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Return to Ideas

Dave E. Redekopp

J. Barrie Day

Life-Role Development Group Limited

Truly skilled writers match the tone of their writing with the content of the message. In our attempt to be skilled writers, we are writing this article with more of an eye toward passion than reason, toward value than skill, and toward the personal than the impersonal. We do this because the argument we are making is that the recruitment, selection, and retention of workers must emphasize passion, value, and interest more than traditional aptitude, skill, and knowledge criteria. Quite simply, workers must have a "why" for working -- "Why should I work?" "Why should I work here rather than there?" "Why should I work in this role rather than that role?" Employers who cannot help workers meaningfully answer these questions may find themselves experiencing considerable difficulty in attracting, selecting, and retaining employees, particularly with demographic trends moving the way they are. Further, they will have difficulty training employees and will thus lose their competitive edge in rapidly changing markets. Learning does not occur without motivation, motivation is intertwined with attitudes, and attitudes are driven by values, beliefs, and interests.

As an employer, you may be tempted to stop reading at this point because you fear that this article will simply be one more diatribe on how work activities must be continually meaningful if work is not to be alienating and inhumane. This is not our argument, however. It is not necessary that work activities provide intrinsic satisfaction and fulfillment each minute of each day for work to be humanizing, positive, and meaningful in the eyes of the worker. First, every job has what we refer to as "grunt" and "flair" components. In writing this article, for example, our job included the flair of creating new ideas and putting old ideas into a fresh light. We find these types of activities particularly meaningful. However, writing this article also required a great deal of grunt work such as editing and proofreading. We do not find these activities meaningful in and of themselves, but we do find them meaningful when they contribute to our flair. Work can be meaningful, then, when grunt and flair are appropriately balanced and connected. Second, when work is examined as a single component within life's many experiences, the planful worker is looking for ways that work will meaningfully fit within life's larger picture. For some workers, the fact that a particular job possesses virtually no intrinsic meaning or flair may be advantageous and desirable because it more easily allows for the pursuit of satisfying activities in other life spheres. So employer, please read on.

A primary goal of employers is to find the right person for the right job at the right time (Cancik, 1990). Similarly, a primary goal of workers is to find the right organization with the right job at the right time. The issue of concern, then, is determining how the employer's view of "right" can correspond to the employee's perception of "right." For the employer, the "right person" is, minimally, one who:

(a) possesses general employability skills, knowledge, and attitudes or the capacity to learn them (e.g., dependability, work ethic), and

(b) possesses job-specific skills, knowledge, and attitudes or the capacity to learn them, and

(c) will be sufficiently satisfied with the job and/or subsequent jobs within the organization to maintain employment for a sufficient duration to pay back more than the costs of recruitment and training. 

Most employers focus their recruitment and selection efforts on criteria (a) and (b): that is, employers generally focus on skills, knowledge, and some core attitudes. When employee criteria for "rightness" are examined, we will see that this focus may be over-emphasized.

For the employee, the "right job" is one that:

(a) adequately contributes to living costs ("adequately" here expresses a great deal of variation), and

(b) provides adequate challenges ("adequate" may range from no challenge to considerable challenge), and

(c) fulfills personal values, interests, and beliefs or allows for personal values, interests, and beliefs to be better fulfilled outside of work, and

(d) provides opportunity for desirable career/personal growth ("desirable" can range from no growth to great growth within a career path).

  • On first glance of these characteristics, it becomes apparent that employees display considerably greater variation in "rightness" than do employers. This does not mean that employees are more difficult to please and are therefore more difficult to find, however; this simply means that employers must be careful in their recruitment and selection processes, looking for more than simply job competence (but certainly not ignoring competence!). Further, the variation in what is "right" for employees is actually an advantage for employers because it means that there is someone out there who will be satisfied with what may appear to be an undesirable job. In fact, virtually all jobs possess desirable characteristics; the challenge is to help potential employees find these characteristics. In other words, it is the employer's task to inform potential employees of the characteristics of a job and let them find potential desirability within the job. It is not the employer's job to decide what is desirable and what is not.

    The question, then, is how can employers help potential employees to determine whether jobs are "right" for them or not? Below are what we perceive to be some practical answers.

    1. Determine the factors that make a job meaningful or satisfying.

    If employers want workers to remain with their organizations long enough to make the costs of recruitment and training worthwhile, they will be well served to help employees clearly identify potential satisfiers as early as possible. Although there are a variety of ways of doing this, we will describe the essentials of a method with which we experienced considerable success, called Life-Role Analysis (D. Redekopp & Day, 1989; D. Redekopp & Magnusson, 1988). The idea of Life-Role Analysis is to (a) identify the skills, attitudes, and knowledge needed to perform a role and (b) determine the factors that enable the role to be personally satisfying and meaningful, or salient. For the current purposes we will focus on the latter goal, determining salient elements of a role. It is this component that employers most often under-emphasize in their recruitment and selection processes.

    If it is assumed that a role is salient when it helps fulfill an individual's values, interests, and beliefs, a way is needed of efficiently determining the values, interests, and beliefs of any role within an organization. Life-Role Analysis does this by interviewing experts in the role and simply asking them about the satisfying characteristics of the role. Some example questions are listed below:

    • "What do you find rewarding or fulfilling about your job? Why is this work important to you?"
    • "Are there any specific beliefs that you hold that make this job more satisfying to you than it might be to others?"
    • "On a day-to-day basis, what makes this job enjoyable or interesting?"
    • "If you only had 5 or 10 minutes to tell a group of school kids why you get a kick out of your work, what would you say?"

    The expert may not immediately respond with a list of values, beliefs, and interests, but he or she will give the interviewer sufficient information to begin to distill these elements. When identified, the interviewer can double-check the accuracy of his or her interpretations.

    An example may help clarify the interview process. Consider an expert vending technician, who may respond to the above types of questions as follows:

    I don't know if I can explain it, but I get a real kick out of making things work the way they were designed to work and being able to see the results. Some people think that technology is going to be the end of us all, but I think there's a real beauty in a well-functioning machine. Another thing is the challenge of figuring out what's wrong with a machine; I guess I just like solving problems using my mind and hands. The other great thing about this job for me is that I'm pretty much on my own most of the time; there's no one looking over my shoulder when I'm at a location. And, I don't know if all the other technicians feel this way, but it's really important to me to repair a machine fast and to do it right -- people depend on our machines, and it makes us look bad if they're not working properly.

    Although this is a shortened version of what an expert would say, it is sufficient to give the interviewer an idea of more specific questions to ask. This expert appears to value technology, personal challenge, quality, people, and efficiency. The expert appears to be interested in problem solving, achieving tangible results, and working with his or her hands. The expert also believes in the importance of customer service and in the usefulness of technology. The interviewer's job is to extract these themes and ensure their accuracy with the expert.

    Of course, an interview with a single expert is not sufficient to identify the salient elements of a role with certainty. The identified values, beliefs, and interests require validation, not with numerous other individuals in the role, but with only 2 or 3 additional experts. This may come as a surprise to those of you familiar with tests and measures that require statistical procedures involving great numbers of people. Our beliefs (and one that has thus far held up to informal testing) are that true experts are the best source of information regarding a role, and that validating their input with non-experts will merely water down and nullify the value of the information. This, of course, is a contestable assumption that you will need to work through and test for yourself.

    If you agree with the assumption that experts "know best," then you will quickly recognize that it is imperative that bona fide experts are interviewed to gather this information. This may mean going outside of one's organization for this information.

    Before we digress too far into methodological concerns, let us reiterate the point of this section: Helping potential employees make realistic choices about a job requires that they have information on the characteristics of the job. As well as the routine information on competence and credentials, they particularly need to know why the work may be satisfying. Thus, employers need to identify the values, beliefs, and interests that can be fulfilled by the job. Allow us to also point out that the interview process described above is almost as simple as it sounds and it is therefore expedient as well as accurate, targeted, and current.

    2. When selecting employees, put as much or more emphasis on the applicants' values, beliefs, and interests as on competencies and credentials.

    Employee selection procedures typically focus on skills, knowledge, attitudes (usually assessed implicitly rather than directly), and credentials. Although these criteria are important, it makes sense to put equal effort into analysing potential employees' values, beliefs, and interests, and to place more emphasis on the direct assessment of attitude. There are four main reasons why these shifts in emphases are advantageous:

    1. Values, beliefs, interests, and attitudes are vastly more difficult to change than skills and knowledge. To put it another way, it is much easier to establish training programs that increase skill and knowledge than it is to create programs to change values, interests, beliefs, and attitudes. For example, imagine the difficulty of training employees to value people as compared to the relative ease of training them skills and tactics for handling difficult customers.

    2. Values, beliefs, interests, and attitudes are the elements that drive employees to learn skills and knowledge. As any employer can attest, it is exceedingly difficult to train staff who are not motivated to learn. Motivation can be enhanced through extrinsic factors such as monetary rewards, but intrinsic motivation arising from personal values, beliefs, interests, and attitudes creates the ideal climate for learning. Since continual upgrading is becoming the norm in the work world, having staff who are intrinsically motivated to learn is essential.

    3. Corporate values and beliefs will be better expressed when individuals have been hired who share the values and beliefs. Corporate values come to life only through employees; corporate values are meaningless if employees do not share them. This is particularly important to the customers, who look for consistency between employee actions and corporate advertising and public relations activities. This, in turn, is important to the organization because customers judge an organization by their dealings with individual employees.

    4. The fulfillment or expression of values, beliefs, interests, and attitudes is the key consideration for retaining employees. Remembering that the "right" employee from an employer's perspective is one who will remain with the organization for a reasonable period of time, it is important to again provide the employee with a "why" for staying. Utilizing only financial compensation as an incentive for loyalty, employers place themselves in a precarious position regarding staff turnover.

    For the above reasons, recruitment and selection procedures should emphasize the values, beliefs, and interests identified by the experts. And, to make this claim stronger, if it came down to a choice (e.g., for cost reasons) between assessing values versus assessing aptitudes, we would recommend selecting on the basis of values. Exceptionally skilled people who dislike their work are simply less valuable in the long run to an organization than merely competent people who want to do the work.

    Values, beliefs, interests, and attitudes are relatively simple to assess by a skilled interviewer. When skilled interviewers are not available, a series of interview questions to assess these elements can be created relatively efficiently (e.g., if valuing safety is important, ask potential employees a question such as "If you've ever changed the oil on your car at home, please tell me how you did it." Then, look for blocking the tires, setting the parking brake, using stands, etc.).

    3. When recruiting, selecting, and maintaining employees, encourage career planning.

    Potential employees should be strongly encouraged to engage in career planning, ideally prior to an employment interview. When hired, employees should be encouraged to continue career planning throughout their stay with an organization. This encouragement will serve four central purposes:

    1. Pre-interview career planning will act as a self-screening tool for potential employees, saving employers time and money. Individuals who take the time to examine their own values, beliefs, interests, and career goals will be better able to realistically assess the suitability of the job and organization in question. Those who would not find the work suitable will screen themselves out of the interview process, leaving the employer selecting from a pool of individuals with true potential. As mentioned earlier, there is a wide range in the criteria for job "rightness" for employees (e.g., some want vertical career movement, some want lateral movement, and some want no movement). Career planning helps potential employees personally define job "rightness."

    2. The encouragement of career planning on behalf of the organization establishes a mind-set of employee responsibility and initiative. Workers often have paternal notions about organizations, expecting organizations to "take care of them." Employees thus abdicate personal responsibility for their careers, abandon personal initiative, and change only when organizations directly assist them with change. Organizations that require initiative in order to be competitive simply cannot afford this attitude.

    3. It is more efficient to interview individuals who have planned their careers than those who have not. Conducting employment interviews with individuals who have not engaged in career planning is a frustrating process. The interviews easily become slow and muddled because the individuals have not reflected on their competencies, values, beliefs, interests, or goals. Further, individuals who have not career planned are more likely to give responses that they believe the interviewer wants to hear, making it difficult to assess the honesty and accuracy of their responses.

    4. Employee career planning assists organizational human resource planning. Employee clarity regarding goals and career pathways prevents human resource planners from acting on false assumptions. 

    The encouragement of pre-interview career planning costs almost nothing. The employer need not provide a career planning service (although for some organizations this might be cost effective); rather, the employer needs only to provide referral information regarding career planning agencies and/or materials.

    A cautionary note is necessary here: So-called "career planning" agencies that simply test individuals for interests and aptitudes and match the results of these tests with work settings are to be avoided. This type of "career planning" does little to help individuals map out personal career paths or to identify the salient elements of work.

    4. Determine career paths within the organization.

    Individuals who have undertaken career planning prior to the employment interview may want information regarding their potential futures in the organization. Career movement (vertical and lateral) is the norm rather than the exception, and planful employees will need information on how this movement may occur. Organizations can provide this information rather efficiently by examining the skills, attitudes, knowledge, values, beliefs, and interests associated with all internal roles, and by making predictions regarding turnover within each role. Organizations need to do this anyway for succession planning purposes; presenting this information up front enables succession planning to begin even before the hiring process is completed.

    The main difficulty with providing career path information to potential employees is presenting the information in a digestible format. This type of information is often unwieldy and needs re-organization to be "user-friendly" for employees. There are several ways to do this; CCDI uses a Career Path Matrix method that visually illustrates the competence and salience components necessary to make transitions between roles.

    5. Determine career paths within the conglomerate.

    Organizations within large conglomerates often minimize or even discourage the possibility of career paths in other organizations within the same conglomerate. We see this as a tremendous waste of resources for the conglomerate as a whole. For example, salespeople in a chain of trendy clothing stores for young people may develop interests in working in another chain in the conglomerate that caters to professionals. These types of career paths should be encouraged and identified for employees.

    6. Provide information on external career paths.

    Some jobs are simply "dead-end" within organizations, generally due to the organizations' size or structure. Recruitment to these positions (if they cannot be made "non-dead-end") will best occur by attracting either (a) individuals who do not want career movement in the near future or (b) individuals who can envision how the job may lead to later career movement in other organizations. Employers often fear even admitting that employees may eventually want to move to another organization, but the simple fact is that employees will do so anyway if conditions demand it. Employers are well served to acknowledge this, deal with it openly, and plan for it. When succession planning is conducted in conjunction with employees, employers are not faced with unpleasant surprises such as sudden job vacancies. Consequently, employers should point out long-term opportunities in other organizations or in the labour market generally, particularly for positions that are difficult to recruit to.

    7. Conduct specific "passion-based" reference checks.

    Reference checks can provide powerful assessments of potential employees' values, beliefs, and interests. Previous employers have had the luxury of observing the individual over an extended period of time, and thus they will provide more detailed and accurate information than can be acquired in a brief interview.

    To conduct reference checks, we recommend asking specific questions related to the values, beliefs, interests, and attitudes identified as necessary to the role. For each of these characteristics, simply ask the previous employer:

     In your opinion, does this individual value/believe/prefer/have interests in X? What did this individual do to give you this opinion? 

    Remember, too, that what is desirable for one employer may not be for another. In fact, the reason that the candidate left the previous organization may be precisely the reason that the individual would be appropriate for the new organization. Only by asking specific questions can this assessment be made.

    8. Conduct "confirmation interviews" prior to employment.

    Having decided that a candidate is desirable, we recommend conducting a confirmation interview prior to a job offer. The purpose of this interview is to (a) confirm the candidate's desirability and (b) allow the candidate to confirm the organization's desirability. The confirmation interview is a way of saying "We've decided on you, now let us help you decide on us." The interview allows the employer to review expectations as well as the organization's values, beliefs, and interests. The specific role can be clarified, particularly as it relates to the candidate's career plans (e.g., if the job is a term position, opportunities that may emerge at the end of the term can be discussed). The confirmation interview also allows the candidate to review his or her expectations and take the time to truly question the characteristics of the organization. Thus, if the job offer is still made after confirmation, the candidate will be in an ideal position to realistically accept or reject the offer.

    9. Determine organization and employee training needs, and fill those needs with tailor-made programs.

    We mentioned earlier that attitudes, values, beliefs, and interests are difficult to teach. These characteristics can be encouraged, however, and one way to do so is to increase competence (modelling is also extremely effective). Individuals often dislike and undervalue activities that they perform poorly. For example, women have traditionally been formally and informally educated away from activities associated with trades and technologies. It is not surprising, therefore, that women often close personal career doors by not expressing interests in these occupations. We have found that by increasing their competence (first with knowledge, then with skill), hidden interests in and preferences for technical activities begin to emerge.

    Thus, as a qualifier to all the above arguments, please bear in mind that an exact correspondence between desired personal characteristics for the job and the potential employee's attitudes, values, beliefs, and interests is not necessary -- desired characteristics can be nurtured in the workplace by increasing job competence. There are many ways of increasing competence (e.g., via models, mentors, on-the-job training, formal training, and self-directed development), but these will not be reviewed here. The important concern for the present purposes is to tailor training programs to meet specific organizational and employee needs. All too often, organizations purchase "canned" training packages that meet only partial needs and mesh poorly with the outcomes desired by the organizations and employees. The inefficiency of such training is problematic, but a greater concern is its potentially damaging effect on staff morale, initiative, and development. Adults (and adolescents and children, for that matter) demand relevance in their training and education, and quickly become discouraged when this meaningfulness is missing.

    It is worth the effort, therefore, to delineate not only the competencies required for a job, but to determine the competencies needed by the specific employee in the job. Then, by conducting a "gap analysis" for each employee, specific training needs can be met. This is not as costly as it sounds, particularly if well delineated job standards exists, regular performance appraisals are conducted anyway, and continual career planning is occurring on behalf of each employee.

    10. Use descriptive rather than judgmental supervision and performance appraisal processes.

    There is not sufficient space to describe non-judgmental supervision and performance appraisal procedures here. However, the point needs to be made that supervisor judgment (positive or negative: e.g., "You're a great employee" or "You deal with customers badly") is an effective means of diverting motivation away from the desire to do a job well (J.P. Redekopp, 1989). Judgmental supervisory procedures create an atmosphere whereby employees work in order to please the supervisor and/or avoid the supervisor's judgments rather than to do quality work. Non-judgmental supervision allows employees to be guided by personal values, beliefs, interests, and attitudes. If employees are selected well, these personal characteristics will drive their development; the supervisory role is to guide this development by offering employees descriptive feedback on their performance (e.g., "When you did X, the customer did Y. Is this the response from the customer you wanted?"). Non-judgmental supervision allows employees to undertake their own analysis of their performance and strive for excellence rather than supervisory approval.

    There are obviously numerous additional activities that can be utilized to recruit, select, and maintain employees (see, for example, Gilley & Eggland, 1989). An exhaustive review was not the intent of this article, however; rather, our hope was to convincingly argue for a shift in hiring and maintenance emphases and to provide some practical methods that support this shift. To many of you, all of the above may seem obvious and not particularly innovative. Employers often discuss the importance of "attitude" and claim to hold it as a central hiring and maintenance criterion. Unfortunately, very few employers translate this belief into concrete action. Employers are drawn to an emphasis on credential, skill, and knowledge criteria because they are relatively simple to assess and they can be more directly linked to bottom-line productivity. As career development practitioners, we feel compelled to remind employers that long-term success depends on the human resource; that humans require reasons for working, and; that values, beliefs, and interests comprise the basis of these reasons for working.

    For those of you who are interested in pursuing "passion-based" hiring and maintenance, a checklist is provided below that summarizes the recommended activities.

    Passion-Based Recruitment, Selection, and Maintenance


    This checklist is designed simply to assist employers to keep track of their "passion-based" activities. The more checks under the "Yes" column, the more the career development needs of employees will mesh with organizational development needs.

  • Yes No

    1. The values, beliefs, interests, attitudes, and competencies of the role have been identified by experts.

    2. Interview questions have been created and utilized to assess the applicant's values, beliefs, interests, attitudes, and competencies.

    3a. Career planning has been recommended in the recruitment process.

    3b. Career planning services and resources have been identified and/or created.

    3c. Career planning has been encouraged in the selection process

    3d. Career planning has been and is encouraged with current employees.

    4a. Career paths within the organization have been identified.

    4b. Organizational career path information has been developed in a "user-friendly" format.

    5a. Career paths within the conglomerate have been identified.

    5b. Conglomerate career path information has been developed in a "user-friendly" format.

    6a. External career paths have been identified.

    6b. External career path information has been developed in a "user-friendly" format.

    7a. Organizational training needs have been clearly identified.

    7b. Training needs of each employee have been clearly identified.

    7c. Training has been tailored or custom-designed for each employee.

    8. Reference check procedures have been developed and utilized that include specific questions about values, beliefs, interests, and attitudes.

    9. Confirmation interview procedures have been developed and utilized.

    10. Descriptive supervision procedures have been developed and utilized.

  • References

    Cancik, S. (1990). Career development in organizations. Edmonton, AB: Centre for Career Development Innovation.

    Gilley, J. W., & Eggland, S. A. (1989). Principles of human resource development. Don Mills, OT: Addison-Wesley.

    Redekopp, D. E., & Day, B. (1989). The development of occupational life-roles through competency-based analysis. Fifteenth National Consultation on Vocational Counselling Papers. Ontario: Ontario College Counsellors.

    Redekopp, D. E., & Magnusson, K. (1988). Life-Role Analysis. Edmonton, AB: Career Development Institute/Centre for Career Development Innovation.

    Redekopp, J. P. (1989). Supervision based on self-initiation and self-analysis. Edmonton, AB: Career Development Institute/Centre for Career Development Innovation.