5 Principles of Motivational Interviewing for Successful Hires


Written by Peter Keszegh

Interviewing candidates for a job is all about first impressions – not just for the applicants, but for the interviewer and employer as well. If you’re in charge of hiring aspiring employees who want to work for your company, it’s important that you make sure you hear them out and listen to their needs, goals, and ambitions.

In this article, we’ll talk about what motivational interviewing is, the key principles of motivational interviewing, and how you can apply these in the recruitment processes in your company.

Man Being Interviewed By A Woman

What is motivational interviewing?

Like the name suggests, motivational interviewing is an approach to dialogue that focuses on a person and their motivations.

This doesn’t deal with conversations where you tell a person what to do – instead, this approach explores a person’s goals and guides them towards achieving those in a supportive, non-confrontational manner.

Motivational interviewing was originally used in the context of substance abuse, but is now used in a variety of industries and settings, from healthcare to education. This kind of adaptability stems from motivational interviewing’s core focus on facilitating internal motivation to change.

How does motivational interviewing work?

At the core of motivational interviewing is genuine respect for a person’s autonomy and the belief in their capacity for change.

Motivational interviewing isn’t about imposing change from the outside. Instead, it involves listening, asking questions, and empowering a person to change from the inside.

Here are some of the key aspects of motivational interviewing:

  • Empathy: Motivational interviewing requires the interviewer to express empathy, creating a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals to open up about their feelings and experiences.
  • Partnership: With motivational interviewing, the interviewer and the interviewee work together to explore the individual’s motivations to change, as well as the hurdles or resistance standing in the way of change.
  • Drawing out: Motivational interviewing focuses on drawing out an individual’s personal arguments for change, rather than providing external reasons why change should happen.
  • Autonomy: As mentioned, motivational interviewing recognizes, respects, and empowers the individual's right and capacity to make their own choices when it comes to change.
Ethnic female psychotherapist listening to black clients explanation

Five key principles of motivational interviewing

When engaging in conversation with successful hires and team members, it’s important to keep some of the important principles of motivational interviewing in mind to ensure productive and meaningful discussion.

Here are five core principles of motivational interviewing:

Crop woman tapping shoulder of frustrated female friend

Expressing empathy

As mentioned earlier, motivational interviewing focuses on creating safe spaces for the interviewee to freely open up about their motivations, feelings, and experiences without the fear of being judged. It’s essential for interviewers to extend empathy to promote open and honest communication.

This means interviewers should be able to put themselves in the shoes of the interviewee and see the world and their current situation through their eyes. It’s about gaining a deep understanding of their emotions and behaviors, and how exactly they want to work towards change.

Expressing empathy involves balancing active listening with thoughtful reflection. This principle is not just about building trust and empowering the interviewee to let their guard down, but also about encouraging more open and meaningful dialogues on change.

Here are some ways to effectively express empathy:

  • Active listening: This isn’t just about hearing the words your interviewee is saying; it’s about understanding the emotions and meanings behind them. This requires giving your interviewee your full attention and avoiding interruptions.
  • Non-verbal communication: It’s important to maintain eye contact and nod every now and then to signal to your interviewee that you understand what they’re talking about. Make sure your body language also signals that you’re open to genuine communication.
  • Avoiding judgment: The fastest way to make people feel uncomfortable opening up is to judge them. Make sure you promote an environment free of judgment and criticism, and respond in a way that’s supportive instead of evaluative.
Man Face in Goggles behind Gap

Identifying gaps

Another key principle of motivational interviewing deals with helping individuals recognize the gaps between their current behaviors and their broader goals and values. It’s not so much about highlighting their failures as it is about guiding individuals to see how their current actions may not align with long-term goals.

This allows individuals to reflect on where they are now and where they want to be in the future. When you empower individuals to identify these gaps and articulate their goals, it becomes easier to facilitate self-driven change.

When individuals recognize the gaps in their own behavior and goals, they’ll be more motivated to work towards internal change, leading to better behaviors that are more sustainable.

Here are some ways you can go about it:

  • Goal clarification: Start by asking your interviewee to define their personal and professional goals. From here, you’ll then be able to identify discrepancies in their current behavior and long-term goals and vision for change.
  • Value exploration: Ask your interviewee about the values that deeply matter to them. This will help you get a better understanding of what really matters to them, and will help inform the next steps to take.
  • Reflective listening: When you’ve identified the gaps in the interviewee’s current behavior and long-term goals, explicitly point these out without judgment. This will help your interviewee internalize the contrast between their actions and their goals.
Woman with paper with cross sign

Understanding resistance

Working towards change isn’t an easy process, and it’ll be met with some resistance. In motivational interviewing, resistance shouldn’t be met with judgment – instead, interviewers are encouraged to understand the reasons why a person hesitates as a response to pressure or change.

It’s important for motivational interviewers to understand that resistance is a natural response to change, and that it indicates a deeper conflict about a person’s thoughts on change. It’s important to acknowledge and explore these feelings to promote a judgment-free environment.

When individuals feel comfortable expressing their fears and hesitations, this will foster a deep sense of trust and better rapport.

Here are some ways you can practice understanding resistance:

  • Reflective listening: In the previous section, we talked about how you can use reflective listening to echo the gaps in your interviewee’s actions and goals. Here, you can explicitly echo the interviewee’s own hesitations about change, showing you understand their perspective without judgment.
  • Summarization: Jumping off the previous point, it’s helpful to summarize what your interviewee’s shared so far about their feelings on change. This shows them that you understood and heard their perspectives and hesitations.
  • Affirmation: Despite their resistance, it’s important to affirm how they’re making an effort to change as well as validate their strengths. This kind of positive reinforcement can reduce resistance to change.
Multiracial women pumping biceps muscle in studio

Believing in individuals’ capabilities

Motivational interviewing lies in the genuine belief that individuals can work towards positive change on their own. This kind of belief will empower individuals to achieve their goals, overcome obstacles, and reduce resistance.

By emphasizing that your interviewee is capable of working towards change, this will empower them to set challenging goals and persevere even in the face of setbacks. This requires understanding your interviewee’s circumstances and perspectives, as well as collaborating with them to overcome hurdles.

You can empower your interviewee and make them feel capable via the following:

  • Highlighting past successes: Remind your interviewee about the times they’ve successfully gotten past challenges or made positive changes in their lives.
  • Verbal encouragement: Validate and affirm your interviewee about their strengths and capabilities, and let them know you genuinely believe in their potential.
  • Goal setting: You can work together to set achievable, short-term goals that provide quick wins. These will give your interviewee a confidence boost, allowing them to believe in their ability to change.
Strong young sportsman jumping over barrier

Enhancing motivation

Motivational interviewing is all about understanding an individual’s personal motivations for change. You’ll have to nurture their drive for change by focusing on internal motivators that deeply resonate with an individual.

It’s important to foster dialogue where your interviewee feels comfortable talking about their motivations to change, and where their drive for change is amplified. Providing them with positive reinforcement will boost their motivation, allowing them to make sustainable changes in their behavior.

You can also remind your interviewee that even small changes lead them closer to their goals, which will make them feel more motivated to work towards what they want to achieve.

Here are some ways you can enhance your interviewee’s motivation:

  • Talk about change: Encourage your interviewee to talk about their desires, reasons, and need for change. Engaging in this kind of dialogue will lead to a stronger commitment to change.
  • Affirmation: Validate your interviewee’s strengths and their past successes, as this will reinforce their belief in their ability to change.
  • Discuss benefits of change: Explicitly talk about how change can benefit your interviewee as well as the potential future they can achieve if they take those steps towards change. This will make their goals feel more attainable and will boost their motivation to work towards change.
Candidate having an Interview

Using motivational interviewing in hiring processes

You might be wondering – what does motivational interviewing have to do in the hiring process? When you’re interviewing applicants for a certain role, it’s important to focus on their goals, skills, and capabilities, and to make them understand how they can be a good fit for the position.

Here’s how you can apply the principles of motivational interviewing in hiring processes:

Understanding candidate motivations

In the context of hiring, it’s good to understand a candidate’s motivations for applying for a certain role beyond the title, salary, and benefits.

Once you get a better understanding of their motivations and personal beliefs, you’ll be able to properly assess whether the candidate’s values align with that of the company’s.

Many companies are now leveraging a contingent workforce to meet their dynamic staffing needs, providing flexibility and access to a diverse pool of talent.

Fostering a collaborative approach

When applying principles of motivational interviewing, you can foster a collaborative, two-way conversation when interviewing applicants, where both parties are seen as equals. This will allow candidates to feel more comfortable and open, and they’ll likely provide more honest responses.

Encouraging open-ended discussions

It’s good for interviewers to give candidates open-ended questions that allow them to share more reflective and comprehensive answers. This will reveal richer insights into a candidate’s thought processes, experiences, and their potential for growth in your organization.

Promoting an environment of change and growth

Show candidates that you believe in their capabilities by highlighting how they can grow and develop in the roles they’re applying for. Mention opportunities for them to learn new skills, evolve in their careers, and contribute to meaningful projects within your organization.

Handling resistance skillfully

Allow the candidate to feel comfortable enough raising their concerns or apprehensions about the role or the company during the interview. Acknowledge these concerns with care, as these will give you a better idea of the candidate’s specific needs and whether your organization can address these.

Diverse coworkers shaking hands after meeting

The benefits of motivational interviewing in recruitment

Applying the principles of motivational interviewing can provide concrete benefits in the overall recruitment process. Here are some of the ways motivational interviewing can benefit recruiters and your organizations:

Enhanced candidate engagement

If you engage in open and meaningful discussion with candidates, they’re more likely to feel valued and understood. If you provide candidates with this kind of positive experience as early as the interview stage, this can make them more interested in joining an open-minded, empathetic organization.

Improved candidate selection

Motivational interviewing allows you to see past hard skills and job titles. You’ll get a better understanding of a candidate’s motivations and overall goals, which will allow you to evaluate whether or not they align with your company’s values and business goals.

Reduced turnover rates

A healthy, welcoming company culture and the ability to meet employees’ needs are what make employees stay at a given workplace. When you have a deep understanding of what your candidates’ needs and values are, you’ll make sure to hire those who can gel well with the rest of your company and work culture.

Strengthened employer brand

If you engage in open and meaningful discussion with candidates during their interviews, it’s likely that they’ll tell other people applying for your organization about their positive experience. This will boost your company’s reputation, and may give you more applicants.

Career development at the forefront

When you highlight areas and opportunities for candidates and employees to learn more skills and develop their careers within your organization, you signal your commitment to and support for your employees’ growth. When you put employees’ career goals first, you can attract more forward-thinking candidates.

People on a Video Call

Motivational interviewing in remote setups

The principles of motivational interviewing are all about building connections and fostering trust with candidates and workers – which may be extra difficult in workplaces with remote working arrangements.

If your workplace conducts virtual interviews and encourages employees to work from home, here are some areas where you can apply the principles of motivational interviewing in your remote setup:

Applying motivational interviewing in virtual interviews

Virtual interviews are very common nowadays, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies everywhere to shift to remote or hybrid setups. Here’s how you can practice some of the principles of motivational interviewing:

  • Create a connection: Make up for the physical distance by establishing a personal connection early in the interview. Use the first few minutes of the interview to engage in a genuine conversation, setting a comfortable tone for the actual interview.
  • Listen actively: Pay close attention to the candidate’s responses. If your camera is on, make sure to use body language, such as nods, to signal that you’re listening. If your camera is off, use verbal nods instead and other verbal cues to keep the conversation flowing.
  • Discuss motivations: Ask candidates to talk about their past achievements and their bigger life goals. Ask them open-ended questions that invite them to talk about their motivations and how they may align with the role and your company.

Remote onboarding with motivational interviewing

Onboarding new hires can get tricky if you’re not doing it in person, and it’ll be harder for new hires to feel like they’re really part of the company.

Here’s how you can help new hires feel more integrated into the company, even through virtual onboarding sessions:

  • Set expectations: Clearly explain what the new hire can expect during their first few weeks on the job. Discuss specific goals and projects and how their role contributes to your organization’s overall objectives. Make them feel important!
  • Promote a supportive environment: If possible, tap an experienced employee who can assist in onboarding and can guide the new hires with daily workflows. They’ll be able to offer support and empower new hires in taking their first steps.
  • Regularly engage with new hires: Schedule regular check-ins to discuss the new hire's progress and how they feel about the role. Ask them about the challenges and areas of work they’re struggling with, but also identify their strengths to empower them to do meaningful work.
Beautiful Women Sitting at a Table Giving High Five

Motivational interviewing in employee retention and development

Beyond the hiring and onboarding process, employers can apply the principles of motivational interviewing when it comes to retaining employees and developing their careers.

Here are some of the areas where companies can apply key principles of motivational interviewing:

Enhancing employee retention

Having to deal with employee turnover can be costly and time-consuming, not to mention disruptive. If you apply some key principles of motivational interviewing beyond the hiring process, you can improve your employee retention rate via the following:

  • Building stronger relationships: Engage in frequent and empathetic communication rooted in principles of motivational interviewing. This will strengthen relationships between managers and employees, and will help team members feel more connected and supported.
  • Identifying and addressing concerns: Conduct regular one-on-ones with your staff where they can raise their concerns about the job or the salary and benefits. Make sure their concerns are heard and addressed as much as possible.

Supporting professional development

It’s important to highlight opportunities for growth as early as the interview stage. You have to make sure you actually provide these opportunities, especially if employees have explicitly expressed their interest in gaining new skills or working on new projects.

Here are some ways you can support your employees’ professional development by applying the principles of motivational interviewing:

  • Encouraging self-reflection: Motivational interviewing encourages employees to put their professional aspirations into writing, and to identify areas where they want to grow. This can help in aligning their personal goals with broader organizational objectives.
  • Facilitating goal-setting: Help employees set realistic and achievable goals consistently. Motivational interviewing focuses on an individual’s personal motivations for change, so it’s important that you empower your employees by allowing them to set personal goals for their careers.

Practical tips on fostering motivational interviewing

Make sure there are structures in place for your company to foster an environment and work culture where collaboration and professional development is valued. Here are some concrete ways you can apply the principles of motivational interviewing:

  • Regular check-ins: Schedule regular one-on-one meetings between employees and their managers to discuss their work performance, the challenges they typically face, and their future career aspirations.
  • Training for managers: Offer motivational interviewing training for managers and leaders to teach them how to effectively support their teams, and to make sure their concerns are heard and valued.
  • Feedback loops: Set up feedback mechanisms where employees can give their feedback on their work experiences and suggestions for improvement. Make sure that employees feel empowered to give such feedback without the fear of being judged, criticized, or penalized.
Man Gets the Job

Principles of motivational interviewing in the workplace

Motivational interviewing isn’t just for consulting or the hiring process. The key principles of motivational interviewing rooted in empathy, trust, and collaboration are important aspects for any workplace that wants to foster a more open and welcoming work culture.

By following these guidelines and applying these principles, you can improve your company’s culture and make your organization a healthy and welcoming place to work in.

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