There are three and only three, job interview questions getting at 1) motivation, 2) strengths and 3) fit. Gallup suggests strengths are made up of talent, knowledge and skills. Adding experience and craft takes that to a different, even more useful level.


  • Innate talent – either born with or not
  • Learned knowledge – from books, classes or training
  • Practiced skills – from deliberate repetition
  • Hard-won experience – digested from real-world mistakes
  • Apprenticed craft – absorbed from masters with artistic care and sensibilities


Every interview question you’ve ever been asked or ever asked anyone is a subset of:


  1. Will you love the job? (Motivation)
  2. Can you do the job? (Strengths)
  3. Can we tolerate working with you? (Fit)


The good news is that there are only three possible answers. The bad news is that those answers require pre-work to think through and communicate how:


  1. Your motivation lines up with what their organization is looking for in terms of doing good for others, doing things you are good at and doing good for yourself.
  2. Your particular strengths align with those needed to be successful in the particular job they are filling.
  3. Your personal preferences across behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and environment fit the culture of their organization.


Different strengths for different types of organizations

The core nature of successful organizations is either design, produce, deliver or service.


Production- or delivery-focused organizations win by making or delivering things that are at least as good as other alternatives at a lower cost in terms of money, time, stress or the like. This requires particular strengths in the disciplines required to work in organizations marked by stability, results, authority, order and safety. Talent, knowledge, skills and experience matter.

Design- or service-focused organizations win with how their designs or services make their customers feel. Ultimately that feeling is created by people working their craft to provide things that delight customers. They need craft-level artistic caring and sensibilities to understand customers’ hopes and desires in this ever-changing world. Thus, they need talent, knowledge, skills, experience and craft.

This lines up with the thinking behind the three types of leaders the world needs most:


  • Interpersonal leaders look at context, care about the cause, win by rallying the team, influence others’ hearts and impact actions.
  • Scientific leaders look at problems, care about solutions, win with better thinking, influence others’ minds and impact knowledge.
  • Artistic leaders think in terms of media, care about perceptions, win with new approaches, influence others’ souls and impact feelings.


Don’t misinterpret the point. All organizations design, produce, sell, deliver and service. All organizations need interpersonal, scientific and artistic leaders. All animals are created equal. It’s just that in production and delivery focused organizations, the scientific problem-solving leaders are more equal; and in design and service focused organizations, the artistic leaders impacting feelings are more equal.


Implications for interviews

The best interviews are exercises in joint problem-solving. The problem to be solved is whether it’s best for the organization and for the interviewee to join up. It’s as counter-productive for the interviewer to fool the interviewee about the nature, strategy and culture of the organization as it is for the interviewee to fool the interviewer about their true underlying motivation, strengths and cultural preferences.

Together, the interviewer and interviewee should explore examples that illustrate the interviewee’s:


  • Fundamental motivation (Ideally the first question.)
  • Appropriate innate talent
  • Knowledge of relevant areas
  • Useful skills
  • Experience that will help them deal with expected opportunities and issues
  • Craft-level artistic care and sensibilities (for design- or service-oriented roles)
  • Preferred behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and environment


Implications for talent development

By now you’ve figured out this goes well beyond initial job interviews. Weave these ideas into your talent development plans. You can’t change innate talent. But you can develop your people for potential future roles by giving them opportunities to:


  • learn and acquire knowledge through books, classes or training
  • practice skills with deliberate repetition
  • gain relevant experience by digesting mistakes made in projects and assignments
  • nurture their artistic caring and sensibilities as apprentices to masters


Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #740) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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