There are only three questions in a job interview, getting at strengths, motivation, and fit. See The Only Three Job Interview Questions, The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan or the companion posts on strengths and fit.

Interviewing for Motivation

Interviewing for motivation is much less straightforward than interviewing for strengths. Part of the problem is that it's hard to put your finger on what really motivates someone. The other part of the problem is that interviewee's will have a bias to come across as motivated even if they aren't sure. While they may not be sure they want to do the job, they are generally motivated to get you to offer them the job.

On one level, motivation is born of

  • How activities match a person's likes/dislikes/ideal job critera and
  • How the job will help them progress towards their long-term goal.

On another level, people strive for happiness. My working theory of happiness, born out by deep analysis of a very sophisticated Harvard survey, is that happiness is good. Actually, it's three goods: Good for others, good for me, good at it.

Good for others: This is about finding meaning in the work (impact on others, match with values). People that care about this want a share in shaping the destiny of the firm (influence, being informed)

Good at it: This is about the match of activities with strengths, and resources (support and time). Over time, some people care about employability (learning, development, resume builder)

Good for me: This is about near term pleasure (enjoyable work/activities, fit with life interest). Compensation is also a factor (monetary, non-monetary rewards, recognition, respect)

Advice for Interviewers

Heidrick & Struggles' Kevin Kelly had some helpful perspective on this. He told me that he likes to ask two questions to get at motivation:

1) "What gets you out of bed in the morning (other than your alarm clock)?".  This helps him get at what's important to people now.

2) "Talk about some of the most significant memories you have had throughout your career and what it is that got you through those times either good or bad."  This helps him get at patterns and trends.

Advice for Interviewees

Figure out what makes you happy. Then look to find and explain matches between what you would be doing in the role and those things.

Be ready to deal with concerns that you may be over-qualified for the job. This requires an interview judo response:

I'm concerned that you may be over-qualified for this job.

I am – if you want the organization to stay the way it is. You'd be hiring me to take it to the next level. I'm not interested in the job the way it is. I'm interested in the job the way it's going to be.

See Rich Boughram's review of his top 5 books for interview prep