Two years ago, I shared three killer interview questions I had used at the Taproot Foundation to hire an exceptional team of rock stars. I have since started Imperative and become an even bigger student of workplace psychology. As a result, I recently added a fourth killer interview question that may be the most important yet.

I have experimented with two different ways to ask it. Both are effective.

“How would you describe your ideal retirement?”


“What would you do if you won the lottery?”

You learn something critical in listening to answers to this question: what is the candidate’s orientation towards work?

As Google has discovered, we need to stop getting advice from management consultants and start spending more time talking to academics who have actually studied workplace behavior. I have been inspired by many of these amazing academics over the last two years. Perhaps the most powerful and useful as been the work of Yale’s Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues who study fulfillment and meaning at work.

What they found is that people tend to identify with one of three work orientations regardless of the type of job – from doctors to parking lot attendants.

Some people see work as a vehicle for material reward, but not fulfilling in and of itself. They are the TGIF crowd, enduring the work week in order to financially support interests outside their jobs. They are likely excited to retire and would quit their job for sure if they won the lottery.

The second group defines work as a means toward social status, achievement and prestige. They work to fuel a positive sense of identity and are likely the first to sign up to attend high-school reunions so they can report on their success to their peers.

The final group finds the act of work inherently meaningful and rich in purpose. For them, work is the manifestation of their purpose and, often, a force for good in the world. They dread the idea of someday not working.

Wrzesniewski and her colleagues found that this third group has higher job and life satisfaction than people with other work orientations have. They also tend to be more successful and higher performers, in large part because they are more loyal and better collaborators.

My goal is to build a team of loyal, collaborative, innovative, high performers with high well-being. That is why this question has risen to the top of my interview list.

Published in collaboration with LinkedIn

Author: Aaron Hurst is a globally recognized entrepreneur who works to create communities that are empowered to realize their potential. He is the CEO of Imperative, a technology platform that enables people to discover. 

Image: Unemployed Belgian Mohamed Sammar (R) answers questions during a simulated job interview, which is recorded to help him get feedback afterwards in Brussels July 2, 2013. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir.