The Three Most Important Questions

The Three Most Important Questions by Dr. Scott Yorkovich

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Can you do the job? Will you love the job? Can we tolerate working with you? According to top executive recruiters, these are the three core questions in every job interview.1 The actual questions in any given interview are worded differently, but they all focus three themes: strengths, motivation, and fit. When you are interviewing candidates for work (or when you are being interviewed), your ability to get laser-focus clarity on these issues determines whether a good decision will be made.

Strengths—In leadership and HR discussions today, the word “strengths” has taken on various meanings, but in this context it refers to technical skills and people skills. Therefore, to effectively assess a strengths match, you need to have a clear understanding of the technical and people skills required to do a job. I will venture to say that the vast majority of interviewers do not have a good handle on this; they do not know what technical and people skills are required for effectiveness in a position. The good news is that, while still very important, “Can you do the job?” is the least important of these three questions.

Motivation—This is a difficult topic to grasp today because motivation varies widely from person to person and generation to generation. Never before in history has our workforce been so diverse in age, culture, and belief systems. These factors have a direct impact on the motivation to do a job. Properly assessing an individual’s motivation for a job is important because if there is not a match, burnout will quickly result. We’ve all seen the effects of unmotivated and burned out people. These situations create an uncomfortable, costly, and perhaps even dangerous work environment.

Fit—This is the most critical of the three themes and simultaneously the most difficult to assess. I know of an organization that quickly rotated through a handful of presidents over the course of just a few years largely because of a lack of fit. What is fit? Fit is that “X factor” of leadership. It is hard to define, but we all know it when we see it. It is that nebulous feeling of connection and synergy, the sense that there is a kinship of spirit and brotherhood among colleagues. It is the ability to work well with one another in the midst of success and conflict. Obviously, this is not something that can be assessed in one interview. It needs to be discovered over the course of many conversations, across many stakeholders, in a variety of settings.

Several years ago, I was involved in the search, recruitment, and hiring of a senior executive for a fast-growing organization. Our assessment process focused on “Can you do the job?” “Will you love the job?” and “Can we tolerate working with you?” The strongest candidate was a young man who had never held this kind of position before. His strengths were relatively untested. However, through a process of many conversations with various stakeholders in a variety of settings we determined that his motivation and fit appeared to be strong. He was hired.

After a few years we discovered that we were right: His technical and people skills were strong but needed some development. His motivation and fit in the organization were, and continue to be, strong. The organization helped him develop his skills and through his strengths, motivation, and fit he has been instrumental in leading the organization to significantly greater impact in its market.

The next time you are looking for someone to fill a new job, or even just to lead a project, take time to consider the most appropriate strengths, motivation, and fit. Your investment of time into these questions will pay off in less conflict and greater effectiveness. Also, be willing to keep looking for the right person. Resist the urge to settle for “good enough.” The reality is that we tend to be overly gracious in our assessment of candidates for a position or responsibility. Hold out for the right person.

I’ve had a number of conversations with leaders about assessing strengths, motivation, and fit. It is always a lively and enlightening discussion. I would enjoy seeing your comments about your experiences. Please post your thoughts below.

1Bradt, Georg. “Top Executive Recruiters Agree There Are Only Three True Job Interview Questions.” Forbes. (accessed April 27, 2011).

2 thoughts on “The Three Most Important Questions

    • Chris,

      I’m glad you found this helpful. I encourage you to check out the source I cited for additional comments on these ideas.

      It would be interesting for you to follow up after you share it with your friends. Do you or they have additional insights?

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