Only Hire Self-Motivated People – The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Nothing eases a remote work team manager’s burden, where close supervision is difficult, more than only hiring self-motivated people. I recommend that during this troubled time when managers are so busy, recruiters commit to easing their burden by helping them hire technically qualified candidates who are also self-motivated. Where self-motivated means that the new hire inherently drives themselves to continuously work hard without the need for close supervision or added rewards. 

I call them “the gift that keeps on giving.” Because once hired, their continuing high motivation level will save a manager and their teammates up to 20 hours each month that would normally be spent pushing them. Or reminding, cajoling, and closely watching them so that the new hire “completes their work on time.” 

Now, of course, you should continue to make “the most qualified” among your top candidates as your finalists. But then you should go to the next step and only offer the job to a finalist that is also self-motivated. This is especially important in situations where their manager is not particularly good at identifying and applying an individual employee’s motivators. 

Self-motivated new hires are even more valuable in large teams where team size limits time for motivation. And at startups and small businesses where motivation is simply assumed. And finally, realize that if you contribute to convincing managers to change their hiring approach to include self-motivation. Expect everyone working with the new hire to literally thank you for providing someone “that is a pleasure to manage” and work alongside. 

The Many Benefits Of Only Hiring The Self-Motivated

When calculating their benefits that accrue from hiring self-motivated individuals, they begin by realizing that self-motivated individuals are easy to source due to low competition. Because few corporate managers are actively looking for them. In addition, recruiting them costs no extra money, and it takes no additional time. A manager’s first benefits come from the value that the self-motivated employee adds by producing more output and meeting more deadlines. Because they work continuously and relentlessly with little idle time, they are unlikely to leave when the manager fails to add additional motivators because they are self-motivated. They can also add value when they inspire other teammates to become self-motivated themselves. The final category of benefits covers saving time. Because they help managers by reducing the management hours that must be devoted to them in these areas:

  • Identifying their motivators
  • Providing recognition and praise 
  • Performance monitoring
  • Interventions to resolve work volume problems
  • Reminders of upcoming deadlines
  • Coaching and encouraging greater effort

Understanding The 2 Types Of Self-Motivated Individuals

There are two types of self-motivated individuals. In the first, self-motivation becomes a habit, and in the second, their motivation comes because their work makes a difference.

Self-motivated (by habit) – I simply call the first type “self-motivated” because they have an ingrained habit of automatically completing their work on time. This habit is part of the overall attitude and work ethic. Which has likely been instilled in them over many years as they grew up. When you examine a candidate’s past work experience, being self-motivated will be indicated by their absence of requiring or even requesting additional motivators. 

Purpose-driven (by the impact of their work) – I label those in the second category as “purpose-driven” because they work continuously to make a difference and have a positive impact. “Purpose-driven” employees, in most cases, actually selected the job because they wanted to work in an area where they could see that their work would have a positive impact (they may use the term make a difference). So, their primary driver is the satisfaction derived from completing “the work” and the positive impact that the work has on the customer, the team, and the world. They are highly motivated to do more work because more work means having a greater impact. Incidentally, those that are purpose-driven may also have made self-motivation one of the work habits. Purpose-driven individuals can be identified during hiring by simply asking them, “Why do you want this job?” or “What are your primary motivators?” In both cases making a difference or having a significant impact will be their first answer.

How To Find And Attract Self-Motivated Individuals

Once you are committed to hiring self-motivated or purpose-driven individuals, you will need to work with your organization’s recruiting leaders and utilize data to develop the most effective candidate finding and attraction approach. Obviously, after a few hires, you should gather data on the most successful recruiting sources. And then drop the ones that add little value.

  • Targeted employee referrals are the best way to attract the self-motivated and purpose-driven – finding and convincing self-motivated individuals isn’t very difficult. Because we all can quickly remember several that we have worked with in the past. And as a result, the best sourcing approach for finding them (and almost all top performers) is an excellent employee referral program. My recommended referral approach is to proactively ask your own top performers and self-motivated employees in the relevant job family to seek out and to refer those that they have found to be self-motivated and driven”. They should also use their professional network to identify additional names. Referrals also work for purpose-driven prospects, just ask your employees to identify individuals that they know are committed to making a difference in the current purpose area. 
  • Attract them by mentioning “seeking the self-motivated” in your job posting – if you mention that you are seeking the self-motivated as one of the job requirements, a smart candidate will make sure that some evidence of that trait appears in their resume or cover letter. If you want to be proactive, specifically request applicants to directly provide supplemental evidence covering how they are self-motivated as a required part of their application package.
  • Target Internet sites that cover the relevant purpose – you can attract “purpose-driven recruits” by encouraging your employees to make comments about your firm’s relevant work on Internet sites that are devoted to the most common “make a difference” areas. These sites might cover making a difference in areas like helping the poor, diversity, improving the environment, and health issues. These sites and discussion boards might also be a good place to post job ads that mention your opportunity to make a difference. 
  • Revisit former self-motivated employees – because being self-motivated doesn’t fade over time, you should also consider rehiring former employees that you know were self-motivated. Simply contact the best that left within the last three years and ask them if they are willing to return. You might also allow these individuals to come back or to make referrals of other self-motivated people they know.

Assessing Whether An Applicant Is Self-Motivated 

There are several effective approaches for assessing the level of self-motivation among your applicants. They include:

  • Identify self-motivated applicants by a word search of their resume/profile – when you are scanning LinkedIn profiles or online resumes, you can usually find self-motivated prospects by looking for the right keywords and phrases. Your ATS system can do that word search on the resumes that you ever received. Start developing your own list of “identifier” words and phrases. By looking at your own self-motivated employees’ resumes and profiles to see which keywords would identify them as self-motivated. You can also get a head start by putting these words and phrases into your search string. Including self-motivated, driven, strong work ethic, self-starter, hard-working, they went the extra mile, initiative, hungry, fire in the belly, required little supervision, energetic, enthusiastic, inspired, focused, stimulated, conscientious, highly engaged or committed. 
  • Ask them to force rank their soft skills in the interview – during the interview process provide the candidates with a list of your required and preferred soft qualifications. And ask them to force rank the top ones that most accurately describe their own work-related strengths. If self-motivated or purpose-driven are not in the top five of their list of ranked factors, be wary. Alternatively, ask them to list their key motivators in rank order. And they are not likely to be self-motivated or purpose-driven if the list is very long. 
  • Ask them behavioral interview questions relating to motivation – you should also obviously ask them behavioral interview questions related to work situations where they performed continuously without external rewards, support, or supervision. Because self-motivation or being purpose-driven is not limited to the workplace, you should also explore areas outside of work to look for indications that they were totally committed and self-motivated during other difficult tasks like learning a language or running a marathon. And finally, be careful that you do not assume that someone that is energetic and excited during an interview will also act the same way on the job. Because interviews are artificial situations where candidates often act in the way that they think you expect. 
  • Hold a peer interview – because they have a great deal of experience working face-to-face with new-hires. Peer teammates often excel at identifying a candidate’s attitude factors and flaws. So, hold a peer interview with the team (and no manager). And specifically, ask each team member to rank the candidate on a 1 to 10 self-motivation or purpose-driven scale.
  • Ask their references – rather than directly asking references, “Is the person self-motivated?” Instead, read them a set of characteristics (e.g., honest, self-motivated, highly skilled, strong communication skills, a leader, etc.) and then ask each reference to rank the top three that best describe your candidate. You should hesitate if being self-motivated or purpose-driven is not ranked within their top two. 
  • Assess them on social media – as mentioned previously, self-motivated individuals are also generally that way outside of their job. As a result, you should consider searching their social media pages and profiles for additional indications that they are self-motivated or purpose-driven. 
  • Consider an online test – there are online tests that can assess the motivation level of candidates. 

Final Thoughts

I have written extensively on the value of hiring individuals that possess the 12 attitudes and soft skills that make an employee “a pleasure to manage”. And I should note that after self-directed learning. I have found being self-motivated to be the second most important factor in making a new hire productive and easy to manage. Self-motivated individuals add value because these fully motivated employees put up the maximum effort and output. And unfortunately, employees that don’t fall into these two self-motivation categories are seldom fully motivated. That is because many managers don’t even consider it to be their job to proactively motivate their employees. And unfortunately, when they do accept that responsibility, managers seldom accurately identify the right motivators for each employee. Or they forget to periodically apply those motivators. 

So, if you are a recruiter or a hiring manager, I urge you to at least once try hiring a self-motivated individual as a pilot test. In order to show everyone the value added by a single self-motivated or purpose-driven individual.

Author’s Note: Please pass this article around within your team and network. And if it stimulated your thinking and provided actionable tips, also please take a minute to follow and/or connect with Dr. Sullivan on LinkedIn, Where you can also leave comments on this article.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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