Asking for meaningful progress in job interviews

Last week I met Dick Wever in a session on progress-focused working. He is a team leader at an educational institution, and he said he recently interviewed applicants for his school. He was not completely satisfied with the approach to the job interviews as they were conducted at school. That is why he tried out a new, progress-focused question in the interviews: the question of what meaningful progress the applicant had recently made. I didn't have much time to ask more about his experiences, but I found it so interesting that I kept thinking about it.

What is meaningful progress?

Meaningful progress means moving forward in something that we experience as intrinsically valuable. In other words, something that matches our own interests and/or values. Meaningful progress is one of the most motivating things in work and in life. Even small, meaningful progress can make us feel like we're having a good day. 

When and how can you ask the question?

Asking for meaningful progress in job interviews is innovative and interesting. Before we look at possible benefits, let's first look at how to ask this question. Here are some considerations.
  • I think it would be wise to ask the question after the introduction and some standard questions about the applicant's background and experience. At this point, applicants have already had some time to get comfortable and have built a foundation of their professional history.
  • In addition, I think it would be useful to briefly introduce the question before asking it and to formulate it in as simple a manner as possible.
  • Finally, I recommend taking into account the fact that the question may be experienced as difficult and consciously doing something to support applicants in taking some time to think about their answer.

An example formulation

Here's an example of how to ask the question:
  1. Introduction: “In our organization, we find it important to understand how our employees develop and what steps they take to progress.”
  2. The question: “Could you tell us about something you have recently made progress in that you find interesting or important? It doesn't have to be a great success. It may be something very small.”
  3. Support: If applicants can't quickly find an example, you can support them by saying something like, “I understand this is not an easy question. So take your time to think about it.”
  4. Ask further questions. Once the applicant has found an example, you can ask further questions such as, “How did you notice that you have made progress?” “How did you manage that?” “What was especially important to you?” and “What are you most satisfied with in what you have done to achieve this?”

Benefits of asking about meaningful progress in job interviews

Dick said he had asked applicants what meaningful progress they had recently experienced. He asked further questions and said that it worked well. I didn't have much time to continue talking at that moment, but afterwards I thought about what Dick had told me. I think the question can have several useful effects in job interviews.

1. Positive focus

Asking about recent meaningful progress gives a positive and progress-focused focus to the conversation. This helps put applicants at ease and allows them to focus on progress. This creates an atmosphere in which the applicant feels valued and can feel competent. This simultaneously supports the relationship between applicant and selector.

2. Useful and interesting information

Instead of talking in terms of superficial, vague, and clich├ęd personal descriptions (such as “I'm a real go-getter!” or “I'm really a people person!”), asking for meaningful progress leads to a more interesting and profound conversation. By asking about meaningful progress, you obtain information about what the person finds interesting and important. And by asking questions carefully, such as “What exactly happened?” “How did you achieve this?” and “What was the benefit?” you gain insight into the applicant's strategies, approaches, values, and skills. 

3. Process focus stimulates a growth mindset

The demand for meaningful progress has a focus on the process of achieving progress and therefore also supports a growth mindset. The question encourages applicants to reflect on how they have developed themselves and what steps they have taken to achieve their goals. This supports the idea that we can continue to make progress in ourselves and at work.

4. Revenue for the organization

Applying this progress-focused technique in job interviews can bring several benefits to the organization. It helps to identify applicants who are reflective and self-aware and who are able to evaluate and manage their own progress. Moreover, this question immediately teaches applicants something about the organization, namely that it values supporting people in achieving meaningful progress. This helps to promote a positive and supportive culture where employees are encouraged to learn and continuously improve.


Using progress-focused techniques, such as asking about meaningful progress in job interviews, provides an effective way to discuss and evaluate competencies, mindsets, interests, and values. It creates a positive and active conversation in which applicants have the opportunity to demonstrate their competencies, interests, and values, while the interviewer gains deep insight into how the applicant addresses challenges and progresses. This approach can contribute to a more informed and considered selection decision and have a positive impact on the organizational culture.