10+ Best Answers to "What Motivates You?" in an Interview
When interviewers ask the interview “what motivates you” in an interview, it’s an opportunity for the interviewer and interviewee to connect on passions that motivate the job candidate to do great work and achieve a set goal. Great managers want to learn where passion resides for an employee. And during a job interview, this question can start to uncover what those motivating factors are.
Each person has their own motivators. These motivators create employee engagement in the workplace and present career growth opportunities, internal success within the workplace, and more. Job candidates should consider what their motivating factors are in the workplace but ensure those factors aren’t entirely selfish. For example, the need to feel accomplished with your team is a motivating factor. This is intrinsic motivation and internal motivation that is one of the factors a candidate can share.
Tip: Generic answers to common interview questions like these are common. For example, an interviewer saying, "I feel like I'm a good fit for this job because of X, Y, Z. Additionally, this is my dream job." As a job seeker, if truly stuck on generating an answer for this interview question, consult a career expert who can help to structure a professional response.
When a job seeker is asked this interview question, they should consider presenting one to three bullet points on what these motivating factors are to the employer. It can be useful to present the motivating factor and then explain to the hiring manager how there is an equal exchange of value between the potential employer and the candidate.
Consider the work environment (or company culture), the job's needs, and any previous job as a job seeker. Use previous work scenarios to describe the reasoning behind the answer better. At times, some of these things may be an external reward, as well. For example, the ability to come home to your spouse and share a great achievement was made at work. While this is a motivator in a different way, it is still something employers value as they want you to be proud of your work.
Candidates should understand there is no “perfect answer” to this tricky interview question. It is one that presents some contemplation on life and inner motivations. The key is to present a specific example of motivators that align with both the candidate and the employer—a mutual exchange of value. While not as good of an answer as describing true motivators, a candidate can express how learning a new skill, be presented with a new type of challenge, or “learning new things” is an opportunity to exchange value. Or to state that the impact the products and services have on people’s lives is a motivator. Only present these answers if they are true.
Managers may want to have a different approach to the answer since managers' motivation may be about learning another employee’s inner desire for change or progress. Or learning how to motivate or change an attitude toward work. Managers may need to evaluate what makes a great answer for their particular type of management style.
Tip: Intrinsic motivation refers to the psychological behavior of being driven by internal rewards versus an external reward. It can help us understand the difference as a job seeker to develop a good answer and reasoning to the interview question.
Why This Interview Question
The purpose of this interview question is to measure passion and interest in the job. For employers, replacing employees who are not passionate about their work is costly.
Anja Zojceska goes on to explain this problematic issue for employers, “A high employee turnover rate is an expensive problem. When employees leave, a company has to replace them with new hires. Replacing employees costs a lot of money. According to The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) research, direct replacement costs can reach as high as 50%-60% of an employee’s annual salary, with total costs associated with turnover ranging from 90% to 200% of annual salary.”
For hiring managers and interviewers, how a candidate answers this question provides insight into what they value, how they value it, and whether the "job" is interesting to them.
Tips for Answering This Common Interview Question
1. Don't let money into the picture. Even if money is truly a top motivator, be sure that the answer is not all about money or the paycheck. If it is, the interviewer may question the company's loyalty if a better offer comes along or the job gets tough.
2. Personal reasons are okay. Don’t be afraid to offer a personal reason for what motivates you as a job seeker. Use good judgment with the examples and tie it to a professional goal. Making your children, spouse, or mentor proud of your hard work is an acceptable answer. Making your high school classmates jealous of your success— probably not.
3. Don't tell lies. Don’t lie or make up an answer on the spot based on what the interviewer wants to hear. They will see through it immediately, and candidates will leave them with the impression that they're disingenuous.
4. Be specific. Whenever possible, connect an answer to a measurable result or outcome from a previous role.
5. Be prepared. Never answer with “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.” Interview preparation is key. Candidates should always assume that they will be asked an open-ended question like “what motivates you?” and should have a good response practiced and ready to deliver.
6. Answer with excitement. Whatever answer is provided, be enthusiastic. Candidates want to convey that they're ready for a new challenge and already brimming with motivation to take it on.
10 Example Answers To “What Motivates You?”
Below are example answers that a job seeker can use to structure and generate their own. Take each sample answer below and customize it using motivators and reasons for wanting to do great work.
Example shows work ethic
Answer: On a personal level, I am motivated to show the value of a good work ethic to my children. No matter how difficult the project, I want them to see that it is important to show up with enthusiasm every day, ready to give your best. That translates nicely into what motivates me as an employee. I am driven by the sense of accomplishment that comes from knowing you’ve given your best to your team each day.
Example shows collaboration
Answer: I thrive on completing tasks and projects ahead of schedule, and I love learning new things and collaborating with a team to work toward a common goal. Through the years, I’ve learned that there is more than one correct way to complete most tasks, and I am highly motivated to brainstorm ideas before a project begins to find the most efficient path to completion that will offer the best outcome for the business. For example, in my last role, my team delivered 100% of our new product launches ahead of schedule and under budget because we made it a point to brainstorm our delivery plan in advance.
Example shows reaching sales goals
Answer: My primary motivation is to maintain integrity throughout the sales process. From the first phone call, I make it a priority to truly understand the customer’s needs and help solve a problem. By staying motivated to solve problems instead of just making sales, I was promoted to Vice President of Sales in my region after just six months. In that role, I had even greater motivation to encourage my team to look at every sale through the lens of customer experience.
Example shows using data to drive results
Answer: I believe that data should drive decisions. Because of that, I love to dig into spreadsheets and reports to get to the information that will make the biggest impact on business outcomes. There is nothing more motivating than knowing that I have the potential to save the company money and help me teammates work more effectively by fueling every decision with the right data.
Example shows managing projects
Answer: I am motivated by the challenge of keeping cross-departmental teams and stakeholders on track to complete a project ahead of schedule and under budget. In my current project management role, I have achieved a record of on-time delivery for 100% of the projects I’ve managed. Seeing the excitement and sense of accomplishment from all members of a project team motivates me to find more efficient ways to complete tasks to keep the team on track.
Example shows driving results
Answer: I am motivated by creating a strategy to reach a goal. It’s a great feeling to design a path to achieve specific results and watch the plan come together each step of the way. Knowing that I was a key part of a strategy that impacts the success of the company as a whole is what motivates me to think outside the box.
Example earning trust
Answer: My biggest motivation comes from my interaction with customers. When I make a promise to customers, I keep it. Because of that commitment, I maintained a customer retention rate of 100% in my last role. Earning and keeping customer loyalty is of the utmost importance to me.
Example shows building a team
Answer: I am driven to build world-class teams. I am motivated by the desire to find the right fit between the company and the individual. As a result, my team holds the lowest attrition rate of all teams within my current company.
Example shows leadership
Answer: I believe that the best leaders are also the hardest workers. I am motivated to show my team that leadership is more than just a pedestal for delegating tasks. It’s an opportunity to work alongside each member of the team to accomplish a unified goal. This has added to my overall work experience.
Example shows career growth
Answer: I am motivated to earn the trust of my management team so that I can grow my career and add increasing value to the organization. I appreciate recognition for a job well done, but I also know that it must be earned, and I am highly motivated to do so.
As you practice your own interview answers, keep these possible angles in mind to help frame the best question to highlight your unique strengths.
Other Area's of Motivation to Use
Mentoring or coaching a team— Do you have experience in helping others reach their professional goals?
Learning a new skill— Incorporate any continuing education courses or certifications you’ve taken the initiative to complete.
Meeting deadlines— Do you have a reputation for staying on track with project deadlines? Time management skills are a valuable asset.
Achieving targets or goals— Do you consistently meet or exceed the goals you are given? Include specific examples.
Analyzing data— Do you have a gift for digging into reports and spreadsheets?
Working as part of a team— Have you been part of a team that has earned recognition for completing a project or contributing to the success of an organization?
Ensuring the quality of a product or project— Quality management is an essential part of any product or service. Call attention to your eye for detail.
Solving a challenge that seems impossible— What audacious goals have you met in the past? How did it impact the business? Give specific examples of your proudest accomplishments.
Brainstorming new ideas to reach a goal— Are you a creative problem solver? Share details of how you helped save money, increase productivity or exceed a target.
Example Poor Answer
Below is a sample poor answer to this interview question:
"I know this job is in the software industry, but I have to say one of my motivators in life is my collection of baseball cards at home. I'd say that I'm always pursuing a greater path in my career to collect more baseball cards. I go home every evening, polish them, look at them, appreciate them. It's a motivator for me. What money can buy me and how it can help me pursue my true passions in life."
Common Interview Answer Mistakes
Common mistakes from job seekers when answering this interview question.
Using personal motivators
Personal motivations should never be used when answering this interview question. For example, "I'm motivated by the idea that I get to go home every evening and play video games, which is where my true passion lies." This is a bad interview question because it doesn't show passion for the job; it shows passion for what the job can provide.
Jared Brox describes, "passionate employees are engaged employees. They believe in the work they do and that they have a vested interest in the success of their company." As Jared alludes, passion is precisely the reason why this interview question is prompted to candidates.
Not showing interest in learning
A great answer to this question is one that alludes to learning or education. Being exposed to new areas of the business, being able to make mistakes, and advancing. If the interview question lacks passion for learning, the interview might think to themselves, "This employee doesn't want to grow."
Not showing interest in others
We have to work with others. Collaboration and teamwork is a motivator. Or at least it should be an underlying motivator of some kind. For example, doing "great work" is a wonderful motivator. But what should be brought up to the hiring manager is "how it feels to the team" when "great work" is accomplished. This includes others and makes sure the candidate has a passion for teamwork, collaboration, and humility.
Our favorite resources are included below.
Job interview resources
- Common Interview Questions by Marquette University
- Prepare for Behavioral Interview Questions by Marquette University
- Preparing for Job Interviews by the University of Kansas
- Mock Interview Handbook by CSUCI
- Interview Guidebook by Lebanon Valley College
Resume and cover letter resources
- Writing a Resume and Cover Letter by USC
- Resume Writing Tips by the University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Resume and Cover Letter Guide by Harvard University
Job search resources
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