Job Matching and the Universal Core Trait of Success

Here’s an idea. Let’s ask 25,000 people from all walks of life, in every profession, in every job, in every industry, in every country, what they think it takes to be successful in their field of expertise. We’ll first get a list of the top five traits, and then narrow the list down to the top one or two most common traits. If one or two of these traits showed up consistently 80% of the time, we’d be able to use these as predictors of on-the-job success. In essence, they’d become the universal core traits of success. Based on your experience, what do you think most people would say are the critical core traits of success? To be clear, these are the most common traits that differentiate the best people from everyone else, regardless of occupation. Consider plumbers, doctors, even lawyers, business people, accountants, engineers, managers, sales people, presidents, board members, writers, housekeepers, nurses, consultants, and recruiters, too. No need to wait for the results. We’ve already conducted the survey. Over the past 20 years, we’ve asked 25,000 people from all walks of life what they’d consider the most important traits of success to be. Only one was on everyone’s list. Actually there were two, when we made the question multiple choice, but more about that in a moment. While the descriptions were slightly different, here is how 80% of the respondents described the universal core trait of success:

  • Passionate
  • Article Continues Below
  • Motivated
  • Strong work ethic
  • Initiative
  • Drive
  • Committed
  • Doing more than required
  • Exceeding expectations

Is essence, motivation to do the work required is the universal core trait of success. Was this on your list? Now consider this: When all is said and done, successful hiring is nothing more than finding a person who is both motivated and competent to do the work that’s required. This is a pretty simple formula. Hiring Success = “Motivation” + “Competency to Do the Work Required” This is so simple. It’s like a recipe. All you need to hire top people is to find people who are motivated and competent to do the work required. What’s surprising is that everybody intuitively knows this to be true, but few people can actually do it. Maybe the words are confusing, but this is hard to believe. Motivation means putting the effort in to get the job done without having to be told to do it. Competency means being able to do the work or learn how to do it really quickly. Doing the work required means knowing what needs to be done. When you think about it, this might be the issue. If you don’t really know what needs to be done, you might hire someone who is motivated and competent to do something else. That’s a big clue. I suspect that most managers and recruiters have inadvertently omitted this part of the hiring success formula. Since the formula is like a recipe, you need all of the ingredients to make it work. The hiring success formula is not motivation or competency or “to do the work required.” It’s motivation and competency and “to do the work the work required.” Imagine skipping the icing or the eggs when you make a cake. What do you get? A bad dessert for one thing, and angry family for another. Did you ever hire a competent person who wasn’t motivated to do the work? What did you get? A bad hire, and an aggravated hiring manager and recruiter. Knowing that the three parts of the hiring success formula must all be done at the same time is how you make the formula work. This is what job-matching is all about. You’ll soon start seeing lots of research around the concept of job-matching, but it’s nothing more than hiring people who are motivated and competent to do the work required. To apply it, you must figure out what work is required to be done. Read my articles on preparing job success profiles for more on this. Basically, a job profile describes the most important six to eight deliverables a person in the job is expected to achieve to be considered successful. This is the critical missing link in the hiring success formula. If a hiring manager or recruiter doesn’t know what needs to get done, they’ll overcome this lack by over-emphasizing generic competency in the field, and look for generic motivation. This is what happens when you filter on skills. You hire people who have lots of the skills, and who seem assertive and interested in the job during the interview. However, once they figure out what the job is, they don’t want to do it ó because they’ve done it before, and they aren’t motivated to do it again. This is the most common hiring mistake of all time: Hiring people who are competent, but not motivated to do the required work. Managers then need to push these people to meet basic needs. How many people have you hired or recommended who are competent, but not motivated? Measuring competency is actually quite easy. Measuring true motivation for the actual, however, is much more difficult. When you don’t know what needs to be done, too many interviewers assume that motivation is enthusiasm and energy and assertiveness as measured during the interview. It’s not. For one thing, this can be faked. If a person needs a job, they’ll be prepared, on time, and say that they’ll do the work. This type of fraud is not apparent until one to two months after the person starts. Motivation can also be misdirected. For example, a highly motivated software developer might love to create the system design, but get bored writing code. This person, however, could have exactly the same level of competency as the super-coder who can’t plan out the process flow worth a lick. Another person might be very quiet during the interview, but a tiger on the job. You can’t accurately measure motivation unless you know the exact nature of work required, and the exact type of work the candidate is motivated to do. Proper job matching requires that you discover the type of work the candidate is internally motivated to do. To assess this, just ask the to describe what their favorite work experience ever. Dig deep, and understand everything you can about this accomplishment. Find out what motivated the person to excel, why they stayed late, and what gave them the most personal satisfaction. Then look for a consistent pattern of this directed motivation in earlier and subsequent assignments. If it’s comparable to what you need done, especially if the person still exhibits this motivation, you just found person who is both competent and motivated to do the work required. Measuring competency isn’t really the issue. Measuring what someone has accomplished with their skills and abilities is. Then all you need to do is compare these accomplishments to what needs to get done. If they’re comparable, the candidate obviously has exactly the right level of competency to do the work required. If they’re a little short on the competency side, but have offset this with a track record of learning on the job while still delivering great results, you’ve found an even better candidate. With this background, here’s how I’d rewrite the Hiring Success formula: Hiring Success = “Demonstrated Motivation to Do the Work Required” + “Some Basic Level of Competency” + “A Clear Understanding of the Work Required to Get Done” Remember, it’s a recipe. All three ingredients are required in the correct proportions. Follow the recipe and you’ll never make another hiring mistake again. Well, that’s not entirely true. Earlier I said there were two universal traits of success. The second one is also quite important. Email me if you think you know what it is at I’ll reveal it in some not-too-distant article. However, you won’t be too far off if from now on you only hire people who are both competent and motivated to do the work required. [Note: Hiring top people needs to be a systematic Six Sigma business process. This is Hiring 2.0. If you’d like to make it a reality, join the hiring revolution. Our Band of 176 will become the focus group to set the standards for these next generation hiring tools. Our first “Satisfaction with Current Hiring Tools” survey will be sent out shortly to all revolutionaries. We’ll present the results in an online conference in January 2004. This will be your first chance to join the growing number of people who want to dramatically change the way top people are hired. Separately, with ERE support, our national hiring revolution Zero-based Hiring tour is well underway. Over the next few months I’ll be in San Francisco on December 11, Dallas on January 21, and Atlanta on February 18th. If you or your organization would like to be a city host for one of these events send me an email at We’ll be visiting the rest of the country throughout 2004 with 12-15 tour stops. I look forward to meeting you in person at one of them. Be heard. Join the revolution. Become a great recruiter.]

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *