How To Answer “What Motivates You?”

There are lots of difficult questions you may have to answer during a job interview. However, sometimes, it’s the questions that sound easy that are actually the most complicated.

The answer to the “what motivates you” question can tell your employer a lot about you and your potential future in their company. This is why we suggest you consider your answer in advance.

(Another thing you may want to look into before the interview is your outfit — get some great ideas in our post on What are the best outfits for an interview?).

How To Answer “What Motivates You?”

Why do interviewers ask “What motivates you?”

While this question may sound rather abstract, the hiring manager who is asking you this may want to know very specific information. Your answer will tell them what drives and inspires you and will be able to determine whether your aspirations are a good fit for the company.

An honest answer to this question can give your potential employer an insight into your personality, work ethics, career ambitions and more. This will let them better understand what position or department you are best suited for and whether the company culture matches your personal values.

From the employer’s perspective, hiring a more motivated candidate means the new employee will be able to work independently, fit in with co-workers, enjoy professional challenges — and more.

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How to answer “What motivates you?”

Even though answering this question doesn’t require any exact professional knowledge, it may still be very difficult to answer — especially on the spot. This is why it’s a good idea to be prepared and invest some time into thinking about how to answer this question. This may also be a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and, as a result, make better decisions for your career.

To prepare to answer the question about your professional motivations, consider the following:

  • What type of work do you enjoy doing the most?
  • How do you feel at the end of your workday? What affects this feeling?
  • What skills are you excited about mastering?
  • Are you a people person or do you prefer to work independently?
  • What past professional accomplishments do you value the most?
  • What future accomplishments would you be most proud of?
  • What do you see as your ultimate career goal?
  • And more

You can then go on to do further research on the company you are applying to. If you find a lot of “matches” between what you are looking for professionally and the position you have applied for, highlight these matches in your answer. If you do want to get this job, focus on what you and the employing company have in common and how working together can help you achieve common goals.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

As we’ve mentioned above, there is no one-size-fits-all way to answer this question. It depends on who you are, the company you want to work for, your career goals — and a lot more. However, there a few best practices to follow that we are happy to share:

  1. Focus on the job. While this is a rather abstract question, try to keep your answer very concrete and focused on the job. Think about the skills that are most needed for the job and how they correlate with your expertise and personal qualities. Then, go on to highlight these matches in your answer.
  2. Talk about company values. Try to learn as much as you can about the company culture. This will be helpful framing your answer and finding common ground between your values and the values of the company you are applying to.
  3. Be specific. When talking about what motivates you, rather than being general, give specific examples. You can talk about your previous work projects and highlight what you enjoyed working on the most. Elaborate on how you achieved project goals and what kept you motivated throughout the process.
  4. Be yourself. While it’s definitely a good idea to think about what you are to say and plan your answer, it’s even more important to answer honestly. If you try too hard to please your potential employer and match your answer to their expectations, you might come across as insincere. Moreover, it won’t allow the hiring manager to match you with the right department or team and you may end up working on projects that you are not at all interested in.

Things you shouldn’t say

There are also things that are best to avoid when answering the “what motivates you” question. Here are a few examples:

  • Don’t focus too much on your person. Yes, “what motivates you?” is a very personal question. This is why it is easy to lose track and go too much into your personal aspirations that are not particularly related to the job you are applying for. Make sure you incorporate what the job has to offer into your answer and how it aligns with your professional goals.
  • Don’t make your answer too abstract. Try to make your answer as clear and specific as possible. If your answer is too general, there is a high chance the interviewer simply won’t remember it and won’t be able to draw parallels between what you are looking for and what the company may be able to offer you.
  • Stay on the bright side. When answering the question, make sure you are focusing on what motivates you instead of what doesn’t. While it’s perfectly okay to mention a few things that you prefer to avoid, it’s best not to make your whole answer about work that you don’t like. Instead, give examples of things that make you excited about work, projects that inspire you and professional challenges that make you feel accomplished.

What motivates you: examples of answers

Below, find a few sample answers to the “what motivates you” question that you can use as a base for creating your own personalized response.

I am motivated by challenges. The more difficult the project, the more inspired I am to give it my all and add to the list of my accomplishments. What drives me is professional growth and working with people who can help me get better at what I do. This is why I am really excited about this opportunity as I am familiar with your advertising work and feel that I can add value to your future projects.

I love working with data. I know this may not be the most exciting thing in the world for most people, but to me numbers answer a lot of interesting questions. In my previous position I spent a lot of time analyzing sales spreadsheets and the data I’ve collected has helped my company adjust their marketing strategy and arrive at a higher profit. So, to me, the key to success is all in the numbers.

I am a people person and working with people is what ultimately motivates me. I think this is why I’ve chosen to work in customer service even though I had the option of going in a different direction. I am motivated by solving problems that people have and being able to offer them help and clarity about how to best handle a certain situation. Having someone say a genuine “thank you” to me at the end of the call is what really makes my day.

As you can see from the examples above, each answer is generally focused on one or more things that drive this person at work. They then go on to elaborate on why these things inspire them, how this is related to the job they are applying for, what they see as their ultimate professional achievement and so on.

Here are some more examples of focal points you can use when answering the question:

I am motivated by:

  • mastering new skills
  • being a good leader
  • providing a service to my clients
  • overcoming challenges
  • solving problems
  • teaching others
  • improving operation processes
  • getting clear results — and more

Answers to more specific questions

In addition to the common “what motivates you” interview question, the hiring manager may also ask follow-up questions and choose to go with a more specific variation of the question above. Let’s take a lot at some examples of these:

What motivated you to apply for this position?

The answer to this question should focus more on the job and the company you are applying to work for rather than yourself. Include some information you know about your employer (for instance, you may be familiar with some of their projects or clients) or the job (for instance, how some of the responsibilities mentioned in the job description are a match for what you love the most about your profession).

What motivates you to work hard?

When answering this question, you may want to focus on specific work circumstances that you see as a welcome challenge. These can be deadlines, sales results, customer feedback, professional awards or even remuneration. Be honest about what you see as the best professional reward at the end of your work day.

What demotivates you?

This question also calls for some consideration. Think about what discourages you from showing up for work and what things you prefer to avoid in the workplace. You can also give examples from your previous jobs and talk about situations that made you feel uninspired. This could be too much micromanagement from your supervisor, tense relations with co-workers, lack of professional challenges and more.

Get more ideas on what you can be asked during a job interview here — The 10 Most Common Job Interview Questions.

Summing things up

Preparing for a job interview and considering some of your answers ahead of time is a great way to avoid stress and discomfort during the interview. It can also help you feel more confident and, as a result, make a better impression and increase your chances of getting the job. To avoid uncomfortable silence in a job interview, check out our article on Job Interview Questions to Ask Your Potential Employer.

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