ALWAYS ask this interview question

My #1 interview question

Many people who interview have their own personal favourite interview question. I have mine too – but learned it the hard way.

The biggest mistake made was approaching all applicants the same way.

Today, I start my interviews with this simple question:

"Why are you sitting here today?"


Well, there are only two types of candidates: the away candidate and the towards candidate.

Always ask this interview question - my #1

Away candidates

An away candidate wants to get away from a painful situation they don’t like.

They are in a situation which they find stressful, uncomfortable or unsatisfactory. For example, they may be unemployed or in need of a source of income, they could be under performance management and are afraid of getting fired, or the company is struggling so their job is at risk.

They need to get away from this pain.

Away candidates tend to look at things negatively. They often say something like…

"My current employer doesn't understand what the job requires."

"We've lost so many staff because of my manager."

"It's such a negative atmosphere."

"The company's going down and management doesn't care."

"The company keeps changing the goal posts."

Always ask this interview question - away candidates

Towards candidates

A towards candidate is drawn towards something better, towards pleasure.

They are not stressed, not uncomfortable, not dissatisfied, not in pain. Their motivation for talking to you about a job is very different. Towards candidates are optimistic. They don’t focus on what they have today but look towards what they could get in a new role and how it will make them even happier.

They may say something like this…

"This sounds really interesting, tell me more."

"What benefits and rewards do you offer?"

"Tell me about your career options, work-life balance and pay."

"I have always wanted to learn more about this."

"It is an area I would like to pursue."

Always ask this interview question - towards candidates

Interview questions to explore could be…

Status quo

Question: What are the consequences if you do not get the job?

Away Candidate – Will still be stuck in the same situation which they don’t like: that is a negative.

Towards Candidate – Will be in the same situation but that’s okay, they’re happy anyway.


Question: What is your time frame?

Away Candidate – very immediate, hence the situation has to change now.

Towards Candidate – no time pressure, so if they don’t find anything they’ll keep plodding along.

Impact expectancy

Question: What does it take for you to accept a new position?  Pay, career options, learning, challenge, lifestyle etc

Away Candidate – Not much. Even no change from my initial position (what I had in my last job or what I thought that my current job would provide) is okay as long as they get away from their current situation.

Towards Candidate – Change is great, but the reward of change has to be significant enough to warrant the change. It has to be an improvement in salary, career options, learning, challenge or lifestyle. A slight upgrade will not encourage them enough to accept an offer of employment.

Therefore, my #1 interview question is

“Why are you sitting here today?”

I want to make sure I know exactly why they are in the market.

Why this interview question is so important...

Away candidate

Be careful employing an Away candidate if the pain is self-inflicted, for example, a lack of personal performance.

You should ask: will this pain be carried over into the new role? If so, then we should decline this candidate.

However, if the candidate is not responsible for their pain, then we can often secure the candidate by offering the same conditions (sometimes even less) they have from their current employer (or what they had before they lost their job,) as long as they get away from the pain.

Towards candidate

If it is a Towards candidate and they are willing to accept the same conditions as they currently have, be careful because something may not be as is appears. Dig further.

To secure the Towards candidate, we need to be prepared to offer 30% more than what the candidate already has (career opportunities, learning, lifestyle and pay) to get them over the dotted line, otherwise, they will not accept the offer.

Towards candidates are typically more expensive to get on board.

Interview questions

So, next time you prepare your list of interview questions, you should include the motivation for their application.

That question will make it easier to determine whether to offer employment or not as well as the conditions of employment/

Christian Madsen - Managing Director at 11 Recruitment
Christian Madsen
Managing Director
11 Recruitment

  • Warren Davis says:

    I appreciated your article.

  • Craig Mist says:

    Thanks for sharing – Great post

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