question that recruiters and interviewers sometimes ask — and seems to go hand in glove with "why work here" — is, "Why do you want to be a [insert name of position]?"

Its alternate is, "Why do you want to be in the [insert name of industry]?" Again, this one's focus is on whether the person is looking at the right skill and interest sets to make a valid career choice, and whether they know anything about the position or the industry.

Often a person has all of the right interests for the industry but the skills for the position simply are not there. This doesn't necessarily mean that this is a bad candidate. This type of position is simply not a good match for their makeup. Actually, there are alternative career paths that will not only maximize the person's skills but also offer them the opportunity to grow in that direction. The growth will be a product of their interests and the opportunities for creativity and further education.

We pretty much know the wrong answers to this question:

"My family always told me I'd make a good [insert general job title]."

"I always wanted a job where I could carry a briefcase and walk around in an upper-class district."

"I've always been curious about [alternate career choice] work."

"I tried it out a few times as hobby; I thought I'd try it out for real for a while."

"My folks told me I have to start paying rent."

"My counselor [or spouse] wants me to do something constructive with my time."

"I'm looking for a way to get health and dental coverage. You DO offer health and dental, don't you?"

"I like working in a place where I can wear old jeans and T-shirts."

"I heard this type of work pays over $50,000 for first-year people."

"I wanted a place to make friends and meet VIPs."
But we're getting into my career coaching conference room and leaving my recruiting and management desk. Let's stay where we are and look at the second interviewing question — the one that never gets asked — and the heart of what we're discussing today.
The Unasked Question

The question that is never asked but should be is:

"Why do you work?"

This one is a kick in the pants. In this depression economy, it's the one we should not only be asking the candidate, it's the one we should also be asking ourselves. After you've peeled and carved back all of the aesthetics and removed all of the altruistic, the final answer to this question is the one that will reveal whether your candidate has their priorities in the right place for the right job — and for the right career.

It would also be prudent to ask your client this question (why do people work for you?) to make certain they're focused on their priorities for recruiting and retaining the best talent for their company.

Herzberg and Why People Work

In the 1950s, Frederick Herzberg did a study on people's motivation to work. U.S. work standards and ethics were quite different then. But the core element of people does not change that radically. The motivators are still relevant.

Herzberg found two sets of criteria — the hygienic and the satisfiers, described in the table below. It's the latter that keeps them on the job.

Hygenic Criteria Satisfier Criteria
Policies (company and administrative) Work itself
Supervision Achievement
Salary Recognition
Interpersonal relations Responsibility
Working conditions Advancement

It is the symbiosis of the two that makes any recruiting and retention regimen effective. Too much or not enough of the hygienic and you'll have people disgruntled and considering where the door is. Too little or not enough of the satisfiers, coupled with deficient company hygiene, and you'll wonder if the film of dust on the desktops is the ashes of your former employees or a sloppy maintenance crew.

Not only Herzberg but a predecessor, John Thorndike, studied job satisfaction in 1918 and published his findings in the Journal of Applied Psychology. More recently, plenty of others* have gone out in search of the job satisfaction holy grail. Interestingly, they've returned with almost identical answers, even though their focus groups were among extremely diverse workforce populations.

What we learn from these results is that job satisfaction criteria come down to basic elements that need to be handled properly by the employer. Also, the employee and the candidate need to be consciously aware of these criteria in order to make the correct choices and pursue the appropriate "carrots" when interviewing and making choices about career options. They need to think about the question and come up with good answers, right answers, to the question, "Why do you work?" The answers create the formula for staying on board in spite of all else.

Employer Perception of Job Satisfiers

Careful reading of the studies led to two additional questions. Do employers realize what it takes to make their employees happy? Are they offering the right enticements to attract the types of candidates they want? In other words, are they offering meaningful answers to the candidates' question (and their own)? Getting this information as you take your recruiting order is imperative. Otherwise, there will be a great deal of time spent in a perpetual "looking for the right person" mode and money spent on unfocused searches. Those searches will be ones that are tantamount to getting bodies in to do the work and not necessarily reward and retain quality and customer loyalty.

It was then time to compare the findings of these studies to random sample employer websites to see what they were saying as inducements to work for them. They were easy to find. A simple "why work for us" delivered more than enough information. What those sites revealed is that some employers are getting it, some are not. And that confirmed the findings of one study in which the researchers noted that employer perception of creating a satisfying work situation is very different from the values held by their workforce.

As an example, one site touted its lush, green landscaping and its employees' ability to hobnob with notable musicians and regularly interact with intellectuals. The majority spoke of work-life balance, generous pay and bonuses, ideal health insurance programs. A few spoke of some of the five Herzberg "satisfiers." Only one, a nonprofit, environmental organization, spoke of making a significant difference in one's environment.

Job Satisfaction

In a Computerworld study, it was found that female subjects worked more hours per week and were under more stress than their male counterparts. Their pay was lower and the opportunity (or likelihood) for promotion was not as strong as for their male counterparts. Yet the females expressed the higher level of job satisfaction between the two.

Putting the results of that study together with the findings and observations about female staff at universities, my conclusion is that the IT female respondents achieved the most critical of the five satisfiers. They somehow made the time to look back on what they'd done in respect to their work, the quality of the product or output, and put those in relation to the other issues impacting them and felt a sense of accomplishment. They were able to say to themselves, if to no one else, "Yes. I DID it."

But getting it done is one thing. Knowing it has some significance to someone is also important. Thus, knowing that the product is relevant and useful to the end user is another powerful motivator for working. What the worker is doing has relevance. If it has relevance, it must, therefore, have value. And if it has value, workers want to know that they're being properly and adequately compensated for their value-added input/output. So the hygienic element of job satisfaction, salary, becomes significantly necessary in the job satisfaction formula.

Recognition is another reason to keep at it. Outright praise is one way and cited in numerous human resources and professional development writings and one of the least costly but most effective of tools for increasing morale and loyalty.

There are a lot of other ways to give recognition. Emulation is one, that is, openly adopting the practice used by someone else. Copying is another form of emulation. Copying without acknowledgement of the source is a backhanded compliment and is certain to engender long-term resentment (if not outright disgust and hate). Unfortunately, there are some employers who just don't understand this. They will appreciate the innovations of their employees and adopt them but fail to give acknowledgement of the source. These types of cutthroat practices don't go far in getting and keeping the best. But these practices go a long way toward helping those best and brightest become distant memories, as all of the surveys agreed. Getting positive recognition is important for creating an answer to the unasked question and giving the employee the right reason to stay.

One employer's website showed how attuned they are to this issue. One of the reasons they hammered at most was the amount of recognition they give their employees. They admitted that theirs is an intense workplace. However, they also pressed the points of good teamwork, innovation. They stressed that creativity is encouraged; leaders listen and are available.

It's great to do all of these things — be creative, get recognized for good work, have great co-workers and supervisors who are all focused on attaining the same goal. In fact, the social aspect of motivators was cited as a solid benefit. However, that asset is not a mere gaining of friends. It has more to do with working and collaborating with others in whom one has trust and confidence in order to reach a specific, common goal. That goal is usually increased profits, more job security, and ultimately, more answers to "Why do you work [here]?"

But if there is little autonomy and no growth, little to no opportunity for more challenging work and advancement, it might make more sense to sit at home and play solitaire all day. These are the last two of Herzberg's five satisfiers but in no way the least on the list. When comparing the findings of all of the studies, they essentially came up with the same conclusion, but said in a less colorful way.

It has to make sense. It isn't enough to work for the sake of working. It isn't enough to see how much you can get out of the machine, for how long on a few drops of oil. In fact, one of the reasons machines were invented was to take the drudgery out of doing mindlessly repetitive functions so that humans could put their more creative talents to use. Another reason for use of machines is to transfer the burden of tremendous workload onto something intended for massive quantities. Humans are not amenable to increased workload with little to no tools or increase in labor force to accomplish the work. If your client is recruiting in order to address that issue, get personnel to handle the increased workload — they're more than aware of the necessity of addressing the hygienic issue of working conditions.

The studies pointed out that morale was negatively affected by increased responsibility for amount of work required of employees with little to no support for getting it done. Loading on more doesn't equate to advancement, increased authority, growth or autonomy.

People take pride in having some flexibility and creative input about their work and a sense of control over their work environment. They also need to have a sense of purposefulness of their endeavors. Humans are builders and builders like seeing upward progress from their labors. You have to come up with some valid reasons for why a person wants to work for you or your employer. You need to appeal to those five critical satisfiers that answer the question, including responsibility and advancement.

When All Is Said and Done

When the kids are grown, the college is closed, the house is no more, the friends are elsewhere or gone, the paycheck is single-digit percent of the former income, the spectacular office with a view is a distant memory (or a six-by-eight cubicle), the awards are collecting dust on the back of someone else's shelf, the titles are words written in a scrapbook, and all of the work that was done during one's entire life is subjected to the Delete key, what will the answer be to "Why do you work?"

It's the most critical interviewing question that can be asked. Perhaps some version of it should be dropped into the next one you have while screening and qualifying your candidates and your client.


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