“Motivated” is a word that comes up a lot in job descriptions. Maybe you have read a sentence like this in that past, “...our company is looking for motivated self-starters who can achieve results.” With nearly 500,000 job descriptions on Indeed using the word “motivated” it must be important. The problem is, if you’re like me, you don’t understand what it means.
My confusion stems from the fact that motivated is a conditional state rather than a personality trait.
The definition of the word motive, the root of motivated, is a need or desire that causes a person to act. For example, I'm motivated to find food when I am hungry. Once my need is met, I am no longer motivated by this need. What if this wasn’t the case? What if I felt the need to get more of something even after my need was met (e.g. continuing to eat after I felt full)? This type of behavior might be considered compulsive and unhealthy. Is this what employers are looking for in new hires?
Consider “motivated” in the following context. If you have ever been unemployed or felt that you were at risk of losing your job, you may have been very motivated. Motivated to get another job. In this case, the higher the motivation to find a new job, the less picky you might become.
This increases the chances of a poor fit and it seems unlikely that this is what hiring managers are looking for in a motivated candidate.
So what do employers mean when they use the word motivated in a job description? If we look at the top five companies on Indeed, based upon the total number of job descriptions that use the word “motivated”, we come up with the following list: McDonald’s, DISH, Pilot Flying J, GNC, State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance. Most of these positions are listed as entry level (>50%) with anticipated salaries in the $25-35,000 yr range.
Compare this to jobs posted by a high skill, high paying employer. Google only uses the word “motivated” in 5% of its job postings (140 out of 2652). Does this mean that Google isn’t looking for motivated candidates?
When you look at the data it starts to become clear that certain words may actually be code for something else that the employer is looking for but may not be able to articulate.
Looking at how the word “motivated” is used in other ads, such as real estate, it becomes clear that in some cases, this is a code word for “desperate.”
A motivated seller is someone who is signalling they will sell at less than market rate, maybe for a quick close or an all cash deal. Can this be applied to job ads? In some cases, the answer is yes. If a candidate has bills to pay, little experience, and few professional skills, they very well might be highly motivated to take ANY job to meet their needs. Correspondingly, employers may offer jobs that are less desirable in terms of pay and working conditions using the word “motivated” to attract workers who will work for less pay and in tougher working conditions because they're more desperate.
To be clear, this article is not a knock against the five employers mentioned or any other employer who uses the word “motivated." Everyone starts their career somewhere and I will always be thankful for my first couple of minimum wage/entry level positions. The point is that certain words that are used might be code for something else. It's important for job seekers to understand what an employer is actually looking for in their next hire. Without this understanding, you could end up in the wrong position rather than your next great opportunity!
Written by: Austin Meyermann, Founder and President of Hunter Crown, LLC
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