Monday, April 23, 2018
Understanding a Candidate’s Motivations

Over the last decade, the growth of social media, search tools, and recruitment websites have significantly impacted the field of executive recruiting. Recruiters now have access to high volumes of personal and professional data about candidates, along with the ability to quickly analyze this data. They can reach a larger pool of candidates and algorithmically search for the right fit. Candidates have access to tools, through platforms like LinkedIn, that make it easier to network, job search, and market themselves. As a result, both recruiters and candidates have greater control over and increased options for their searches.

Despite these digital advancements, there remains a very important human component to executive recruiting. While online profiles provide background about a person’s experiences, it’s impossible to determine if they are the right fit for the job until you meet them and establish a real relationship.

Candidate Motivation

One of the most crucial factors for determining this fit and future success boils down to motivation – something discernable only through conversation. What’s important to them? What are their short-term and long-term goals? What are their priorities in life? What are their priorities in their career?

Uncovering what motivates a candidate can be the difference between someone who not only has the right skills and experience, but also the inner passion driving them to succeed. Knowing what drives a candidate allows you to better identify whether the role would be a good fit for them (and whether they would be a good fit for the company) and to sell and close the candidate based on factors that are meaningful to them.

Hierarchy of Needs

Different theories on motivation have been written in the last hundreds of years. Abraham Maslow was a well-known psychologist in the twentieth century who described a “hierarchy of needs” by which people are governed. At the bottom of the hierarchy, people are driven by physiological needs, which translate to the most basic needs for survival, such as food and shelter. Meeting these needs allows them to then focus on increasingly higher-level needs, such as security, social acceptance, esteem, and eventually self-actualization.

This “hierarchy of needs” can be applied to the workforce to determine what people are looking for both in terms of priority and fulfillment in their current position and future positions. Candidates who are more focused on basic needs, such as a paycheck and job stability, may be more interested in working for a larger company. Or, when it comes to discussions about compensation, this candidate may place a higher value on cash compensation versus equity or other benefits.

Other candidates may be more motivated by growth and the need to fulfill personal goals. For them, taking on new challenges or learning new skills may be the primary motivator. We’ve met candidates in our searches who have had early financial successes in their careers and were willing to walk away from millions in order to pursue the goal of a startup or work on the next great technological breakthrough.

Achievement, Affiliation, Power

David McClelland, a social psychologist, talked about how a person’s motivation and success in their job are influenced by achievement, affiliation, or power. Someone who has a high need for achievement will likely thrive in a position where they are given very challenging projects with frequent feedback. In comparison, someone who has a high need for power could be extremely successful managing teams to further the goals of the organization.

No matter which theory you subscribe to, it helps to understand how a candidate’s personal and professional motivations drive them, as well as the skills and experience that they bring to a role. This maximizes the likelihood that they are the best fit for the position and will be successful long after the hire.

Executive recruiters are in an optimal position to gather this information and apply it to a search. They have the time and the tools available to get to know a candidate and establish a relationship over time – the only way to truly determine their motivations. Coupled with an objective, unbiased perspective of both the position and the candidate, they’re more likely to find the right match.

In my next article, I will discuss the five most important motivations to look for when interviewing a candidate. If you’d like to learn more about how you can best uncover a candidate’s motivations and integrate that information into your search process, reach out to us at 215.568.8363 or