If you ask any teacher if they would rather have a bright student or a motivated one, they will choose a motivated student every time. Why? Because whatever difficulties a highly motivated, sub-par student may encounter will be overcome with tenacity and require much less support. Bright students often fail to realise their potential and are hard to motivate. A student accustomed to performing well with relatively little effort is impotent when they meet a great challenge and must rise to the occasion.The wisdom that has governed classrooms has now moved into the world of Human Resources, with recruiters and hiring managers increasingly focused on motivation based interviewing (MBI). Why? Because, for the most part, skills can be acquired or honed whilst on the job, but motivation is an intrinsic quality. You either have it, or you don’t.

I have a relative who worked in a private doctor’s office run by two Otolaryngologists. One got his degree from a prestigious University, did his residency at a world renowned hospital with an excellent ENT clinic. The other flunked out of medical school the first time and did his residency in a small town hospital in the middle of nowhere. Despite that, the latter was the better doctor. He loved what he did, and he did it to the best of his ability every single day. What he lacked academically he made up for in sweat equity. For him, being a doctor was a calling, not just a profession and it showed. And whilst his partner in their Practice was also a skilled doctor and surgeon, his lack of motivation affected the way he worked.

Even if your CV is stellar, you must convince hiring managers that you are capable of meeting challenges and are motivated to do your best. So, how do you convince an interviewer that you are not only skilled but have the proper motivations to succeed in their corporate culture?

First, be aware of how MBI questions are written.  These are often part of the essay questions on applications or part of the dialogue part of the interview. They begin with phrases like “tell me a time when…” or “what would you say is…”. At this stage, the interviewer has already determined that you have sufficient skills to get the job done. Now they want to pick your brain.

Be honest about your limitations. Some of us don’t work well in groups. Others may not be very good with presentations. If you are asked to give an example of a situation where you completed a task that pushed you out of your comfort zone, say so. The interviewer is interested in how you compensate for your shortcomings. Nobody is good at everything. Failure is part of life. If you tried something new and it didn’t work out, be sure to explain why.

Understand the corporate culture. Some companies encourage an open and innovative dialogue between creative departments. They have open floor plans and employee initiated bonuses. Others function as a strict hierarchal system and ninja-like precision. Understanding what kind of corporate culture you are dealing with will help you avoid wasting time with companies where you won’t flourish.

Give STAR answers. At Alexander Partners, we help our clients prepare for the interview phase of the hiring process by having them answer Motivation Based questions. One of the most effective ways to organize your thoughts when answering these questions is the STAR method. STAR stands for

  • Situation- what type of scene are you describing?
  • Task – what role do you play?
  • Action – what course of action did you take?
  • Result- how did things turn out?

Remember to stay relevant with your answers. You apply your skills every day in a host of different ways. Lack of work experience doesn’t mean that you lack the skills necessary to thrive in a work environment. Using ‘STAR’ when answering questions will help you illustrate that point to the interviewer in a focused and structured way.

There is no hack for MBI questions. They are designed to be hard to answer and help recruiters separate highly skilled applicants from those who have the potential to soar within the company. By having a strategy in place for dealing with these types of questions, you can turn them in your favour.