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Interview question: "What motivates you?" (with examples)

December 17, 2020

Motivation is essential for good performance. That is why, during a job interview, most employers try to determine whether the candidate has the right level of motivation to be a productive employee. In order to determine this, it's common for employers to ask the question "What motivates you?" to candidates during a job interview. It is critical that you understand the importance of this question and prepare your answer accordingly as this can play a crucial role in the overall outcome of the interview.

In this article, we explain why employers want to know what motivates you, provide some tips to prepare for the question ahead of your interview and share how to answer "what motivates you?" with examples.

Related: Why Quality Over Quantity Matters in Your Job Applications

Why interviewers want to know what motivates you

Employers ask candidates what motivates them for two main reasons:

They want to ensure your sources of motivation match the role

Hiring managers and recruiters want to understand your sources of motivation, and they want to discover if your motivators are aligned with the role you're applying for. This helps them determine your long-term potential within the company. For example, if you want to be a police officer and serve your community, you could consider providing examples of your efforts to serve and explain how you desire a position where you get the opportunity to do more.

Many employers provide initial training to new employees, and by understanding what motivates you, employers will know you will derive benefit from this training and will prove to be a long-term asset for their organization.

Related: 17 Interview Tips to Help You Get the Job

Interviewers want to determine if you have the self-awareness to understand what drives you

Employers also like to know what motivates you because they want to know if you're a self-starter and somebody who has drive. A candidate who can provide a professional and logical response to what keeps them motivated on the job shows an ability to focus, stay on track and be productive. Most companies work to offer a unique value proposition to its customers and clients that they can't get from another business, so it's important that they have employees who can take initiative, come up with innovative ideas and help their organization stand out from the competition.

The question "What motivates you?" may not always be phrased the same way. Some interviewers may ask you other similar questions that require the same type of answer. These questions could be:

  • What inspires you?
  • What excites you about your job?
  • What drives you to achieve and do your best?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What makes you get up every morning to go to work?

Tips to prepare you to answer "What motivates you?"

How you answer "what motivates you?" can help an employer envision you in the role. Here are six ways you can prepare for the question:

  • Consider your most relevant motivators for the job. Identify your largest motivators and your overarching goals. No matter what position you're applying for, these will help you form your response.
  • Review the job description and become familiar with the position. Having a familiarity with the position you're applying for will help you understand what the hiring manager is looking for so you can be sure to highlight your motivators that are most connected to the position.
  • Identify the common values you share with the company. Take the time to review the company's website and social media profiles to get a true sense of what the company values. They may have their values listed, share their mission statement or tell a story about how and why the company's founders created the business. See what resonates most with you and use that to inspire you in your answer.
  • Keep in mind what interviewers are looking for. Employers have something in mind when they ask you this question. While your answer should be unique based on your experience, it should also follow a general formula so that you provide the employer the information they need.
  • Practice. Practice answering this question before the interview so that you can come up with an honest answer. Ask a friend or family member to critique your response.
  • Convey your relevant qualifications. Understand the role you're interviewing for and discuss specific motivators and qualifications that make you suitable for the job, without going into unnecessary skills or interests.

Related: 19 Common Interview Questions and Answers

How to answer "What motivates you?"

There are some important questions you can ask yourself when answering, "What motivates you?" Follow these steps to help formulate your response:

1. Determine why you chose to apply for this role

Ask yourself why you applied for this role. When you reflect, you may discover it was the company, the particular position, the job responsibilities or another factor. Think about what attracts you most to the position and why you think it would be good for you.

Employers want to understand why you feel you're a great fit. For example, if you have applied for a news reporter position, you can say that you are motivated by the opportunity to convey the truth to the public or talk about issues that matter. If you're applying for a role as a creative director, you can convey how creativity and innovation drive you. Once you have the answer to this question, identifying your motivators will become easy.

2. Explain why you chose this profession

Think about the reasons that initially attracted you to your career path. This will help you understand why you want this particular position, and you will be able to convey that to the interviewers. Explore why this type of work is important to you and how you've grown in your skills and became more interested in the work over the years.

You should be able to communicate why you're passionate about this role and why you think you can contribute something unique if the employer hires you for this position. Research the company so you can link your choice of profession with the company's business operations and goals.

3. Outline what makes a day at work great for you

Employers want people in the office who will be a positive addition to their team. This question can help you communicate how you can be the positive force they need. Think about your previous roles and evaluate what motivated you to go to work every day. It may be the day you launched a new product, when you reached a sales target or the day your department set a company record.

If this is your first full-time job, you can also talk about your motivations while working an internship or any volunteer positions. The goal is to communicate what drives you and what makes the job fulfilling and meaningful. Through your answer, employers can determine whether you will be a motivated employee and whether their company is a good match for you.

Ways to answer, "what motivates you?" (with examples)

When you answer this question, you want to sound energetic and driven so that the interviewers can get an idea about your seriousness and motivation for the job. Try to be as specific as possible and include real-life examples when suitable. Interviewers are looking for genuine thoughts and answers that are practically applicable in the workplace, and they want to see the contribution you can make to the company. This is the perfect opportunity to make them understand why you think you can make a difference and what sets you apart from other candidates.

Here are a few examples of effective responses:

Example 1

"As a product manager, I'm motivated by the opportunity to create product campaigns that would maximize product visibility and get a positive response from the target consumers. I also want to be able to communicate how the product or service will benefit my clients. It excites me to create new campaigns and come up with promotional ideas that would make my product stand out from the competitors and become successful and would generate the desired sales for the company."

Example 2

"I like challenges, and I love the feeling of being able to surpass expectations. I like to push myself and test my limits. When I was asked to completely relaunch a run-down motel, I didn't think I would be able to do it, especially because I was given a very tight deadline. However, I was motivated to make it happen. My team and I managed to do it, and we did it well. The feeling of accomplishment that comes with these types of challenges can be very motivating because they drive you to continue to work hard realize success."

Example 3

"I'm a software engineer, and my primary motivation is to solve complex technical challenges. Applying new ideas and using new technological tools and strategies keeps my job exciting for me. The more complex the challenge, the more I feel that my mind stays alert and I am able to push myself to learn more about new technology and software. It is precisely why I chose this field—because technological advancements are very rapid, and I like the feeling of being able to learn something new every day."

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