Knowing how to explain what motivates you tells an interviewer that you not only can do the job—you’ll enjoy it, too
A recruiter or hiring manager asks, “What motivates you?” It sounds like a simple-enough question and one that should be easy to answer, but this is another one of those open-ended questions that need a bit of preparation to answer effectively—and keep you in the running for the job.
While there might be many things that motivate you, your answer must be crafted in light of the specific position you’re after and the company hiring you to do it.
Why do Interviewers ask “What motivates you?”
This question is similar to asking, “What makes you unique?” It’s meant to discover whether or not you’re the right fit for the job and, more importantly, if you’ll fit within that company’s particular workplace culture and goals.
It provides insight into how and why you’re motivated to be a successful employee as well as what fulfills you in your job or career, which in turn offers some additional insight about your personality and approach to work. All of these things—plus your skills and experience—help the interviewer determine whether you’re the best person to hire.
“What drives you?” and other ways this question is asked
Some interviewers won’t ask this specific question. You need to recognize it when it’s asked in different ways so you can still provide the answers they are after. Instead of “What motivates you?” you might hear:
What inspires you?
What drives you to meet challenges?
What excites you about your job (or about working in general)?
What drives you to be successful?
What makes you want to get up every day for work?
How to prepare an answer to “What motivates you?”
As with all interview preparation, begin by researching the company in detail. The more you know about the company (and the position), the more you can tailor your answer to match the company’s needs. Try to discover the employer’s mission statement and values, as that can be critical in framing your answers.
In most cases, the hiring manager is asking this in the context of your work life, not your personal life. Also, don’t start off with the obvious answer of “a good salary” or “excellent benefits.” It’s a given that these things are generally part of everyone’s motivation for taking a job, and for the right candidate, these discussions come later in the hiring process.
Here are some potential motivations to focus on as you develop your answer.
Taking on/overcoming challenges
Developing new skills
Working with others
Having little (or more frequent) direct supervision
Being on or leading a team
Creating new processes or improving existing ones
Learning new things
Being innovative or creative
Having challenging goals and deadlines
Once you’ve gotten started, pull in these other aspects:
Consider your strengths. Generally, what motivates someone is also what they’re good at so your answer can highlight skills as well as motivation.
Utilize the past. Think back to one of your best days at work. Why was it such a good day? What were you doing? Who were you working with? What made you the happiest?
Use actual examples. Sharing a specific example from your current job or previous positions means backing up your motivations with the skills that will also make you successful in the job. This often makes a recruiter sit up and take notice.
Keep it short-ish. Be sure your answer isn’t too long or rambling. Keep it as short as possible while still getting across what motivates you the most.
Stay positive. Don’t frame your answers using negative examples about you or about others. Share the things you enjoy doing and show how they’ve helped you to be an excellent employee in all of your jobs.
Be honest. Hopefully, you’re applying for a position that you really do feel is a good fit for your skills and abilities as well as what drives you to be successful. That said, it’s important to be truly honest about your motivation for a job, or it’s quite possible you won’t have the job for long once your employer discovers you’re not the best-qualified overall.
For example, being motivated by leading a team and consistently interacting with others is not the same as being fulfilled by working mostly on your own crunching numbers or researching data. Neither is good or bad. It’s a question of which one is best for that particular job.
Use the STAR method. Describe your motivation examples around Situations, Tasks, Actions, and Results. The benefit of this method is that it can show how your motivation ultimately benefited your past company or could benefit a future one. What’s more, you end up telling a story rather than just rattling off an answer which makes you interesting and in turn makes the interviewer interested in you.
Practice. Share your answer with a family member or friend and get their feedback. Practicing will help you answer confidently and concisely.
If you’re interviewing for your first full-time job, talk about what motivated you while working in an internship or volunteer role. The outcome should be the same: to convey what is meaningful to you in a job and help the company see that you’ll be a motivated employee who’s a good fit for their role.
Sample answers to “What motivates you?”
As you develop your answers, consider the things that attracted you to your current career or specific job. Think about why this kind of work feels right for you and how you’ve become even more talented over time.
Hopefully, you’ll discover more about why you’re after any specific position and, in turn, be able to clearly communicate that to the hiring manager or recruiter.
Here are some examples to get you started:
“Learning new skills really motivates me. It’s so satisfying to see myself improve as I gain more knowledge about a job or market sector. In my last job, I consistently signed up for training or courses that would grow my skill set, paying for some out of my own pocket. I really believe that ongoing learning makes you more innovative and valuable in the workplace.”
“I’ve been coding since middle school when I was first exposed to it. My mom is a software developer and helped me whenever I needed it. Coding has been “it” for me ever since, and I’ve become an expert in Java and C++. I think about coding from the minute I wake up until I go to sleep. Solving problems with coding is what challenges me, motivates me, and drives me to be successful.”
“I’m addicted to planning! Being organized at work and at home drives me to make sure I have enough time to achieve my goals and give my best in all I do. It ensures that I don’t overtask myself so I can focus on doing quality work and not get burned out by working consistently long hours on any one project. Good time management helps me maintain consistently excellent standards.”
“Providing outstanding customer service is what drives me. I worked as a mobile sales associate for a local credit union. The days were hectic with solving customer issues and answering questions. I worked hard to understand their queries and explain the how and why of our processes and operations. It really motivated me and upped my confidence whenever customers gave me a great review and a high rating.”
“I was a team lead in my last position, managing a team of 10. Our task was to improve outcomes, so the team had to work efficiently and deliver consistently accurate results. I made it my goal to streamline the team’s processes and be more productive with less “busy work.” Working with a team and completing tasks accurately and ahead of schedule was and is what drives me every day. I want to help any company I’m with to always meet their bottom line.”
“I’ve been responsible for directing software development teams and implementing repeatable processes for a variety of companies. My teams achieved 100% on-time product delivery for six straight months. The challenge of finishing the projects ahead of schedule and successfully managing teams to reach our goals is the kind of thing that’s always motivated me.”
“I’m definitely motivated by results. I’m always excited when I have a tangible goal to meet and enough time to develop a sound strategy to accomplish it. In my current job, we have very aggressive quarterly and yearly goals. I was tasked to work with my manager and my team to create a month-by-month strategy to meet our quarter-end and year-end numbers. Accomplishing that was a great thrill and made me want to be even more result-oriented.”
“I love numbers. Analyzing data and providing results really drives and motivates me. I love getting my hands on a spreadsheet to figure out what’s driving the numbers and share my conclusions. In my current position, I generate our monthly sales analytics reports. Being able to provide this essential information is really motivating because the data from these reports helps the company determine its sales goals for the upcoming months and clarifies how the organization will move forward, and I know I’ve made a big contribution to that.”
Knowing what motivates you means you can clearly and confidently convey to an interviewer that you not only have the skills to do the job but that you also will fit well with the company’s culture and values.
As long as you have done your research and preparation, you’ll conquer your fear of this particular interview question and be ready to promote yourself as the best candidate to hire.
Your motivators are simply what you love to do, and as the saying goes: “Find something you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.”