How to answer the interview question “what motivates you”

How to answer the interview question "what motivates you"

How to answer the interview question "what motivates you"

Of all the questions that can come up in an interview, “what motivates you” may be one of the most distinct. Unlike the questions you are used to, which ask about your skills, experience, and strengths and weaknesses, this question is about what drives you.

Interviewers ask this question in an interview to learn more about why you are motivated to pursue specific goals. They will use this information to evaluate whether the factors that motivate you are in line with the work environment.

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How to answer the interview question "what motivates you"

In this guide, we’re going to discuss how to answer “what motivates you” and walk you through a few example answers to help understand what employers expect in a response.

Why Am I Asked This Question?

Hiring managers often ask job candidates about their motivation to find out if they will thrive in the type of environment the business will provide.

For instance, if you are motivated by ambitious goals, and the company likes to set ambitious goals, it is a good sign that you will work well on a team. But if you are motivated by deadline-focused environments, and you are applying for a job that requires creative thinking, you may not be able to work as well.

In addition, this question helps a hiring manager evaluate your self-awareness. If you know what motivates you, it is a good sign that you know about what you want out of a job. People who are self-aware are more likely to be intrinsically motivated, which makes them more effective and productive workers.

How to Answer “What Motivates You?”

The best way to answer this question is to practice how you are going to respond before your interview begins. Come up with a few talking points that you want to highlight so that when it comes time for the real interview, you’ll be able to stay on track.

If you are unsure of what motivates you, think about the times when you were highly productive in your last job. What was it that made you so effective?

Suppose you are a web developer who worked well on a speed optimization project. You may realize that you were able to work well on this project because you had a direct impact on the experience people had when using a website. As a result, you may want to tell an employer that you are motivated by “doing work that has a clear impact on others.”

Another way to figure out what motivates you is to consider the reasons behind why you applied for the job in the first place. Did some element of the company’s culture stand out to you? Do you think you have some unique insights that you can share to help the business achieve its goals?

Suppose you read over a job description for a social media management position. You decided to apply for the position because you are interested in creating high-quality social content, and wanted to expand your skills. In this case, you may want to say in your interview that you are motivated by the prospect of personal growth, or by creating meaningful and vibrant social content.

With that said, this question is not asking you about your motivations for applying for a job. If an employer wants to learn more about why you applied for a job, they will ask you directly. When you are asked about your motivation, an employer wants to know what you enjoy doing, and how that drives you to do your best work.

To help you figure out what motivates you, here are a few experiences that are commonly seen as motivating:

  • Meeting deadlines
  • Learning new skills
  • Using creative thinking skills to make something new
  • Solving difficult problems
  • Leading a project from start to finish
  • Mentoring other members of a team

Example Answers to “What Motivates You?”

Sometimes, the best way to figure out how you are going to respond to a question is to see how other people have phrased their responses. Here are a few examples of responses to this common interview question. You can reference them to gain a better understanding of what an employer is looking for:

“I am motivated by working on technical challenges. As a full-stack web developer, I enjoy being given specifications for features to add or problems to solve and figuring out the best and most effective course of action. In my last job, I was able to complete a sprint for an important new feature two days ahead of schedule because I felt motivated to solve the technical challenges associated with implementing the feature.”

“I am motivated by writing high quality content that can help other people. In my last job as a content marketer, I took great pride in assuring the quality of every article that I wrote. This was because I knew that the quality of my work would have an impact on someone else’s life, even if they only wanted an answer to a simple question. Knowing that my words can help other people solve their problems is why I became a writer.”

“I am motivated by helping other people. I have worked as a retail assistant for four years and I have found no feeling to be more gratifying than the one I get when I help a customer. I love speaking with customers, getting to know their needs, then using my knowledge to help them find a solution to their problems. I also love hearing ‘thank you’ after I have helped someone overcome a challenge.”

Conclusion

“What motivates you?” is a more open-ended question than some of the others that could be asked in a job interview. It’s also more personal than many other interview questions. However, you should not let that deter you from preparing for this question.

When an interviewer asks you about what motivates you, they really want to know whether they can provide a work environment that best supports your needs.

By reflecting on your motivation upfront, practicing an answer, and following the advice in this guide, you should have no trouble telling an employer what motivates you and drives you to do your best work.

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.

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How to answer the interview question "what motivates you"

Typical interview questions are designed to determine an applicant’s suitability for the specific employment duties and work environment in a company. The questions usually address the applicant’s characteristics, experience and goals, while simultaneously gauging his interest in and understanding of the employer’s objectives. Adequate preparation for a job interview involves anticipating possible interview questions and reflecting on the answers in advance.

One of the most typical interview questions requires the applicant to describe himself and may be phrased in the form of a statement: “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” The intent is to gain insight into the candidate’s personality, character, experience, goals and professionalism. This is the candidate’s opportunity to describe his academic and work achievements and goals, as well as explain how his interests align with the job opportunity.

Another common interview question is in reference to what the applicant sees himself doing five or ten years down the line. Employers who are looking to hire, train and retain employees for the long-term will ask this question to make sure the job fits the candidate’s vision for his future. If an applicant’s interest in the position is temporary and he sees the position as a stepping stone to another career, an honest answer will help both the applicant and the employer in determining whether the job is a good fit.

One of the harder to answer typical interview questions has to do with why the applicant wants to work for the company or organization. An effective answer to this question requires research about the employer and the specific job. To properly prepare for this question, an applicant must have a clear understanding of the employer’s product or service. An impressive answer to this question usually demonstrates the applicant’s knowledge of and appreciation for the employer’s objectives as well as an explanation of how the applicant’s unique experiences and skills will help the company advance its goals.

Among typical interview questions, the one most often asked is related to the applicant’s employment history. How long an applicant has worked for prior employers, the description of responsibilities, the experience of working with others and how the applicant handled work-related conflict are all questions that may be asked in an interview. Interviewers ask these questions to gauge an applicant’s employment experience, work ethic, communication skills, sense of responsibility and ability to work harmoniously with others.

Typical interview questions also involve discussions of salary. An applicant may be asked to indicate a desired salary range. In other situations, the salary has already been decided, in which case the interviewer may state how much the position pays and ask if the amount being offered fits the applicant’s salary needs.

Similar interview questions:
What makes you tick?
What encourages you to do your best work?
What inspires you?
What influences you to be your best?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
The interviewer is asking for your self-assessment of what motivates you. Note that most people are not able to correctly self-assess on motivations. So the intent is to find out what you at least think motivates you. However, there are often new insights learned about the candidate by asking this question.

The best approach to answering this question:
Do not talk about money. Focus on doing interesting work (which is actually the #1 motivator for most professionals), recognition, tools to do your work and/or the opportunity for future advancement. If they ask “What about money?” as a follow-up question, you can simply acknowledge that money is important, but if you are interesting work, you know that the money will follow.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
“I’m motivated by several things in my work. Doing meaningful work, recognition and having the tools to be successful are the most important motivators for me. For example, on one of my recent projects, we had the opportunity to develop leading edge systems for our company. It meant a lot to me to be selected to lead the team and we all worked well together, since we knew the importance of our work and the impact to our company. Our boss also knew that we needed additional tools to complete the project successfully. Those tools were provided and the project was delivered successfully. This project also led to recognition at both the team and department level. And that project was also noted as one of the reasons for my promotion to my current role…”

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
“The type of work I will be doing is the most important motivator for me. I want to be doing meaningful work that makes a difference for our company and our customers. As an example, I selected my last internship employer over two other offers because they provided the opportunity to do real work that was going to have an actual impact, rather than just a test project to assess my skills. My internship project also gave me the opportunity to work with several very experienced professionals as we worked to deliver the solution. In the end, the project was delivered successfully and noted by my manager as being one of the best internship projects at the company that year…”

An example of how you should not answer this question:
“Money is what motivates me. I measure everything in terms of money. Money is the real measure of how I’m doing. If I’m doing well, I know I will be paid more. And if you want to motivate me to do more, pay me more. Yep, money is what does it for me.”

Further review: know the answers to these 100 Common Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

During a job interview, employers may ask a mix of straightforward and open-ended questions. Usually, open-ended questions are used to better understand your personality, work style and self-awareness. “What motivates you?” is a popular open-ended question that you should be ready to answer.

Because you are probably motivated by several things, take time to consider which motivators are most relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare your response.

Why interviewers ask the “what motivates you?” interview question

There are two main reasons hiring managers ask this question.

They want to know whether your sources of motivation align with the role

The best candidate for a job will be someone naturally energized by the responsibilities and experiences associated with the position. For example, if you’re interviewing to be a news reporter and you share that deadline-focused, fast-paced work motivates you, the interviewer can draw clear parallels between the job and your ideal work environment.

They want to determine whether you are self-aware enough to know what drives you.

Much like asking about your greatest strengths and weaknesses, interviewers ask what motivates you as a way to learn how well you know yourself. A candidate who can quickly provide a well-crafted, natural explanation of what keeps them motivated on the job is someone who is likely also a self-starter and knows how to stay on track.

Other ways an interviewer may ask this question include:

  • “What drives you to do your best?”
  • “What inspires you?”
  • “What are you passionate about?”

“What makes you excited to come to work?”

How to prepare for this interview question

Like any job interview question, the best way to make sure you leave a positive impression is to develop your talking points ahead of time. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you formulate your response.

What did a great day at work look like in previous roles?

Take a moment to reflect on your professional history and what you considered fulfilling about each job. Try to identify any trends. For example, you may realise your favourite memories from each of your previous positions involved reaching a difficult goal or solving a complex problem. In this case, you can say you’re motivated by being pushed out of your comfort zone or having the opportunity to overcome a challenge.

If you’re new to the professional world, consider what motivated you to do your best in internships, volunteer positions or classes.

What made you choose your profession or field?

Think about the reasons you were drawn to your line of work aside from compensation. Maybe you enjoy having the ability to assist others or putting your creative skills to use. A teacher, for example, may draw motivation from helping students learn something new and witnessing them excel.

Note: Compensation may be a strong motivator for you but it may not always be a motivator you want to share in an interview.

What prompted you to apply for the role when you read the job description?

Review the job description and determine which job responsibilities persuaded you to apply. For example, if you liked the prospect of working at a start-up to build a new software application, you might say you’re motivated by the opportunity to create something innovative or see the tangible results from your efforts.

The best way to answer “What motivates you?” (with examples)

When answering this question, be sure to be as specific as possible, provide real-life examples and tie your answer back to the job role. Here are a few examples of well-crafted responses:

“As a marketer, I’ve always been motivated by creative projects, teamwork and being able to draw a connection between my efforts and the organisation’s bottom line. One of the things I loved about my last job was witnessing the results of our team’s campaigns and watching as the leads we nurtured became customers. Having the opportunity to lead campaigns from ideation through launch was one of the reasons I was so excited to apply for this role.”

“The gratification of overcoming an obstacle is my greatest motivator. Math has never been my best subject but I opted to take calculus in college even though it wasn’t required for my major because I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. The course wasn’t easy and I spent many nights studying late but I passed with an A. The feeling of accomplishment that comes with exceeding challenging goals is what drew me to a career in sales.”

“I’m motivated by the fact that when I leave work at the end of a shift, I know I’ve helped make a difference in the lives of my patients and their families. Seeing the smiles on their faces and watching them improve makes me look forward to work. That’s why I became a nurse and why I’m pursuing a position in paediatrics.

Essentially, “what motivates you?” is another way of assessing whether you’re passionate and excited about the position and how you ensure you’re always doing good work. By identifying and expanding on your motivations, you can leave the interviewer with a positive impression and clearer expectation of how you’ll be as an employee.

What They Want To Know

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than this interview question. When a hiring manager asks, “what motivates you?” they genuinely want to know what gets you up in the morning and excited for the day. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should blurt out the first thing that comes to mind!

You do not need to delve into all of the personal and existential reasons you are motivated each day. Instead, focus on what excites you about your job. What will you look forward to most in this position you’re interviewing for? When the chips are down, and things are tough, how will you be motivated to pull out of it and succeed?

Example Answer For “What Motivates You?”

“As a Project Manager, I love to see everything come together in a successful project. I am so passionate about finalizing all the details of a project, checking off every “to-do” on the list. In fact, my family frequently refers to me as the “Project Manager of our Home” because I carry the same principles into my personal life! No task can be left undelegated; no part of the plan is left undone. For me, there is nothing that compares to the satisfaction of spearheading a successful project. So, when times are challenging, I just remember to keep that end goal in sight.”

Final Comments

This answer is perfect because it goes beyond the surface. The candidate not only explained what motivates them but also painted a complete picture for the interviewer. Finally, it cements their status as a great candidate for the interview because it shows that the candidate’s goals will be aligned with the company’s goals.

Need Help Answering More Common Interview Questions?

Don’t worry; at JSG, we have an arsenal of interview prep advice to help you nail your upcoming job interview. Good luck!

During a job interview, employers may ask a mix of straightforward and open-ended questions. Usually, open-ended questions are used to better understand your personality, work style and self-awareness. “What motivates you?” is a popular open-ended question that you should be ready to answer.

Because you are probably motivated by several things, take time to consider which motivators are most relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you prepare your response.

Why interviewers ask the “what motivates you?” interview question

There are two main reasons hiring managers ask this question:

They want to know whether your sources of motivation align with the role.
The best candidate for a job will be someone naturally energised by the responsibilities and experiences associated with the position. For example, if you’re interviewing to be a news reporter and you share that deadline-focused, fast-paced work motivates you, the interviewer can draw clear parallels between the job and your ideal work environment.

They want to determine whether you are self-aware enough to know what drives you.
Much like asking about your greatest strengths and weaknesses, interviewers ask what motivates you as a way to learn how well you know yourself. A candidate who can quickly provide a well-crafted, natural explanation of what keeps them motivated on the job is someone who is likely also a self-starter and knows how to stay on track.

Other ways an interviewer may ask this question include:

  • “What drives you to do your best?”
  • “What inspires you?”
  • “What are you passionate about?”

“What makes you excited to come to work?”

How to prepare for this interview question

Like any job interview question, the best way to make sure you leave a positive impression is to develop your talking points ahead of time. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you formulate your response:

What did a great day at work look like in previous roles?
Take a moment to reflect on your professional history and what you considered fulfilling about each job. Try to identify any trends. For example, you may realise your favourite memories from each of your previous positions involved reaching a difficult goal or solving a complex problem. In this case, you can say you’re motivated by being pushed out of your comfort zone or having the opportunity to overcome a challenge.

If you’re new to the professional world, consider what motivated you to do your best in internships, volunteer positions or classes.

What made you choose your profession or field?
Think about the reasons you were drawn to your line of work, aside from compensation. Maybe you enjoy having the ability to assist others or putting your creative skills to use. A teacher, for example, may draw motivation from helping students learn something new and witnessing them excel.

Note: Compensation may be a strong motivator for you but it may not always be a motivator you want to share in an interview.

What prompted you to apply for the role when you read the job description?
Review the job description and determine which job responsibilities persuaded you to apply. For example, if you liked the prospect of working at a startup to build a new software application, you might say you’re motivated by the opportunity to create something innovative or see the tangible results from your efforts.

The best way to answer “What Motivates You?” (with examples)

When answering this question, be sure to be as specific as possible, provide real-life examples and tie your answer back to the role. Here are a few examples of well-crafted responses:

“As a marketer, I’ve always been motivated by creative projects, teamwork and being able to draw a connection between my efforts and the organisation’s bottom line. One of the things I loved about my last job was witnessing the results of our team’s campaigns and watching as the leads we nurtured became customers. Having the opportunity to lead campaigns from ideation through launch was one of the reasons I was so excited to apply for this role.”

“The gratification of overcoming an obstacle is my greatest motivator. Mathematics has never been my best subject, but I opted to take calculus in university, even though it wasn’t required for my major because I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. The course wasn’t easy, and I spent many nights studying late, but I passed with flying colours, achieving a High Distinction. The feeling of accomplishment that comes with exceeding challenging goals is what drew me to a career in sales.”

“I’m motivated by the fact that, when I leave work at the end of a shift, I know I’ve helped make a difference in the lives of my patients and their families. Seeing the smiles on their faces and watching them improve makes me look forward to work. That’s why I became a nurse, and why I’m pursuing a position in pediatrics.”

Essentially, “what motivates you?” is another way of assessing whether you’re passionate and excited about the position and how you ensure you’re always doing good work. By identifying and expanding on your motivations, you can leave the interviewer with a positive impression and clearer expectation of how you’ll be as an employee.

Similar interview questions:
What makes you tick?
What encourages you to do your best work?
What inspires you?
What influences you to be your best?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
The interviewer is asking for your self-assessment of what motivates you. Note that most people are not able to correctly self-assess on motivations. So the intent is to find out what you at least think motivates you. However, there are often new insights learned about the candidate by asking this question.

The best approach to answering this question:
Do not talk about money. Focus on doing interesting work (which is actually the #1 motivator for most professionals), recognition, tools to do your work and/or the opportunity for future advancement. If they ask “What about money?” as a follow-up question, you can simply acknowledge that money is important, but if you are interesting work, you know that the money will follow.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
“I’m motivated by several things in my work. Doing meaningful work, recognition and having the tools to be successful are the most important motivators for me. For example, on one of my recent projects, we had the opportunity to develop leading edge systems for our company. It meant a lot to me to be selected to lead the team and we all worked well together, since we knew the importance of our work and the impact to our company. Our boss also knew that we needed additional tools to complete the project successfully. Those tools were provided and the project was delivered successfully. This project also led to recognition at both the team and department level. And that project was also noted as one of the reasons for my promotion to my current role…”

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
“The type of work I will be doing is the most important motivator for me. I want to be doing meaningful work that makes a difference for our company and our customers. As an example, I selected my last internship employer over two other offers because they provided the opportunity to do real work that was going to have an actual impact, rather than just a test project to assess my skills. My internship project also gave me the opportunity to work with several very experienced professionals as we worked to deliver the solution. In the end, the project was delivered successfully and noted by my manager as being one of the best internship projects at the company that year…”

An example of how you should not answer this question:
“Money is what motivates me. I measure everything in terms of money. Money is the real measure of how I’m doing. If I’m doing well, I know I will be paid more. And if you want to motivate me to do more, pay me more. Yep, money is what does it for me.”

Further review: know the answers to these 100 Common Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

What They Want To Know

It doesn’t get much more straightforward than this interview question. When a hiring manager asks, “what motivates you?” they genuinely want to know what gets you up in the morning and excited for the day. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you should blurt out the first thing that comes to mind!

You do not need to delve into all of the personal and existential reasons you are motivated each day. Instead, focus on what excites you about your job. What will you look forward to most in this position you’re interviewing for? When the chips are down, and things are tough, how will you be motivated to pull out of it and succeed?

Example Answer For “What Motivates You?”

“As a Project Manager, I love to see everything come together in a successful project. I am so passionate about finalizing all the details of a project, checking off every “to-do” on the list. In fact, my family frequently refers to me as the “Project Manager of our Home” because I carry the same principles into my personal life! No task can be left undelegated; no part of the plan is left undone. For me, there is nothing that compares to the satisfaction of spearheading a successful project. So, when times are challenging, I just remember to keep that end goal in sight.”

Final Comments

This answer is perfect because it goes beyond the surface. The candidate not only explained what motivates them but also painted a complete picture for the interviewer. Finally, it cements their status as a great candidate for the interview because it shows that the candidate’s goals will be aligned with the company’s goals.

Need Help Answering More Common Interview Questions?

Don’t worry; at JSG, we have an arsenal of interview prep advice to help you nail your upcoming job interview. Good luck!

Money. Money motivates me.

It’s a classic interview question: What motivates you? It’s not the easiest to answer because, honestly, we work for money. Of course, some of us have intrinsic motivations for choosing our industries and career paths. Check out our tips for answering the question in an interview.

How to identify what motivates you

Sometimes it’s hard to really know what motivates you at work. It could be small moments of success or it may be the mission behind your industry. We encourage you to ask yourself a few questions that might help you get to the core of why you do what you do.

Why did you choose this industry?

The last time you had a really great day at work, why did you feel that way?

Even on your worst day at work, what’s the silver lining?

When you chose this industry, what did you think you would be doing?

What have been your favorite parts of previous jobs? What do those things have in common?

What do you get excited about?

In a perfect world, what job would you do? Why?

Use the answers to these questions to get a better idea of what motivates you. Is it the positive impact you’re able to make on your community? Do you enjoy adding beauty to the world? Are you driven by seeing the people around you succeed? Do you love seeing the physical product of your hard work? Do you love reaching goals and satisfying KPIs? What about making someone else’s day? Do you love being really good at your job? Are you all about personal achievement? Social justice?

Common answers to the question and how to word your response

There are a few pretty common reasons you might be motivated, particularly if you’re looking for a new job.

When you’re motivated to climb the ladder

Sometimes the reason you are in a job interview is because you are motivated by career advancement. Let’s translate “I want a promotion” into professional language:

I am motivated to move up in my career. I like responsibility and making an impact in a company.

When you’re motivated by money

Of course, honesty is the best policy, but professionalism is key. If you tell a potential employer know you’re motivated only by money, they may see you as a flight risk. There’s nothing wrong with demanding fair compensation, though, so try something like:

I am motivated by an employer who recognizes and rewards my talents. A company that treats employees well, pays them fairly and equally, and rewards hard work is the kind of company I get excited about.

When you’re motivated by quantitative goals

Hitting your goals just feels good. You get that little rush of adrenaline which keeps you coming back for more.

I love meeting and exceeding my goals. I love to see my hard work translated into numbers—it’s like a game I get to win every quarter.

Safe responses to: What motivates you?

There are some classic answers to this question. They’re safe bets, so while they might not make you stand out, these are generally employer-approved:

I want to make the world a better place.

I’m motivated to help people.

I really enjoy being a part of a team and having people depend on me.

I was just meant to be doing this kind of work.

I’ve known since I was a kid that this is what I wanted to do.

Perhaps one one of these answers really does describe what motivates you. If that’s the case, add color by sharing a story.

Share a story

It may be hard to sum up what motivates you in a single phrase or sentence, but you might be able to point to a moment in your life that inspired you to do what you do.

If you’re a teacher, it might have been a breakthrough moment with a student (maybe the student was you!); If you’re a police officer, it might have been a moment when you were able to keep a child safe; for a fashion designer, it might have been seeing people express themselves with their clothes; a software developer might cite a great moment of problem-solving.

Get prepared for all of your interview questions:16 Interview Questions & Your Guide to Crushing Them