During a recent Performance-based Hiring workshop for hiring managers I suggested that measuring motivation to excel was the secret sauce in hiring outstanding people. This is “n” in the Hiring Formula for Success. One of the leaders suggested asking about five year career plans was how he assesses this. I pushed back and said the candidate’s answer was subject to the interviewer’s biases since diverse and minority candidates might have different career aspirations. Instead I offered an alternative as summarized in this ChatGPT- inspired story.


Chapter 1: The Outdated Question

Marissa, the head of HR at Elevation Tech, sat reviewing her interview templates, which hadn’t been updated in years. The template included the standard question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Over time, Marissa had observed that this question often led to rehearsed responses. It seemed to reveal more about a candidate’s ability to predict expected answers than about their actual aspirations or capabilities.

Chapter 2: A Shift in Strategy

During an HR conference, Marissa attended a workshop on modern interview techniques. Here, the speaker emphasized the importance of understanding a candidate’s past accomplishments and current goals to gauge their motivation accurately. Inspired, Marissa decided to overhaul Elevation Tech’s interview process.

Chapter 3: Implementing Change

Back at Elevation Tech, Marissa introduced two new questions to the interview template:

1. “Can you describe a major goal you’ve recently achieved in your career?”

2. “What are your current career development goals?”

She trained her team on why these changes were vital. The focus was on discovering tangible achievements and immediate aspirations, providing a clearer picture of the candidate’s drive and how they approached their career growth.

Chapter 4: The Interviews Begin

During the next round of interviews, Marissa noticed a significant change. Candidates spoke passionately about their achievements. For instance, Tom, a software developer, detailed how he led a team to deliver a project two weeks ahead of schedule, overcoming significant technical challenges. He then shared his current goal: mastering machine learning to enhance his automation skills.

Sarah, a marketing candidate, discussed how she had revamped her previous company’s social media strategy, increasing engagement by 40% in six months. Her current ambition was to learn more about data analytics to build targeted marketing campaigns.

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Chapter 5: Results and Reflections

These responses provided Marissa and her team with insights into the candidates’ real-world skills and their enthusiasm for their work and self-improvement—far more than the five-year question ever had. They could better assess who was likely to thrive and who was merely going through the motions.

Chapter 6: A More Motivated Workforce

Months later, the new hires were well-integrated into Elevation Tech, actively engaging in projects and pursuing further training in their fields. The team dynamics had shifted positively, with increased innovation and collaboration.

Epilogue: A Lasting Change

As Marissa reviewed the impact of the interview changes at Elevation Tech, she deeply appreciated the shift away from the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question. Over the years, she had realized that answers to this question were often carefully rehearsed. Candidates, aware of the commonality of the question, prepared answers they believed employers wanted to hear, which diluted the authenticity of their responses. This not only made it difficult to gauge genuine personal ambitions but also left too much to chance in interpreting their alignment with the company’s future.

In contrast, the new focus on asking candidates to describe significant career goals they had recently achieved and to outline their current development goals had proven to be far more effective. These questions required candidates to provide specific examples of their achievements and to articulate their immediate plans for growth. Such discussions were grounded in recent, verifiable events and ongoing projects, which offered tangible evidence of a candidate’s capabilities and work ethic.

This approach also provided insights into how candidates planned and executed their objectives, how they overcame challenges, and how proactive they were in their professional development. For example, learning about a candidate’s initiative in acquiring new skills or their leadership in driving a project to success showcased their practical commitment to career advancement and personal growth.

Furthermore, focusing on recent and current goals allowed Marissa and her team to assess how well candidates’ immediate objectives aligned with the strategic needs of Elevation Tech. This alignment was crucial for determining whether the candidates would not only fit in but thrive within the company’s culture and contribute effectively to its projects.

As a result, Elevation Tech had begun to see a noticeable improvement in the quality of hires. The new employees demonstrated high levels of motivation and were more aligned with the company’s dynamic environment. They were individuals who not only sought to achieve their current goals but were also eager to seize new opportunities for learning and growth within the company.

Marissa felt confident that abandoning the traditional five-year question in favor of a more immediate and demonstrable set of inquiries had equipped Elevation Tech with a workforce that was not only skilled but also deeply engaged and continuously evolving. This strategy had transformed the recruitment process into a tool for building a robust, forward-thinking team, ensuring the company’s resilience and innovation in a competitive industry.


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