To land a job, say how much you love the work

Alice G. Walton | Sep 28, 2018

Here’s a secret for acing job interviews: tell the recruiter you love the work. According to Cornell’s Kaitlin Woolley (a recent graduate of Booth’s PhD Program) and Chicago Booth’s Ayelet Fishbach, job seekers should let potential employers know that they play for love of the game, not just money and advancement.

Candidates underestimate the value that recruiters place on people who find meaning in their work, Woolley and Fishbach find. They suggest that candidates who fail to convey their enthusiasm are missing a chance to portray themselves in the most favorable light.

The researchers compare intrinsic motivation (“I find meaning in my work”) with extrinsic motivation (“I find work useful for my long-term goals”). Whereas job candidates can judge how expressions of extrinsic motivation will be received, they fail to predict the influence that expressions of intrinsic motivation have on hiring decisions.

In one experiment, Woolley and Fishbach had 200 employed adults play the role of either job seeker or recruiter. Job seekers assessed a number of statements relating to motivations and rated how much each would affect a recruiter’s likelihood of hiring them. Those serving as recruiters rated how the same traits would influence their actual hiring decision. 

The hidden power of intrinsic motivation
Both job seekers and recruiters underestimate the importance of intrinsic motivation to the other party in a job search.

Expressions of intrinsic motivation turned out to have a greater influence on recruiters’ opinions than candidates expected. As for extrinsic motivations, candidates were fairly accurate at predicting their importance for recruiters.

But is the same also true of recruiters predicting what will persuade candidates to accept a job offer? 

To answer this, in another experiment, the researchers had 158 MBA students play the role of either job seeker or recruiter in a hypothetical interview. Once again, the job seekers underestimated how important intrinsic motivation would be to the recruiter. And recruiters making predictions about what job candidates value made a parallel mistake; they underestimated how much candidates would value information about the intrinsic motivation of employees. 

These findings have important implications for job seekers. In another experiment, the researchers find that this bias led candidates to select the wrong job pitch. Only when candidates were instructed to take the recruiter’s perspective did they realize that job pitches stressing intrinsic motivation would be most successful. 

“People should highlight their own intrinsic motivation when interviewing for a position, or the intrinsic motivation of employees at [the interviewers’] company when working toward winning over a job applicant,” write Woolley and Fishbach.