How to Really Recruit (and Hire) Self-Motivated People

Second of two parts

Yesterday, I wrote about how recruiting highly motivated people is The Single Smartest Thing That a Hiring Manager Can Do.

Today, I am going to give you some tips on just how to go about recruiting those kind of employees.

Once you are committed to hiring self-motivated individuals, you need to work with your firm’s recruiting leaders to come up with the most effective recruiting and assessment approaches.

In my experience, the best recruiting approaches for the self-motivated include:

1. Identify them through employee referrals

Generally, recruiting these individuals doesn’t take extra effort. This is because only smaller firms seem to focus on recruiting self-motivated people, and as a result, you won’t have to fight most corporations in order to attract and land them.

The best recruiting approach for them (and almost all top performers) is an excellent employee referral program.

My recommended approach is to proactively ask your own top performers and self-motivated employees to seek out and to refer “successful colleagues with a strong work ethic, that are self-motivated and driven.” This targeted referral approach is usually all you will need in order to recruit a sufficient quantity of self-motivated candidates.

2. Use the right keywords

When you are perusing LinkedIn profiles or online resumes, you can usually find self-motivated prospects by looking for the right keywords and phrases.

Eventually, develop your own list of “identifiers” but start out by looking for terms like: self-motivated, driven, strong work ethic, self-starter, hard-working, work hard/play hard, they went the extra mile, initiative, hungry, fire in the belly, they required little supervision, energetic, inspired, focused, stimulated, conscientious, highly engaged, and committed.

You should begin the process by looking at the resumes and profiles of your own self-motivated employees to see which key indicators they have.

3. Place “self-motivated” in the job description

If you put being able to demonstrate that you are self-motivated as one of the job requirements, a smart candidate will make sure that 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 of self-motivation as a required part of their application package.

4. Ask them during the interview

During the interview process provide the candidates with a list of the required qualifications and ask them to force rank the top ones that most accurately describe their strengths. If self-motivated is not in the top five, be wary.

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 is not limited to the workplace, you should also explore areas outside of work to look for indications that they were totally committed to other difficult things like learning a language or running a marathon.

Finally, be careful that you do not assume that someone who is energetic and excited during an interview will also act the same way on the job. Interviews are artificial situations where most people act completely differently for a short period of time.

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5. 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 search their social media pages and profiles for indications that they are self-motivated.

Obviously you can also ask your own social media contacts who know them to rank their self-motivation level on a scale of 1 to 10.

6. Ask their references

Rather than directly asking references “Is the person self-motivated?” instead read them a set of characteristics (i.e. honest, self-motivated, highly skilled, strong communication skills, a leader, etc.) and ask them to identify the top three that best describe your candidate.

You want to hire someone if self-motivated ranks as No. 1 or No. 2.

7. Revisit former employees

Because being self-motivated doesn’t fade away, you should also consider former employees who 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.

Final thoughts

If you work at a start-up, hiring self-motivated individuals becomes essential to your success because most of the leaders involved in a start-up do not have the skill to motivate, and even if they did, they simply don’t have the time.

However, if you are a corporate manager, you will probably find that very few if any position descriptions at your firm even mention the need to be self-motivated. Because recruiting self-motivators is rare in the corporate world, you will invariably have to work with recruiting in order to develop your own process and tools.

Finally, if you are one of the many recruiting leaders and recruiters who are constantly complaining that they get little support and respect from hiring managers, developing a hiring program for the self-motivated might get you on their good side.

Consider the high regard that those hiring managers will have for you if you save them two-plus days each week by simply adding a “hiring self-motivators” component to your standard hiring process. There is little doubt in my mind that this alone will make you a hero!

Did you miss Part 1? Check out The Single Smartest Thing That a Hiring Manager Can Do.

Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in strategic Talent Management solution. He is a prolific author with over 1200 articles and ten books covering all areas of Talent Management. Along with his many articles and books, Dr. Sullivan has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/organizations in 30 countries on six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source, including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., The New York Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, Harvard Business Review, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column and the ERE Media blog. Dr. Sullivan has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC Nightly News, NPR, as well as many local TV and radio outlets.

Fast Company called him the “Michael Jordan of Hiring,” called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industries most respected strategists.” He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and was ranked #8 among the top 25 online influencers in Talent Management.  Adding to these acclamations, Dr. Sullivan has also served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, as well as becoming the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. Dr. Sullivan is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). Most importantly, he wants to hear and respond to your most pressing questions about advanced talent strategies.

His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and