On occasion, I've either had to hire people or been on hiring committees in my (former) workplace. If you've ever been on a job interview, you know there are a host of pointless questions and lots of meaningless bullshit to wade through. I hate meetings as a rule and I REALLY hate the interview process as it relates to getting hired.
So I almost always only ask one question.
"In seeking out a gig, which has the highest value to you: Autonomy, Recognition, or Compensation?"
The answer to this question usually comes as one of two types. The first is the answer that meanders around all three, defining each and determining why all three are really important. The second is simply a straightforward choice of one of the three. For my money, the second is the only way to answer: make a choice and defend it. I also believe that which one you choose determines both the kind of gig you will get and your success along that road.
The person who answers Autonomy is a focused thinker, who does not respond well to micro-management, who thrives best when given a task and left to his own devices to accomplish it. She tends to be a bit of a loose cog in the machine, can be a pain in the ass, bristles at authority but, when given a wide road to travel, can be an absolute rockstar. The Autonomous person ends up being the most effective manager down the line but only if properly trained as he tends to try to do everything himself rather than delegate.
This worker is best served being heavily managed. He likes lists and outward displays of appreciation. She follows the specific guidelines and directions to a "t" and thrives under the rubric of the "Meeting Culture." This guy "designs" his Microsoft Word worksheets and wants to be the "go to" in meetings. The Recognition based employee enjoys structure and rarely challenges authority instead seeking approval rather than independence.
Pay for play, brother. This employee is more than typical. He is only interested in the loftier, "mission statement" type goals of the company in respect to his paycheck. The benefit is that this job is NOT a definer of who she is, but merely a way to make enough cash to pursue whatever dream she focuses on after work. This person is decidedly not tethered to one company or one method of working as the reward he seeks is translatable to any job, any company.
My best guess is that for many the answer changes over time. It hasn't for me - I've pretty much always answered "Autonomy." I'm less interested in Recognition and I rarely do something solely for Compensation. I do believe there is no one best answer and that the answer does put one on a specific track in life (assuming you see life as including a series of jobs you will hold and move on from). If you prefer Autonomy over the other two, you will seek out jobs that require a bit less oversight and lots of open potential for creative thinking. If you choose Recognition, you're going to most likely gravitate toward jobs that are highly structured and provide a maximum capacity for success within the rules. Compensation will lead you into sales or the stock market.
What's your answer and what does that mean for you?