When a hiring manager asks, “What motivates you?” during an interview, how do you respond?
This question might throw off a lot of candidates because it can easily be misinterpreted, especially if you haven’t thought about it beforehand.
Here are some prime examples to help you answer this tricky interview question:
Table of Contents
- Think about your past experiences and look at what was your driving factor for success
- When answering this question, candidates may want to tell a story about yourself
- Structure your response by starting with the drives that motivate you from within yourself
- Whenever possible, weave in a brief description of your job-relevant goals and your orientation towards achieving these goals
- Finish your response by describing the external factors that drive you
- Always respond truthfully and confidently
- Your response should be relevant to the job and include examples of your job-relevant success in other work environments
- The best answer to this question is one that is authentic to you and reveals more about your values and character
- Reflect upon times in your past where you have been motivated before
- Think about the life you want to have
- See what jumps out to you that really makes you want to move to action
- Think of the things you could be grateful for
- Both for your own well-being and to better engage others, talk about the meaning behind the work you do
- Your answer should be determining factor to how effective you are at going after anything you want in life
- To get to the truth of what motivates you, look for something that makes you tick.
- Expect this question
- Allow your answer to reflect who you are as a person; to express what is most important to you
- Use a real-life answer and look to strike up a rapport
- Frequently Asked Questions
Gina Curtis, SHRM-CP, aPHR
Executive Recruiting Manager, JMJ Phillip Group | Executive Trainer, Employment BOOST
It is important to answer this question with a genuine response. Hiring managers want to get to know you and make sure that what motivates you also aligns with their goals.
Think about your past experiences and look at what was your driving factor for success
Always supplement the question with a supporting statement, in the end, to back up your answer. A sample answer can be:
“I am driven by customer satisfaction and love seeing my clients happy with the end result. Throughout the sales process, I make sure to keep my customer at the top of mind and put in the extra effort to build rapport with them.
I know I have done a great job when they are satisfied with their services and they will return to us in the future. Their satisfaction will help grow my personal sales along with revenue for the overall organization.”
Director of Operations, MyCorporation
When an interviewer asks a candidate ‘What motivates you?’ during a job interview, they are trying to discover what you are passionate about and what excites you.
Once they have an understanding of what you love, they are able to learn more about how you’re working to reach your dreams and be successful. This provides insight into your work ethic and attitude towards those around you.
When answering this question, candidates may want to tell a story about yourself
By telling a story, you’re able to convey even more of your enthusiasm for the position with the interviewer and give them insight into who you are.
That story may be about how previous roles within their industry have allowed them to make significant strides forward and make them an ideal hire for the role.
Associate Instructor, Maryville University of Saint Louis
To respond to an interview question about your motives, you first need to develop a comprehensive understanding of how motivation works and what actually motivates you.
Motivation is the psychological force that directs our efforts toward goals and creates the persistence needed to overcome obstacles. Each of us is motivated by a unique combination of internal and external factors. Yet, some of us are not fully aware of all the various things that drive us.
Knowing what motivates you and what you want from the job before you walk into the interview helps you craft a unique and honest answer.
Structure your response by starting with the drives that motivate you from within yourself
For instance, are you driven by a desire to achieve standards of excellence or by a need to establish close professional relationships with your colleagues? Are you motivated by a need to control when and how your work is done or by a desire to contribute to the company in a meaningful way?
Your goal here is to persuade the interviewer that you can self-motivate even in the absence of motivators in the work environment.
Whenever possible, weave in a brief description of your job-relevant goals and your orientation towards achieving these goals
For instance, when working toward a specific goal, do you typically focus on learning something through self-development, or do you usually focus on performing well and exceeding expectations?
If you approach goals from both a learning and a performance orientation, explain how using specific examples from your work experience.
Finish your response by describing the external factors that drive you
Extrinsic motives include things like monetary rewards, a supervisor’s expectations, tangible results, and social recognition. Because most employers assume money motivates, stick with examples of other types of external drives.
For example, are you motivated when your boss sets high-performance expectations or when your work has a direct and visible impact on the organization?
Although most of us should avoid talking about money, it may be extremely important to some people (and the businesses to which they apply). If you insist on discussing money as a motivator, be prepared to answer follow-up questions and recognize that some employers cannot meet your expectations.
Always respond truthfully and confidently
Don’t lie or distort the truth in any way as you may end up in a job that doesn’t suit you. After all, you know yourself better than anyone, and you should be able to articulate in a few sentences what motivates you to do your best work.
Your response should be relevant to the job and include examples of your job-relevant success in other work environments
When you respond to an interview question like this one, you are doing more than simply describing your motives; you are also explaining how your motivational tendencies make you a good fit for the job.
Founder & CEO, Mavens & Moguls
I started a global marketing and branding firm 18 years ago and have done a lot of interviewing in my career.
The best answer to this question is one that is authentic to you and reveals more about your values and character
One of the best answers I heard was something along these lines…
I come from a family of hard workers and am internally motivated but when I find an organization like yours that is mission-driven and resonates so strongly with the core values I just know I want to be part of it and it will be hard for me not to be constantly thinking of ways I can contribute.
How can you not be interested to hear more from someone like that? Share some ideas to validate that passion and show strengths and creativity, then it comes down to a cultural fit and good chemistry as to whether to hire them.
Personal Development Coach | Founder, Limitless | Author, Deconstructing Motivation: How to Effortlessly Motivate Yourself to Do Anything in Life
Each and every person is unique. But we all have similar qualities about what moves us to do things in life. We move away from pain and we move towards what we desire.
Reflect upon times in your past where you have been motivated before
When asked “What motivates you?”, the best answer is to really dig down deep inside and find an answer that is honest. What specifically motivated you in those instances? Are you still motivated by those same things? Or are you motivated by something new?
I have friends who have motivated themselves to build million-dollar businesses who are motivated to prove to everyone that they are good enough. It was this painful force within them that got them up every morning to one day show everybody else that they were wrong.
I have other friends who are passionate social activists who have a specific vision they are trying to build. They are fueled by compassion in their hearts.
So whatever it is for you, reflect on past experiences, the pain you are moving away from, and the positive desires you want to move towards.
Once you tap into what this is, you can use this motivation to accomplish anything and it’s a powerful thing. Once you share what this is with others, you will have people around you who can support you with maintaining this motivation for your work and personal goals in life.
If I was coaching someone to answer this question, I would give them the following tips:
Think about the life you want to have
The relationship, the car, kids, the type of conversation you want to have with those friends, where you will live everything.
See what jumps out to you that really makes you want to move to action
It could be at the point to help children in troubled parts of the world even. It does not matter just as long as you can clearly get excited about doing it.
Think of the things you could be grateful for
Finally, after that is all done I would have them think and ask themselves this question if you go through life and never go after these things will you have regrets for not even trying.
If the answer is yes, they would then at the moment we have figured out how they would answer the question and also be ready to move to action.
Chief Happiness Officer, Happy Brain Science
Both for your own well-being and to better engage others, talk about the meaning behind the work you do
As Simon Sinek put it in his TEDx talk, “Start with Why.” Why do you do the work you do? How does it benefit others?
If you talk about money as a motivator, you will turn most people–including yourself–off! Research is clear that you can’t buy engagement.
Much more engaging to yourself and others is the purpose behind your work. A good answer might be along the lines of:
What motivates me is helping _<the people or cause you help>_ by <work you do>.
For example, my answer would be “What motivates me is helping people thrive at work by teaching them to apply the latest science of human well-being. I love making a positive difference.”
Cassandra D. Freeman
Award-Winning Speaker, Thoughtful Inspirations
Your answer should be determining factor to how effective you are at going after anything you want in life
You won’t always feel motivated, so it will take some discovery to find out your personal motivational components.
You have to know why you are working so hard. You have to know what makes you think to yourself; I have to do this, I can do this. You answer what motivates you by also reflecting on past action.
What has made you want to get up and get moving? What gets you excited and pumped? What has pushed you in the direction of your future?
Your motivation is your "I've got to go energy, I have got to do something."
What is that thing for you? Some activities that motivate me are running, music, motivational audio, helpful friends, powerful transformation stories, and self-talk. It’s about choosing the activity that is going to give you the drive to move forward.
It’s important to note that your motivations may change through the different seasons in your life. So those things that used to motivate you, may not motivate you or may need to be modified to fit your existing life. New motivations will come up often.
The key to recognizing them is to pay attention to your state of mind. When was the last time you felt motivated and what caused it? You have to be self-aware.
So when you are asked about what motivates you, consider these 3 things:
- What gets you excited and moving? (Example, for most people exercise, is a huge motivator because it gets you moving and pumped up.)
- Why do you do what I do? What are you going after in your future and why are you going after it? Your why is a huge motivator.
- What puts you in an ‘I can do it’ mindset?
Your motivation is your push power. It prepares your mind for the task at hand by drawing you closer to it with minimal resistance. Your answer to what motivates you means to name the driving forces that push you towards your future and your best self.
Author, The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation
Getting and staying motivated can feel daunting, especially when you have a million great ideas floating around and you want to do everything. At that point, overwhelm can take control and you lose that motivation you so desperately wanted!
To get to the truth of what motivates you, look for something that makes you tick.
Helping others is a noble cause, but how does it make you feel? Being environmentally friendly is great, but how does it make you feel?
Here are some basic ideas of motivation statements that can help answer the question, “What motivates you?”:
- Feeling proud of my work motivates me.
- I am motivated because I feel important and I can see that my work makes a difference.
- The feeling I get when someone thanks me for my work is motivation to do more of the work every day.
- I’m motivated because when I do my work every day, I feel successful and confident.
I use the term “work” to mean any pursuit you undertake, whether it’s the job that pays the bills, your creative pursuits, or how you show up to interact with others.
Owner, The Queen Maker
Sometimes when asked, what our motivation is or what our “why” is, we freeze up a little; not a big deal, if it is just a family member or friend. But what if we are asked this question, in an interview or by a potential client? How do you describe why you get up every day and do what you do?
Expect this question
When we prepare for a question, then we will avoid that moment of freezing up. Secondly, ask yourself a few questions, that will help you answer succinctly.
For example, When I first wake up in the morning, what thought is the one that gets me out of bed? When I am not feeling well, what thought drives me to get up, and work through a cold? Is it your clients? Your responsibility? The fact you are building a future for your children? What pushes you, when your motivation is running on ’empty’?
Allow your answer to reflect who you are as a person; to express what is most important to you
Be honest. This question, of what is your ‘why’, is a very simple question, but reveals a lot about you, as an entrepreneur. There is no wrong answer. So explore your ‘why’ and really let your personality shine through.
Community Lead, Daddilife
Use a real-life answer and look to strike up a rapport
All too often questions are answered with a meaningless spiel. Take something from your life (in my case it’s my family) and use it to explain why it’s important that you are the best you that you can be.
An answer along these lines will be relatable and can establish a rapport but will also show a number of other key things – you acknowledge you have areas to develop, you’re not worried about competing with others but you just want to improve yourself and it gives a meaningful reason why you’ll work hard.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Meant by the Question “What Motivates You?” in a Job Interview?
When an interviewer asks what motivates you in a job interview, they want to know what inspires and drives you. This question can help the interviewer understand your values, goals, and work style. It allows them to learn about your passions and interests and how these shape your career choice.
Motivation is the fuel that keeps us going through our daily lives, both personal and professional. It drives us to pursue our dreams and helps us achieve our goals. Motivation can come from various sources- a desire for success or recognition at work or a passion for helping others or making a difference in society.
Can I Use a Quote or Statement to Answer This Question?
When it comes to job interviews, a quote or statement can be a great way to answer the question, “What motivates you?“. Not only does it add some personality and originality to your answer, but it also shows that you’re familiar with the company culture.
For example, suppose you’re applying for a job where hard work and determination are important. In that case, you could use a quote from a successful entrepreneur: “Success is not something that happens overnight – it’s the result of dedication and perseverance.“
It’s important to keep in mind that the quote or statement should reflect your motivation and aligns with the company’s values. Suppose you have an inspiring story about overcoming obstacles or achieving success. In that case, that can be a powerful way to communicate your commitment.
If you have personal qualities or strengths that helped you achieve your goals – such as creativity or problem-solving skills – you can highlight these to show your potential as an employee.
Using quotes and statements to answer this question can give potential employers a deeper insight into who you are and what drives you. They’ll better understand why they should hire you by connecting what they value most to what motivates you professionally.
This type of answer can help make your interview unique and highlight your personal qualities and professional ambition.
Can I Use Humor to Answer the Interview Question, “What Motivates You?“?
While humor can be great for putting the interviewer at ease and showcasing your personality, it should always be used sparingly and appropriately. Here are some tips for using humor in an interview:
Use humor that is relevant to the job or the company: Jokes that are too off-topic may distract from the seriousness of the question.
Make sure it won’t come across as offensive: Know your audience and avoid jokes that might offend someone.
Be aware of timing: Use humor sparingly and only when there is a pause in the conversation or when it feels natural and organic.
Keep the focus on yourself: Make sure your joke still relates to your motivations.
Find a balance between professionalism and lightheartedness: Make sure you don’t come across as unprofessional if you overdo it with humor.
Overall, humor in an interview can help break the ice and demonstrate your passion for the job. However, it’s important to strike a balance between professionalism and lightheartedness to give an appropriate but memorable answer. If you do it right, it can even set you apart from other applicants!
Can I Ask the Interviewer What Motivates Them During the Job Interview?
Asking your interviewer during the interview what motivates them can show your interest in the company culture and give you insight into your potential boss’s personality.
This question should be reserved for later during the interview when you have had a chance to outline your qualifications and motivation for the job. When you ask this question, you must come across as human and friendly while showing that you’re interested in and knowledgeable about the position.
To make sure you get the most out of this question, consider doing the following:
• Think carefully about how you phrase your question so that it comes across as genuine and sincere
• Be prepared to explain why you asked the question, for example, because you want to understand what drives your potential employer
• Be prepared to follow up with questions that explore their answers further
• Be open to any new information they reveal, as it may provide valuable insight into how they think and work
Make a note of their answers – even if they don’t contribute to your motivation at this stage, they may be helpful at later stages of the application process or even when working for the company later.
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