Start job interviews by asking candidates why they would want the job. It’s the most important of the only three interview questions so you want the cleanest answer to it. Then, their answer to that first question will inform other questions you ask – if any. Their answer will let you know whether their bias is to do good for others, things they are good at, or good for themselves. Note we’re talking about “buying” interviews, not “selling” recruiting or sourcing calls.

Recall the only three interview questions are 1) Can you do the job? 2) Will you love the job? And 3) Can we tolerate working with you? Or strengths, motivation and fit. Every question you’ve ever asked, ever been asked, or ever will ask is a sub-set of one of those three. The strengths assessment is relatively straightforward – they either have the strengths required or they do not. The fit question is tricky as you’re trying to line up their personal preferences across behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and the environment with your culture. That leaves motivation as the most important thing to get at in an interview.

Recall also that happiness is good. Actually, it’s three goods: doing good for others, doing things you’re good at, and doing good for yourself. Everyone operates with some balance of the three – with different biases and balances. The answer to the motivation question, “Why would you want this job?” reveals that bias:

  • If they talk about the impact and effect they could have on others, their bias is most likely to do good for others.
  • If they talk about how the job could allow them to leverage their strengths, their bias is most likely to do things they are good at.
  • If they talk about how the job could fit with their own goals or progresses them towards those goals, their bias is most likely to do things that are good for them.

Knowing that bias informs where you should go with the interview. Essentially,

  • If their bias fits with what you’re looking for, go on to probe strengths and fit.
  • If you’re not sure, dig deeper into their motivations, by going through different levels of why or impact questions until you are sure.
  • If their bias does not fit with what you’re looking for, end the interview. How you do this can range from going through the motions of completing the interview, to letting them ask you questions, to walking out.

Order matters. Everything you do and say biases what follows. If you start your interview by probing strengths and then ask someone why they would want the job, they may try to mold their answer to fit what they infer is important to you from your questions about strengths. They may think your question is another way for you to get at strengths. Similarly, if you start your interview by probing fit and then ask about motivation, they may try to mold their question to convince you of their fit. So, start with the motivation question – without any biases.

While the world generally needs more other focused leaders, this may not be true for your particular situation. The strongest leaders and strongest organizations over time will, indeed be other-focused. They think outside-in, starting with the good they can do for others. They are the leaders and organizations people will want to work for over time, will want to learn from, and will want to help.

Still, you may need to focus more on strengths, building required strengths to ensure your near-term survival so you can be other focused later. You may need to be a little more self-focused so you can attract and leverage people who think “good for me” first, so you can build some momentum.

The choice is yours. In any case, figuring out what drives the person you’re interviewing is your most important task in an interview. Make it your first task.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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