Answering interview questions like, “What motivates you?” or “What motivates you at work?” can be tricky because they are so open-ended.
Coming up, I’m going to walk you through the most important do’s and don’ts.
Then, we’ll look at multiple sample answers so you can give the best response possible.
There are a few reasons that employers will ask what motivates you.
For one, they want to get a sense of your personality and who you are.
But more importantly, they want to see how you’ll react to obstacles at work, and whether you’ll stay determined and motivated.
So when the interviewer asks you this question, they want to see that you will stay motivated and handle challenges on the job.
They want to know that you’ll respond positively if you’re asked to do something that isn’t quite in your job description, or if you have to work late or fill in for another team member, etc.
And they want to know how you’ll respond if the job is harder than you expected after being hired. They do not want to hire someone who will quit.
So when you answer what motivates you, aim to show the hiring manager that you’re driven and care about your work.
Here are some further guidelines and examples for answering questions about what motivates you.
When employers ask interview questions about what motivates you to work, you need to show them that you’re not just coming to work for the paycheck.
Your answer doesn’t have to be some heartfelt story about how your grandmother had an illness and you dedicated your life to finding a cure.
But do some self-reflection and come up with a clear, good answer for what drives you at work each day aside from the money.
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.
You can say you enjoy work that has a meaningful impact, such as creating products that improve people’s lives.
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.
Those are all fair game, and good, creative ideas for how to respond.
Let’s talk about what NOT to do now.
Don’t just talk about money. Everyone comes to work for a paycheck. The interviewer knows. If they’re asking you “what motivates you?” in an interview, they want to hear something besides money.
If you seem only money-focused in your interviews, it can cost you job offers. The only exception is when interviewing for jobs that pay commission, like sales jobs.
If you’re getting a paycheck every 10 working days, there are 9 other days when something else will need to keep you motivated. That’s what they care about.
Also, don’t feel like you need to make up some impressive story. Tell the truth. It can be a simple, straightforward answer. I’ll share more on this coming up soon.
Being dishonest is not a good idea with this interview question.
Now let’s look at some word-for-word answer examples for “what motivates you?”…
Interviewer: “What motivates you to come to work each day?”
“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, go back and re-read the article. It’s one of the most important points mentioned.
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 why “What motivates you?” is such a common interview question.
If you look at the answer example above, you’ll see the end of the answer is focused on showing them that I’ll stick with the work when it gets tough. You should try to do the same.
One more example answer…
Interviewer: “What motivates you?”
“I’ve watched multiple family members suffer through addiction, so after graduating with my degree in Psychology, I knew I wanted to work in addiction research and treatment. The impact this research can have is huge, and that keeps me motivated. Also, the field is always evolving and providing new challenges to keep me growing professionally. I love the work, and it’s what I want to continue doing throughout my career.”
Those two example answers above got a bit personal. The first one mentions confidence and personal development goals, and the second one talks about addiction and family members.
“I’ve always liked math and computers. I don’t have a personal reason, it’s just what I’m excited about doing. I can’t imagine doing something else with my career.”
So don’t feel pressure to lie or make up some personal reason when you answer “what motivates you?”
As a recruiter, I’ve spoken with a lot of GREAT job candidates who were simply motivated by one of the following:
Here’s one more sample answer for how to respond to this interview question without using any personal reasons:
“I’ve always found that I do my best work in a creative environment where I’m able to think openly, and I’ve found that working in graphic design allows me to use my creativity, which keeps me motivated and energized. At this point, I can’t imagine working in another field, and I don’t find it very difficult to come to work motivated each day, since this is what I want to be doing.”
The best answers to this question will make you sound highly motivated and clear on what drives you and motivates you at work.
Of course, not every job/industry is going to have you jumping up and down with excitement, and it’s understandable if you stretch the truth a bit in the interview.
However, I strongly recommend you give an answer that’s as true as you can.
Why give a completely honest answer?
For one, your response may prompt follow-up questions. Imagine the interviewer asks, “What motivates you in your career?” and you say that you’re passionate about helping others.
They may say, “That’s great, and is one of our core values here. How did you feel your previous roles helped others?”
See how this can lead to a chain of questions or a conversation around the topic?
This doesn’t mean it’s a trick interview question, but the hiring manager does want to get to know you, and may dive deeper into this topic after your initial response.
So before your interview, pause and do some self-reflection, and write down a list of what truly does motivate you.
To give the perfect answer in your interview, it also helps to be familiar with the company culture, work environment, and job description.
Think about the work they’re offering and make sure your answers fit that to some extent.
Good answers for one company won’t necessarily be great for another. For example, some companies have a competitive, sales-driven culture. It’d be beneficial here to talk about your competitive nature and your constant drive to improve.
In a more calm and collaborative environment, they may see this as too aggressive, and may worry about your ability to mesh with the existing team.
If you follow the tips above you’ll be able to give a great answer when employers ask questions like, “what motivates you?”, “what motivates you to come to work each day?” etc.
Your answer to this question can be the difference between getting a job offer and getting rejected after the interview… so as a last step, remember to practice and get comfortable with the answer you’re going to give.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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