Talent Perspectives

Three A's of Interviewing

For the next decade of recruiting

Dr. Traci Sweet, President, Credentia Healthcare Solutions, LLC  (Used with permission)

November 1, 2019


   After 25+ years of working as a doctor in addiction treatment and having moved into the world of healthcare staffing as a second career, I am often asked “What’s the correlation?” To me, that’s simple: I have interviewed thousands of people over the years to understand their motivation: motivation to change, motivation to be successful, and motivation to make a difference. People are my business.

   Back in 2006, I was working for a disease management company based in Southern California and I was actively involved in the development of their treatment model for addiction which was based entirely on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Enhancement Therapy using Motivational Interviewing. At the time, clinical psychologists Bill Miller and Stephen Rollnick were the talk in the treatment industry given their fundamental introduction of MET and MI as proven theories of success. Dr. Miller was an instrumental part of my work. I spoke in auditoriums filled with doctors, nurses, call center staff and the like across the USA  in the theories behind Advanced CBT and MET/MI. Little did I know at the time that Miller and Rollnick’s theory would become such a large part of my second “by accident on purpose” career.

   In the Recruiting and Staffing world, interviewing can really make or break your success. If you inaccurately assess a candidate’s skills alone, there is no win: the candidate may not be hired, the employer may consider you as lacking expertise they depend on, the candidate may be hired but ultimately be considered a poor fit, and you find yourself back at the drawing board sourcing and scratching your head in frustration given your compensation model and guarantee. Or worse yet someone else now has your contract.

   So, let’s keep this simple. Competency-based or Behavioral-based interviewing (CBBI, BBI) assesses a candidate’s skills and behavior related to skills. It works. It’s been considered a “best practice” in interviewing for the better part of the last three decades. However, it does not deserve all the credit and it is not the only tool you must carry in your interviewing toolkit. More than 70% of employers today cite issues with bad hires, or incorrect fit, as their biggest obstacle to reducing turnover. It is time that the industry recognize CBBI/BBI cannot stand alone: not if you want to be a great recruiter or great hiring manager.

   There are three traits that are consistently present in high performing employees: Skills (Aptitude), Personality (Attitude), and Passion (Appetence). Of those characteristics, skills are the only thing that we can teach so we are drawn to it as a reasonable determination of success: if someone has the skills necessary to meet the demands of the job or can be taught the skills, they are a fit. That is largely untrue and a common misconception and mistake. Skills only determine that a person can meet the requirements of a job: “can you type, use MS Office, make widgets? Great, you’re hired!!” Epic fail.

   The difference between a high performer and an average performer is not in Aptitude; rather, the difference is found in Attitude and Appetence. In order to assess Attitude and Appetence, step away from behavioral based interviewing and into Motivational Interviewing.

   Non-performers are interview savvy and we in the interview world are partly to blame. Our behavioral questions regarding their competencies and our job descriptions that explicitly describe the behavioral expectations of the jobs we need to fill make it extremely easy for a non-performer to make you believe they have the Aptitude to get the job and chances are they may be skilled. But, before they accepted the phone call or presented for the interview, they have had time to do the homework necessary (review the job description, visit the website, talk with colleagues they may know, seek out others on LinkedIn who have been hired, etc). They present their skills, they are generally likeable, and we have taught them in “Interviewing 101” how to turn their weaknesses into strengths by “cognitive reframing.” Whether you know what that means or not, you’ve seen it and heard it happen with candidates:

   “Well, I would say that I tend to be more cautious than others which means I may not be as quick to come to a conclusion when a decision needs to be made; however, my cautiousness has also helped me successfully navigate where others have been too quick to judge and made an incorrect decision.”

   Blah, blah, blah. Sounds familiar, right? Aptitude does not equal Appetence. Similarly, Attitude and Appetence strongly correlate to how much Effort is put into an activity. If this sounds like it should be an equation similar to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, Ap ≠ Ap2 whereas At+Ap2=E, do not make it more complicated than it is not!

   Consider this scenario: you and your significant other go out on a date Friday night. The waitress assigned to your station is zipping around, delivering drinks, frisbeeing plates to the patrons, and working hard. When she visits your table, she does not introduce herself, she does not smile, she presents as bored, disinterested, and robotic. She takes your orders, says “thanks” and scurries away. She returns with your drinks, she returns with your frisbees, dinner is delicious, and she brings you the check when you ask for it. How do you tip her? She served you, she is managing her tables, the order was correct, yet something was missing you just can’t put your finger on. On Saturday night, you and significant other have date night #2 at another restaurant. The waitress stops by, introduces herself as being your server, takes your drink order, reviews the specials and even offers her impressions of how they are being received by other patrons, explains that she must finish up with another table and she will return. She returns with your drinks, smiles, makes a quick joke, compliments something about you, has conversation, takes your orders, and states enthusiastically, “great, I will get those orders right in for you, is there anything else you need in the meantime?” Dinner is delivered, she asks how everything looks, tells you that your dish is one of her favorites, and she has been working at the restaurant for 10 years, loves meeting new people and even making new friends.” Cut to the end of the scene when the bill comes: how do you tip her? She served you (Aptitude), she managed her tables (Aptitude), your order was correct (Aptitude), and yet there was so much more you just can’t put your finger on.

   Intrinsic self-motivation: both wait staff were skilled and had the Aptitude to do the job. The difference may simply be that just because someone has the skills to be a waitress does not mean that they have the Attitude or Appetence to do the job beyond the skills. It takes more than skills to be successful. The desire to get the job is not the same as the drive to do it as well as possible once hired: average performer vs. high performer. Why was the Saturday night waitress willing to go beyond the skills? THAT is the question you need to answer before you present a candidate for hire.

   If Aptitude or Skill is a car; Attitude is the fuel; and, Appetence is the driver. The car was designed and built to perform reliable tasks. The fuel is what gives it the get up and go or motivation to move. The driver is going to either lay back and keep it simple or drive like her or she means it and loves it (safely, of course) because there is passion, hunger, or Appetence behind the wheel. Same car, same fuel, two different drivers, different results. It is the difference between can and cannot, will and will not.

   Given your understanding of Aptitude, Attitude, and Appetence at this point based on the examples and analogies above, I imagine you have a sense of the total package that Motivational Interviewing can provide when you are speaking with candidates. The CBBI and BBI will help determine the Aptitude; but it will be Motivational Interviewing that will uncover the intrinsic, internal drivers of Attitude and Appetence that separate the good candidates from the great ones. Likewise, your ability to comprehensively assess all three traits will separate you as a great recruiter from the good recruiter, add value to your client, and build your reputation which solves for the problem of 70% of employers challenged by the obstacle of “best fit.” Win for your candidate who lands the job that they are passionate about, win for the employer who is satisfied and reduces turnover given increased employee satisfaction and potential customer satisfaction, and a win for YOU closing the deal, delivering results, and potentially receiving additional opportunities.

   “This is all great, Doc, but how do I do this Motivational Interviewing thing? I’m not a Psychologist, I’m not trying to get people to change like you were when working in addiction treatment!”

   True. I’m not working in addiction medicine anymore either. I own a healthcare staffing company. I hired my staff using Motivational Interviewing. I heard passion and personality with a lot of skills. But truth is I did not hire a single recruiter. Nobody working for Credentia Healthcare Solutions had recruiting experience: recruiting is a skill, an Aptitude, that can be taught and learned. Attitude and Appetence and intrinsic. I can encourage them but I cannot teach those traits.

   Motivational Interviewing is based on the premise that Miller and Rollnick set out to explore: understanding ambivalence as it relates to changes in behaviors. In other words, what are the internal factors that affect continuing or discontinuing a behavior such as addiction. In the workplace, this theory translates to how a person handles obstacles, solves problems, and can transfer their experience in both areas into the current job opportunity. An obstacle in your path forces you to choose one way or another: can or cannot, will or will not. The high performers can and do and your goals is to encourage them to tell you HOW.

   Lou Adler, one of the most well-known and well-respected former recruiters responsible for performance-based interviewing widdles the concept of motivation in the interview process down to 2 questions:

  1. What is your most significant accomplishment (or MSA)?

  2. When presented with [problem related to current employment opportunity] how would you solve this problem (or PSQ)?

   Once those 2 questions have been answered, the follow up question should be something like, “Can you share with me something that you have actually accomplished or implemented that is most similar to how you just suggested handling the problem I presented?” Then, your job is to listen carefully and take notes because the response will be a critical capture. The rehearsed non-performer will not manage this question well and it will be increasingly easy to delineate as you use this tool more often.

   Below, you will find some other Motivational Interviewing interview questions that I recommend you consider adding to your toolkit, practicing, and making part of the natural flow of what you do. Most importantly, LISTEN. Paraphrase the response to make sure you understand the answer, and feel free to add follow up questions as you get more comfortable with the concepts and exactly what you are trying to determine: Attitude and Appetence. The Aptitude is what you already know from the resume.

  1. Describe a job in which you performed especially well that would be like the job we are currently discussing. What did you enjoy and what did you find difficult about it?

  2. Who is your ideal supervisor? Have you worked for someone like this? What are the qualities you look for in a supervisor?

  3. In order for you to be excited about going to work every day, describe the environment, the people, and what would excite you most if this company offered it?

  4. Tell me about the best job you ever had as well as the worst job you ever had. Why do you consider them the best and the worst respectively?

   What I tell my graduate students when studying motivational interviewing is simply this: consider you are having a conversation with a new friend. Social psychology tells us that our initial impression is based on what we see: looks, style, smile, interaction with others, and initial interactions with you that were attractive. Beyond that, your conversation is about getting to know them on a different level: the things you cannot see like Personality and Passion or Attitude and Appetence. What are their values, beliefs, likes, motivators, things they find exciting, inspiring, and capture their essence? With practice not only will you be a better recruiter, interviewer, or hiring manager, your relationships will become more natural, more thought-provoking and you may find you learn more about yourself that makes this business of recruiting and staffing even more rewarding.

  For more information, training, speaking inquiries, and resources on this topic and others, feel free to email Dr. Sweet directly at traci.sweet@credentiacare.com


If you found this article to be helpful, please let us know, and share with others. All the best!

Ross Statham, Editor


Talent Perspectives: Insights for Busy Professions is a series of brief articles that help build winning teams, provide insight on talent and provide organizational development ideas. 

The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are © 2019 Dogwood Services Inc.


Talent Perspectives

13194 US Hwy 301, Suite 222  -  Riverview, FL 33578-7410