When You Tell a Job Candidate, ‘You’re Probably Not Going to Like This Job’

By Mike Warrick

Dec. 9, 2019

When hiring is brisk, it’s easy to rush the process and end up with mismatched employees. So it’s important to know what motivates them — not just how they behave, but why they do what they do. With today’s labor market, finding the best match for performance and retention pays for itself in retention alone.

A majority of Fortune 500 companies use assessments for selection and companies of all sizes can benefit from emulating the practice. To ensure the best talent selection and long-term match, HR should go deeper than personality types and behavior.

With assessments that determine what motivates candidates, HR can be more assured in choosing — or passing on — any individual.

“Selection is very different than just hiring,” said Brett Wells, chief science and consulting officer at Talent Plus Inc. “Selection means you’re making a sound judgement based on validity and science, based on what’s the very best in a role or an industry and how they will respond versus what you think your gut reaction should be. It’s predictive.”

It’s a Good Time to Be Choosy

“People can answer interview questions very well,” said Alison Nolan. “People are fantastic at answering interview questions, but it doesn’t always tell you the truth.”

Nolan is HR partner for the public health NGO, FHI 360. Previously, she did the same job with Volvo Group Trucks. With her 18 years of talent acquisition experience, she recommends an assessment-based hiring process.

“With an assessment, if they’re trying to fake it, it shows up,” said Nolan. “It’s very clear if they’re trying to skew the answers. If you’re honest it just gives you so much more insight. It saves the employer and the employee.”

In Nolan’s experience, only about 25 percent of employees who are put on a performance improvement process end up keeping their jobs. So why not make it a goal to avoid performance improvement interventions?

Right now, two competitive factors make it more important than ever to assess and understand employee motivation in hiring so great performance is the norm:

  • Near full employment. With full employment, talent acquisition is more about who you don’t hire than who you do hire, because you want to be selective and find people who will thrive in your organization. And once they’re hired, retaining those employees also becomes a competitive necessity in a tight labor market.
  • Career trends. People have become more selective about what jobs they take. Once upon a time, job seekers considered just getting a job a societal responsibility. Today, they are more attracted by intrinsic factors — in other words, corporate culture and corporate responsibility — than the need to simply find a steady income or a job for life.

Personality assessments that identify motivation can make all the difference in matching candidates with the jobs in your organization.

For Wells, who researches and builds assessments, carefully matched talent has never been more important for retention.

“With a tight labor market for candidates, the world is their oyster right now and ‘fit’ is key for retention,” said Wells. “If they don’t have that fit for the role or the organizational culture, they will leave. If they’re in a role where they’re not getting that intrinsic satisfaction they’re at risk for being disengaged and, again, at greater risk for leaving.”

Finding a Motivational Match

When you’ve done the work to accurately assess candidates, you can honestly say to those who aren’t a match, “You’re probably not going to like this job.”

How come?

You can answer, “Well, you’ve got the work ethic and the skills to do the job, but after a year, you’ll be exhausted because this job is all about engaging with clients daily in a strictly established corporate structure and you’re more motivated by thinking outside the box and coming up with new ways to accomplish tasks.”

On the other hand, for the candidate who assesses as a good fit, you can offer the job with assurance and negotiate as necessary to get them on board: “I really think you would love working here.”

Nolan has seen how this can be a positive experience for people who are not hired as well as the company.

“They get to hear why they didn’t get selected and they get that review,” said Nolan. “They have something tangible to walk away with. And sometimes, we say, ‘Hey we have this other position where you’d be a great fit.’ ”

You’ll know this because you’ve used a scientifically valid instrument that goes deeper than simple behavioral traits to find out things like:

  • Do they like to develop their own way of working or do they prefer to have it laid out for them in a prescribed manner?
  • Would they rather help others succeed or do they prefer monetary incentives?
  • Can they focus on their job with no environmental distractions or do workspace aesthetics energize them?

There are no right or wrong motivations. It’s all about congruency between what your organization needs and what it can offer the candidate.

When you assess a person’s motivation, you gain a deeper understanding of them so you can either lead them into a fulfilling and satisfying position or honestly wave them off, so they don’t take a job that will ultimately frustrate them and send them looking elsewhere.

“This is where that motivational piece comes in,” said Wells. “We often see potential wasted because they’re in roles spending time just doing things that they’re excellent at, but they don’t necessarily enjoy it.”

For Wells, it’s about talents versus strengths.

“A strength is something I’m good at, but I might not enjoy doing it, e.g., balancing a checkbook,” said Wells. “A talent is something I have the potential to do with excellence and is something I’m going to enjoy doing.”

The Perils of Using Gut Instinct

Outside of HR, not all managers are believers. Or maybe they’re just not aware.

“With some hiring managers, it can be them saying, ‘Okay, I want this person’ even when it didn’t make sense from the assessment to take that person,” said Nolan. “And nine times out of 10 they would end up on a performance improvement plan since they could not do the job, because they were not motivated by what it took to do the job.”

The best way to bring hip-shooting hiring managers into the fold of scientific talent selection is to give them the assessment that’s being used, including the feedback session. They’ll see how in-depth and revealing it is, firsthand, and they’ll be inspired by what can be achieved with a more careful hiring discipline.

Nolan has worked with managers who have a certain feeling and until they’re proven wrong — and it could be a hiring mistake that ends badly and could be costly — the task becomes how do you convince a hiring manager.

“I gave my hiring mangers the assessment and told them to take it,” said Nolan. “With them taking it, it was an eye-opener. Like someone peeking inside of you. They do it themselves and see how accurate it is.”

 Why Touchy-Feely Matters

Assessments differ, but terms like “harmonious” and “altruistic” are common. This may strike old school hiring managers as a little too soft-skill or “touchy-feely” to be practical.

What does it matter if a worker cares about the number of windows and art installations in the office? Or if they’re indifferent to status and recognition?

Plenty, according to most science on the subject, but it’s also basic psychology. People function at their best when they’re at ease. If an organizational structure or a particular job aligns with motivational preferences, the employee will be more comfortable and more able to do work in a way that gives them fulfillment.

People need to be able to be themselves at work. You can fake it for a few months in a mismatched position, but not for long.

And outside-the-box thinker isn’t going to be happy if they have to support the status quo. A person who puts himself first, will burn out in a customer service job where altruistic motivation is more valued. An employee who is highly receptive to new ideas won’t fare well in a position that demands adherence to a standard process.

A motivational assessment gives you a reliable picture of what situations are best for any job candidate.

Behavior is easy to assess. If you’ve been in talent management or training for a while, you’re probably pretty good at determining a person’s way of doing things without an assessment and through good interview questions.

Motivation, however, is deeper and you’ll need a sophisticated assessment instrument to divine it.

Motivation as a metric goes back to the work of Eduard Spranger who identified six types of motivation: theoretical, utilitarian, aesthetic, social, individualistic and traditional. Today’s motivational assessments adapt this taxonomy with more workplace-specific terms.

First Step: Assess the Job

Knowing a person’s motivational make-up won’t help if you don’t know the motivational realities of your organization and the specific jobs. So, it’s important to document the chemistry of your company first.

What is the work environment like? What are the workday demands — strict office hours, telecommute, work from the field? What are the job categories? People focused? Process focused? Creative driven or analytical?

Doing this homework will allow assessments to work as talent matchmakers.

“At Volvo, we interviewed a lot of senior buyers in our purchasing group and we benchmarked what our needs are for this job,” said Nolan.

This included requirements such as working independently, working with vendors all day long, negotiating pricing, giving presentations, and being driven by metrics in working with other people.

“Once we did the interviews, we would give the assessment and it would show us how good of a match are they for the position,” said Nolan.

Wells says it’s absolutely vital to baseline the culture before assessing talent.

“In any organization there are likely pockets of success or teams that are very successful and also pockets or teams that are struggling. With a validated assessment and research process you can discern those reliable patterns, thoughts, feelings, behaviors that drive success vs. failure in those roles,” said Wells. “So, bringing those to the forefront and making them part of your selection process will help replicate that success, selection after selection, and mitigate future failures.”

Wells recommends starting with the company’s mission statement, vision statement or a competency model, then mapping out what behaviors the company rewards, ignores and punishes. And ultimately, who gets promoted.

It’s a process of defining the culture and identifying what it takes to thrive within it. Once this is known, any number of scientifically valid assessments can be used by talent professionals to dial in the optimum profile of the candidates to hire.

Finding the Right Assessment

Once an organization knows “who it is” the process of choosing an assessment can begin.

Fortunately, the assessment industry has evolved to a point where there are many accurate, reliable and powerful instruments from which to choose.

Across the board, Wells advises that there are three basic factors to always evaluate:

1) Reliability: How consistent are scores over time and across situations. If I test you today, if I test you five years from now, am I going to get roughly equivalent results?

2) Validity: How strong is this assessment result in predicting something I care about that’s going to impact my business?

3) Fairness: To what extent do individuals from protected classes perform on the assessment compared to their majority group counterparts?

Nolan has a couple of preferred assessments and both have multiscience features that include what metrics of what drives the candidate, along with a DiSC component, and have been proven over time.

It’s always been important to match employees with positions that suit their personalities. However, now it’s more of a competitive advantage than just an employee satisfaction exercise.

In the current talent market you can afford to be more selective, which will pay off in worker retention.

As younger generations redefine why we work, there’s a little more care and feeding of talent we have to accept as employers.

Matching talent with positions by motivation helps assure success on both fronts. 

Mike Warrick is the founder of Jamesson Solutions Inc., a human resources training and development solutions company. He has 20 years of experience in the training and consulting field and six years prior experience in sales and management.

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