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This Trait Drives Personal Success

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Of late, there’s been a number of questions on my Quora account from high school seniors and their parents about what will happen to them if they don’t get into their dream school.

This was and is my response:

The secret of hiring and life success has little to do with where someone went to university – those who get ahead work the hardest.

Now I didn’t always believe this, but after 50 years in industry and recruiting working with major people and major companies, I learned it was true.

As I started placing people and tracking their performance over an extended period of time I developed the following Hiring Formula for Success to summarize my findings. It turned out to be a shorthand way of predicting someone’s performance in a new job. In fact, I recently tweeted this image with the quote above. In 48 hours it got 144,000 views.

Of course, the technical people wanted the formula validated before they would use it, but the other 90% instantly understood what it meant. For the non-convinced technical folks I suggested it was commonsense, saying it wasn’t a mathematical formula but a relationship describing what motivates people to excel at work. The logic is what’s commonsense: People work harder doing work they like to do in situations they enjoy being in and with people they like working with and for.

As a formula, there’s no doubt about the direct relationship between ability and fit, but I’m not sure motivation is squared. It probably should be to the Nthpower. Of course, whatever the actual number is doesn’t matter.

What matters is that hard work is the key to success and the results increase exponentially the harder a person works.

Here’s another related formula that will help you personalize the Hiring Formula for Success:

Ability plus Opportunity = Success

In commonsense words this means that while the ability to do the work is important, if you don’t have the opportunity to excel at doing it, your ability will be wasted. That’s why my advice to those willing to listen is that the opportunity won’t be given to you. Instead you have to seek it out. One way to do this is to volunteer for work no one else wants to do or ask to handle assignments that offer significant stretch and learning. This is how you demonstrate to those you work with that you’re willing to work hard and want to get ahead faster than your peer group. Big point: If you have the ability and potential those who work with you will give you the opportunity if you ask for it. Some will even give it to you without asking.

Interviewing for Motivation 

Given all of these formulas and life advice, here’s how to interview for hard work and motivation.

Start by asking candidates to describe their most significant accomplishments related to the actual performance objectives of the job. Here’s an example of this questioning format: “One of the big challenges in this job is (describe it). What have you done that’s most comparable?”

Then spend 15 minutes peeling the onion to fully understand what the candidate accomplished and see if it compares to the real job requirements. Use the Hiring Formula for Success to guide your fact-finding. For the fit factors ask about the company culture, the intensity of the situation, the style of the person’s manager and the circumstances where the person thrived and where she/he struggled. For motivation ask for multiple examples of where the person took the initiative, volunteered for extra work and where the person naturally put whatever effort was required to get her/his work done on time and at the highest level of quality.

Now ask this same question for all of the other performance objectives of the job and connect the dots. (FYI: don’t do this all at once and share this question among different interviewers.) Done properly, obvious patterns will emerge. The biggest one is the trend of growth over time, i.e., the jobs are getting bigger and the mix is changing. As big: the circumstances where the person was motivated to excel and go the extra mile will be revealed. It’s usually some combination of the fit factors – great supportive manager, the right culture with the right people, the necessary resources and the right pace, and the work aligned with the person’s ability and intrinsic motivators.

Caution is urged when the fit factors are out of alignment. This is the cause of underperformance, dissatisfaction, demotivation and turnover.


The secret of hiring and life success has little to do with where someone went to university – those who get ahead work the hardest.