How to Hire for Hunger


How to spot one of the essential traits more and more hiring managers consider essential.

So, you’re looking to fill a key position in your organisation. You want a standout, someone who will take this role and your company to the next level.

Perhaps you find some candidates with strong experience and an excellent skill set. In-person, they are knowledgeable and personable. But that may not be enough. Plenty of new hires with strong CVs and excellent interviewing skills turn out to be average employees who make modest contributions.

If you want a superstar employee, there’s another trait you should be looking for in these candidates: hunger. In his bestselling book, The Ideal Team Player, The Table Group founder Patrick Lencioni says hunger is one of three essential virtues in an employee, with humility and smarts being the other two.

Job candidates who are hungry aren’t satisfied with the way things are. They are eager for new challenges and new learning opportunities. They are willing to work hard and continually improve at their job. They are looking to excel beyond expectations and make a big impact.

The particular motivations of hungry candidates may differ, ranging from financial compensation and professional ambition to personal meaning or social impact. Regardless of the motivation, the outcome often looks the same. The hungry candidate will likely be a motivated and engaged employee, and your organisation will benefit.

This is particularly important when you know your employees will be challenged in their roles. If your company is a start-up, or you’re entering a major phase of expansion, or you’re breaking new ground in your industry, you need workers who won’t be easily satisfied.

Sam Chappatte, CEO of online platform Jumia, recently told Kenyans Come Home, “We want Jumia to have a meaningful impact across the continent, and by doing so, to leave a legacy. These things are difficult. And not for everyone. So we look for smart people, but smart people with grit and commitment, people who are hungry to grow and show the world what they can do.”

Fortunately, hunger is a trait that you can look for from the first interview—and it’s usually not hard to spot. You can ascertain a candidate’s level of hunger from their engagement, their willingness to work hard, their attitude toward learning, and their approach to challenges.

Author and business guru Michael Hyatt offers several interview questions that you could use to gauge hunger in a job candidate. These include:

  • Are you satisfied with what you have accomplished in your life so far?
  • Where do you see yourself in three years?
  • What are your biggest personal goals? Career goals?
  • How do you make sure that you follow up on your assignments? Do you have a system?
  • How do you typically prepare for meetings?

Patrick Lencioni recommends having multiple people evaluate candidates to ensure that everyone has a similar hunch about the level of hunger someone has. He also suggests asking candidates to work on a real project, which will give you a sense of how they perform in a true work situation.

Each of these approaches can help you answer these questions: Is this someone who is more interested in maintenance and staying within the lines, or someone who is willing to push the boundaries of their own abilities and the company’s accomplishments? Is this someone who is truly passionate about your organisation or your industry?

Most hiring managers say they know hunger when they see it. It’s just a matter of looking for it.

And once you’ve got someone within your organisation who has such a drive to learn and grow and achieve, you’ll want to feed them with every opportunity you can.