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Interview Question: "What Motivates You?" (With Examples)

March 30, 2020

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During a job interview, employers will likely ask both straightforward and open-ended questions. Usually, open-ended questions are used to better understand your personality, work style and qualifications and identify whether you would be a good fit for the role, team and culture. “What motivates you?” is a popular open-ended question that you should be ready to answer.

Because you are likely motivated by several things, take time to consider which motivators are most relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. In this article, we'll outline several ideas to keep in mind to help you prepare your response.

Related: What to Wear: The Best Job Interview Attire

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Why interviewers ask the motivation interview question

There are two main reasons hiring managers ask this question:

1. Employers want to know whether your sources of motivation align with the role.
The best candidate for a job will be naturally energized by the responsibilities and experiences associated with the position. For example, if you’re interviewing to be a news reporter and you share a deadline-focused, fast-paced motivation, the interviewer can draw clear parallels between the job and your ideal work environment.

2. Employers want to determine whether you are self-aware enough to know what drives you.
Much like asking about your greatest strengths and weaknesses, interviewers ask what motivates you as a way to learn how well you know yourself. A candidate who can quickly provide a well-crafted, natural explanation of what keeps them motivated on the job is someone who is likely also a self-starter and knows how to stay on track.

Other ways an interviewer may ask this question include:

  • What drives you to do your best?
  • What inspires you?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What makes you excited to come to work?

Related: List of Weaknesses: 10 Things to Say in an Interview

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How to prepare for this interview question

Like any job interview question, the best way to make sure you leave a positive impression is to develop your talking points ahead of time. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you formulate your response:

  • What did a great day at work look like in previous roles?
    Take a moment to reflect on your professional history and what you considered fulfilling about each job. Try to identify any trends. For example, you may realize your favorite memories from each of your previous positions involved reaching a difficult goal or solving a complex problem. In this case, you can say you’re motivated by being pushed out of your comfort zone or having the opportunity to overcome a challenge. If you’re new to the professional world, consider what motivated you to do your best in internships, volunteer positions or classes.

  • What made you choose your profession or field?
    Think about the reasons you were drawn to your line of work, aside from compensation. Maybe you enjoy having the ability to assist others or putting your creative skills to use. A teacher, for example, may draw motivation from helping students learn something new and witnessing them excel. Compensation may be a strong motivator for you but it may not always be a motivator you want to share in an interview.

  • What prompted you to apply for the role when you read the job description?
    Review the job description and determine which job responsibilities persuaded you to apply. For example, if you liked the prospect of working at a startup to build a new software application, you might say you’re motivated by the opportunity to create something innovative or see the tangible results from your efforts.

Related: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before a Job Interview

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The best way to answer “What Motivates You?” (with examples)

When answering this question, be sure to be as specific as possible, provide real-life examples and tie your answer back to the job role. Here are a few examples of well-crafted responses:

“As a marketer, I’ve always been motivated by creative projects, teamwork and being able to draw a connection between my efforts and the organization’s bottom line. One of the things I loved about my last job was witnessing the results of our team’s campaigns and watching as the leads we nurtured became customers. Having the opportunity to lead campaigns from ideation through launch was one of the reasons I was so excited to apply for this role.”

“The gratification of overcoming an obstacle is my greatest motivator. Math has never been my best subject, but I opted to take calculus in college, even though it wasn’t required for my major because I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. The course wasn’t easy, and I spent many nights studying late, but I passed with an A. The feeling of accomplishment that comes with exceeding challenging goals is what drew me to a career in sales.”

“I’m motivated by the fact that, when I leave work at the end of a shift, I know I’ve helped make a difference in the lives of my patients and their families. Seeing the smiles on their faces and watching them improve makes me look forward to work. That’s why I became a nurse, and why I’m pursuing a position in pediatrics.

Essentially, the motivation question is another way of assessing whether you’re passionate and excited about the position and how you ensure you’re always doing good work. By identifying and expanding on your motivations, you can leave the interviewer with a positive impression and clearer expectation of how you’ll be as an employee.

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