Motivation and the Job Search


I recently read Drive by Daniel H Pink on the recommendation of our VP of HR West at Intact, Angela Champ. The book itself is a perspective-changing read on motivation and leadership. If you haven’t read it, there is a great 5-minute video that summarizes it’s concepts in YouTube:

One of the things the book reminds me of is a question a hiring manager asked me early in my career as a Business Analyst: What motivates you to do a good job?

This was not a question I had encountered before the interview. I took a moment to ask myself what truly does motivate me. The answer I came back with was perhaps idealistic, but my inner voice asked me a question back:“Who wants to show up at work to do a bad job? I want to succeed and accomplish because of the virtue of it, unless there are surmountable obstacles that prevent me from doing so.”

I provided my potential manager with a summarized version of this. The look on her face instantly told me that a reporting relationship between the two of us would not work. She wanted to know whether she could dangle a carrot of money, public recognition or promise of advancement to motivate me to achieve goals she had in mind. I wanted a manager who would remove obstacles so that I could charge forward with the inherent fire of motivation that burned within me.

So was my first lesson that an interview wasn’t unilateral. Through this experience, I realized that the recruitment process wasn’t just about impressing a potential employer. It was also about finding a leader, team and company that could support you. It was about finding a leader who you wanted to work for and work with. And before you can properly assess that, you need to understand your own motivations for seeking employment or a new job.

Anyone who has looked at my work history can see that I have a precarious balance between working for too many and only a handful of companies. This is a result of timing, my professional and personal goals, and what the companies I worked for were able to offer me at the time.

A side effect of this is having gone through the interview process more than most of my colleagues. Through the interviews I have attended in the past few years, I have learned some lessons about interviewing and motivation:

Know What Motivates You and If The Hiring Manager Can Support You

I have interviewed with managers who are awesome.

I have also interviewed with some who I am glad never called me for a second interview, because they saved me the trouble of declining said interview.

One I mentioned earlier. Another was a half hour late for my interview because he was chatting with the candidate he met with before me. I knew this because he was less than shy about telling me, another candidate, that this was his reason for being late. I could only imagine that he would be the same with his day-to-day team. Would he be available based on his rapport with each team member, rather than based on obligations and actual need?

I knew that I was self-motivated to do a good job, and needed a manager who could support me by staying out of my way and removing obstacles that I couldn’t handle myself. Both of these hiring managers displayed behaviours that I decided were not indicative to what I would want to experience every day. In all cases, I could not have made this assessment without knowing what motivates me day-to-day.

Countless studies and articles talk about how employees leave bad managers. Don’t make the mistake of taking a job with a manager who you will only end up leaving anyway.

Be Honest With Yourself About Compensation

Many of my counterparts find it difficult to bring up the matter of compensation during the recruitment process. Some worry that they will ask for more than the employer or recruiting manager can or will pay. Others don’t want to seem too focused on the monetary aspects of the offer.

In comparison, I have always treated compensation as a pragmatic part of the recruitment process…even when I was seeking employment after being let go by BlackBerry.

I remember having an HR interview with a prominent Canadian company a few days after my tenure at BlackBerry ended. I would like to think that the recruiter and I agreed that my skillset matched their needs for the team and the company.

Then the issue of salary came up.

The recruiter gave me the salary range for the role, which was noticeably less than what I was making before.

I calmly told the recruiter that I thought the company may be a good cultural fit for me. However, the decrease in pay was more than I was comfortable with. It was a scary decision, but I knew that if I took the job I would end up looking for another one within a year.

I was able to do this because before I even started applying to jobs, I had:

  1. Assessed my work experience and skills
  2. Determined the “market value” of what I have to offer a company
  3. Set a target compensation range, but also a minimum walk-away point

These steps aren’t anything groundbreaking. In fact, they are some of the fundamental negotiation strategies encouraged by books like Getting to Yes. I was able to respond to the job offer before it was even made because I understood the compensation factor of my motivations for getting a new job.

And if you’re wondering if that was a sound decision for me, I landed my next role with an increase in pay and a new set of challenges within a week.

Long-Term Motivations

In most situations, people look for new jobs for a reason. Maybe they need a new challenge or are seeking advancement in their career. Perhaps simply need a different leader or employer. In many cases, there is something driving them out of their current company rather than to another employer.

In such situations, I hear time and time again from colleagues who have concerns about their potential new employer, but ignore those red herrings because of an idealistic hope that things will be better and ok.

Hiring managers often ask “Where do you see yourself in 5/10/20 years?”. This allows them to assess whether the candidate is going to stay long enough to offset the cost of onboarding. This isn’t just a financial cost, but one of team productivity and morale. What shocks me is how few people I’ve spoken to ask themselves this question, or answer themselves honestly.

Perhaps it’s because they never took the time to think that far into the future. Or maybe they simply don’t know. But even having a general sense of “doing similar work, but in an environment that…” is better than having now view into the future at all. Goals almost always change, whether slightly or entirely, but not having one at all makes it difficult to know whether a job you’re taking is the right one.

Almost everyone I know who has half-heartedly taken a job just to get out of another one has found themselves looking for work again in less than a year. What I always wonder about those situations is: was it worth it?