Motivation for job seekers today is very different from the incentives that drove them in the past. Or, at least the order of what seems to be most important to them now compared to years ago.

Renowned American psychologist Abraham Maslow, back in 1943, put to paper his theory of what motivated people. It is often referred to as, “Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs,” and it outlined five different levels of needs which human behavior is motivated by.

The  levels of the hierarchy pyramid include (from the bottom to the top):

  1. Physiological needs – Basic ones such as food, water, shelter, and clothing.
  2. Safety needs – Physical, emotional, and financial safety, to name a few.
  3. Love and belonging needs – Forming bonds, friendships, love interests, inclusiveness and a sense of being part of a group.
  4. Esteem needs – Self-esteem, recognition, respect and acknowledgement from peers and others. 
  5. Self-actualization needs -Self-awareness and taking steps to improve one’s self to achieve personal self-fulfillment and achieving one’s fullest potential.

The main driving force for job seekers in the past was to satisfy both their physiological and safety needs, or the bottom two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. It only made sense that individuals needed to secure a job to fulfill basic needs and live and operate in a safe environment. 

By working hard they would be given a steady flow of revenue through paychecks and also move on to achieving level Three by forming relationships with co-workers and supervisors and belonging to an exclusive group in the organization they were working. 

According to Contemporaries, Inc. President and CEO Donna Fitzgerald, “there is a new phenomenon among job seekers that we haven’t observed in the past five or 10 years or even earlier.”  

“Traditionally, our candidates were motivated to accept a job to pay their bills, become financially secure, and be allowed to work their way up the ladder,” Fitzgerald noted.

“Today’s job seekers, particularly recent college graduates, are much more interested in operating in an inclusive environment, and in a position that carries what they deem an appropriate job title. In addition to being more in line with their own professional objectives, they believe the right title will also garner more respect and acknowledgement from peers and colleagues, thus fulfilling level Four of Maslow’s hierarchy,” Fitzgerald concluded.

Job hunters previously were very satisfied if they could get their foot through the door of a prestigious university, government entity, private sector business, or non-profit organization. Many were initially hired as Administrative Assistants and understood if they worked hard and proved themselves they could move beyond the position and achieve career advancement. 

For temporary contract workers, the opportunity would also allow them to interact with hiring managers and decision makers, adapt to the work culture, and get the insider track for other potential opportunities within the organization. From there, they could move on to the type of positions and titles which would satisfy their level Four needs. In the case of most universities, the possibility of pursuing a master’s degree or other additional courses would help individuals satisfy their level Five needs for self-actualization and achieving their greatest potential.

In terms of Maslow’s hierarchy, it may have taken some time, but through hard work employees would eventually achieve all the levels of the motivational pyramid.

Today’s new staffing frontier is very different and many clients are unaware of how to navigate through it in order to secure the best people to fill vacant jobs.

Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Consider changing titles, not the work. For example, if the position requires administrative tasks and duties in a Communications Department, why not hire a Communications Associate rather than a simple Administrative Assistant? Or, recruit a Research, Marketing or a Program Coordinator rather than an Administrative Associate? By having the job title more aligned with the related work, you should receive a higher number of applicants, particularly those with degrees that are usually in a related field. We have found with some candidates, this level Four goal on Maslow’s hierarchy, is sometimes even more important than lower levels.


  • Offer a diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environment. Understand that being hired into a prestigious organization today does not have the same impact it had in the past. Job seekers now are more interested in landing a position in an organization where they can feel part of an inclusive group, and one where their work efforts and opinions will be welcomed and respected. It is not so much the institution but rather the work environment and culture.


  • Consider supply and demand. Recent college graduates have been in high demand. Recent college graduates have been in high demand. They have never experienced an economic downturn which resulted in mass layoffs and job eliminations. In those days, there were some 50 – 300 job seekers all competing for a single position. Candidates were grateful to get any job and did settle for less pay and benefits, as well as more generic titles like Administrative Assistants. Today’s job candidates expect to be paid more and in most cases, will receive higher compensation from one potential employer or another because of the recent lack of qualified candidates.

Clients and other employers who can be flexible on job titles, promote an inclusive work culture, and consider the present supply and demand situation will be the lucky ones who are able to hire and retain employees to meet their own organization’s mission, goals, and objectives.


Image brought to you from Pixabay. Image by Gerald Altman.