There are a lot of variations of this interview question… What motivates you? What drives you to come to work each day? What makes you get out of bed each morning and come to work?
I’ve gone on interviews myself and been asked this. I’ve also asked it to candidates while working as a recruiter. So I’m going to walk you through exactly how to explain what motivates you when you’re asking in an interview, and the trap and mistakes to avoid.
Let’s get started…
First, why do they ask about motivation in your interview? There are a few reasons:
They want to get a sense of your personality and who you are as a person.
But more importantly, they want to see your resiliency, determination, etc. How you’ll handle challenges and setbacks (a tough project, or being asked to do something that isn’t quite on your job description, or having to work late, fill in for another team member, etc.)
And how you’ll handle it if the job is harder than you expected to learn and get started in. They definitely do not want to hire someone who will quit and waste their time.
So here are some guidelines when answering questions about what motivates you.
You need to show them that you’re not just coming to work for the paycheck. Because that’ll put doubt in their mind about how you’ll respond when things get tough.
It doesn’t have to be some heartfelt story about how you grandmother had an illness and you dedicated your life to finding a cure, etc.
You can say you’re motivated by solving complex technical challenges (if you’re a software engineer, etc.)
You can say you love collaborating and accomplishing big things as a part of a team, and that’s what drives you to do your best each day (only say this if the job involves teamwork).
You can say you enjoy meaningful work… creating products that change people’s lives. But only say this if the company you’re interviewing with actually has products that change lives. If they’re selling payroll software, don’t say this.
Everything you say in the interview needs to be tailored to the company. You need to think about the job they’re offering and make sure your answers fit in with that, or they won’t hire you.
You can also talk about personal interests that tie in with the job. Maybe you’re a huge fan of playing guitar but didn’t become a professional. So you’re interviewing for jobs as a music producer. Or as a guitar designer. Or a guitar teacher, etc.
Another example of this: Maybe you were an athlete in high school and college, and this is what you’re passionate about. This is a great explanation for why you’re interviewing at any job related to athletics and what motivates you each day. This could be for a job as a personal trainer, coach, physical therapist, scout, or any other sports-related job.
Let’s talk about what NOT to do now.
Don’t just talk about money. Everyone comes to the work for a paycheck. The interviewer knows. If they’re asking you “what motivates you?” in an interview, they want to know what ELSE besides money.
If you seem too money-focused in your interviews, it’s probably the reason you cant find a job. The only exception is jobs that pay commission, like sales.
If you’re getting a paycheck every 2 weeks, or 10 business days, there are 9 other days where you need to find other motivation. That’s what they care about.
Also don’t feel like you need to make up some ridiculous story. Tell the truth. It can be a simple, straight-forward story. Be honest because it’ll come across as much more convincing even if the reason itself is rather “plain” and not outstanding on its own.
Let’s look at a full example now of what a good answer to this question might look like…
Interviewer: “What motivates you to come to work each day?”
You: “I like challenging myself and advancing on a personal level. That’s what attracted me to Sales to begin with. It’s personally challenging, it forced me to develop new skills that I never would have attempted on my own – like cold calling somebody or starting a conversation with a complete stranger. It’s changed my confidence level and my entire life, not just my career, and this continues to keep me motivated and get me through tough days, or days where things don’t go my way.”
Remember, never mention money in your answer here! If you don’t know why, you skimmed this article and missed the most important point.
And remember one of your big goals is to show them that you’ll work hard and “stick with it”, instead of quitting if things get tough. That’s the whole point of them asking the “What motivates you?” interview question.
That’s why I ended the example answer the way I did. You should try to do the same.
And as a final note… If you have job interviews coming up and don’t want to leave anything to chance, I’ve created a new guide where you can copy my exact step-by-step method for getting job offers, with perfect answers to all of the top questions you’ll face. You can get more details here.