Answering "What Motivates You?" in a Job Interview

a picture of business person and what motivates you

What motivates you? And what motivates you to want to succeed in this position? This interview question can throw off any job seeker. It's a type of open-ended question because it asks the interviewer to consider their passions and how the job their interviewing for aligns with those.

Why are you looking for a job?

when the interviewer decides to ask what motivates you

For money, of course!

Wrong. Money should not be the motivating factor in any job search. It's a necessity, yes. It's not the main reason why the interviewer is going to hire you.

Here's how to answer this interview question, "What motivates you?"

Why this question?

Ensuring that an employee has a strong passion for the job is one of the best ways that a hiring manager can get great results from their hires. When they ask, "What motivates you?" They are looking to learn more about you.

What the hiring manager or interviewer wants to know is why you're applying for the position.

And why certain parts of the job are appealing to you. This is where it's important to have a firm understanding of the job description and what the job could offer you.

A hiring manager can determine whether the interviewer is genuinely interested in the company or if they are simply on a hunt for a new job through the answer of this question.

For example, someone who has a brief, less detailed answer that doesn't align with the company mission or values can stick out very quickly.

Remember that hiring managers are consistently hearing about the CEO's objectives and visions for the company. They are going to be very familiar with the mission.

And when an interviewer doesn't come anywhere near those missions in terms of the alignment of their answer, it stands out.

Lastly, a manager asking interview questions like this one can get a general sense of your personality. And that can help to align you to the teams you might be part of. Or the job, in general.

To recap, here is what they want to know from this question:

  • Do your values align with the company?
  • Does your personal interests align with the job opportunity?
  • What's your personality like? And are you personable?

How to answer "What motivates you?"

Here's how to answer the interview question when the hiring manager asks, "What motivates you?"

1. Read the job description

The job description provides a wealth of information about the missions of the job itself. It defines what types of skills are necessary to succeed. And how the employee is going to interact with the rest of the company.

Inside the job description should be a healthy amount of information that can help you prepare.

For example, let's look at a sample duties list.

Administrative Assistant Job Duties and Responsibilities

  • Work closely with the executive staff to manage travel.
  • Assist with office operations.
  • Handle vendor relationships.
  • Provide assistance on office maintenance and the overall office environment.

Inside this description we can see a few key points.

As a job applicant, we can see that this job opportunity provides the ability to learn new skills. Working closely with the executive staff could be a new skill. Or managing the office environment.

Compare your past work experience with this detail in the job description. And then gather what you can do well and what might be new that you'll get exposed to.

2. Find the company mission

All companies are defined by their mission. It could be a mission to make a better customer experience for insurance. Or maybe to build technology for those in need.

The best way to find this mission is to go to the company "About us" page. And to read through recent news about the company.

Try to gather as much information as possible from the CEO's press releases.

This information is going to be useful in this interview. And if this question is asked during the phone interview, the information is going to be useful in the next interview you might have to go on, too.

Make sure to find something related to the company mission that resonates with you. Don't lie. Be honest.

3. Determine your pitch

Structuring an answer about your motivation from the job description and the company mission should be easy.

To do this, structure the answer as what you do well, what part of the company resonates with you, and what you'll be able to learn from the job.

Here is a very simple example of that.

What you do well:

I'm very motivated by having the opportunity to work closely with passionate teams who are interested in impacting young children's lives in a positive way.

The company mission:

That's why the company is very attractive to me and my career path.

What you can learn:

From the job description, it looks like I'll be exposed to the marketing efforts in a collaborative fashion. And I'll have the opportunity to be part of the overall growth of the children's department. Learning new things provides me a great sense of accomplishment and it's what motivates me.

The complete answer:

I'm very motivated by having the opportunity to work closely with passionate teams who are interested in impacting young children's lives in a positive way. That's why the company is very attractive to me and my career path. From the job description, it looks like I'll be exposed to the marketing efforts in a collaborative fashion. And I'll have the opportunity to be part of the overall growth of the children's department. Learning new things provides me a great sense of accomplishment and it's what motivates me.

4. Prepare your answer

The best piece of advice is to prepare for this common interview question. Have a plan. Practice the delivery a few times in advance of any interview.

An ideal answer should take less than 90-seconds to recite. Long answers don't sound as honest. And can indicate that you might lack required verbal communication skills.

Ask friends or family to hear your prepared response. Then, ask for their feedback. In addition, time yourself. Make sure the response is short, impactful, and targeted to the role.

What the best answers contain

The best answers contain motivation that are one or more of the following:

  • The ability to learn new things.
  • Having an opportunity to be exposed to a new team or department.
  • Getting a chance to work inside a particular industry.
  • Working inside of an industry where the employee has a strong passion.

Employers will appreciate when the job applicant says that one of these things can motivate them to do a great job in the workplace.

In general, employers see these as a positive addition or beneficial addition to the team.

when the interviewer decides to ask what motivates you

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.

Adding in achievements

If you have strong examples of achievements, it can be beneficial to focus on those. Or at least make them part of the pitch. Here is an example of an answer that contains an achievement.

I'm highly motivated by working closely with children. Last year I had the opportunity to impact more than 30,000 children's lives through the foundation I was part of. This role stuck out to me because it allows me to utilize my skills in child development while having a stronger opportunity to impact lives at a greater scale. This company has a potential reach for more than 1,000,000 children. I'm highly motivated by this. And it shows I could truly make a difference in the world by partnering with the teams here.

What to avoid when answering

Here's what to avoid when you answer this question.

Money motivates me

This one should be obvious. While it might sound like an honest answer. And is very "real." A paycheck is not going to make employers find you desirable.

Choose something that makes you sound appealing as a candidate.

Qualities and traits that show the employer you're going to achieve success.

when the interviewer decides to ask what motivates you

I work hard

Okay, great. Every other potential employee is willing to work hard, too. This is not a differentiating factor that interviewers want to hear.

They need to hear a response that shows you have a strong desire to work with the company. A deeper, slightly personal connection that is irreplaceable.

Lacking relevant experience

For job seekers who are changing industries or going back to work after a gap in their resume, this can be a challenging interview question.

Instead of focusing on relevant experience, focus on personal passions. And how those passions align with your career motivation.

Place a heavier emphasis on the company mission, in this case.

Example answers to the interview question, "What motivates you?"

Examples of answering this question in a job interview. Whenever reading sample answers, remember that they are simply guides to building an answer for yourself.

What's your motivation to work here?

Assuming working at a software business:

I'm highly motivated by working in the insurance business. I started my career working in insurance. And I noticed just how incredibly inefficient it was. When I transitioned into a software engineer during my college career, I knew I wanted to stay part of insurance in some capacity.

There weren't any opportunities for me when I left college. Instead, I decided to learn more about SCRUM and how software development environments work. This opportunity can provide me my dream, the chance to work inside insurance while utilizing my software engineering talents.

What motivates you in life?

Assuming working at a library:

Working with children is really important to me. When I started my career, I was a nanny. And then I became a family assistant. During that time, I had the chance to work with children with special needs. This was motivating to me because I always felt a strong ability to practice compassion.

This library prides itself on providing access to knowledge, books, media, and experiences for children of all ages and all abilities. For me, this is motivating because I have more resources to work with and a stronger chance to impact more lives on a local level.

What motivates you to succeed?

Working as a project manager:

I don't think too many people are going to say that project management is their life passion. It's the process we take in order to achieve success. It provides a framework to be able to execute and then impact the lives of others. For me, this company is one that stuck out to me.

The core values of collaboration, innovation, and being on the cutting edge of safety is something that attracts me. I've seen enough injuries on a job site that changed families' lives. And that was not motivating.

I'm highly motivated to be part of a company that cares about its employees. And be able to be a leader that can embrace that and carry that forward on every job. That's what motivates me.

How would you be motivated in this position?

Working in a management position:

To me, it motivates me to be able to assist others in making great decisions. I believe that great leaders need to have the ability to make great decisions three out of the four times they are asked. At this company, I'm very passionate about our core values.

Assisting merchants with the ability to amplify their business through the point of sale systems, marketing tools, and promotional opportunities.

What motivates me is the opportunity to provide direction, capacity, resources, and general guidance to great teams. And transfer the vision of the CEO throughout the business at all times.

Tips for Answering This Common Interview Question

when the interviewer decides to ask what motivates you

Tips to answer, "What motivates you?"

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 them 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.

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author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC), and general career expert. Patrick has completed the NACE Coaching Certification Program (CCP). And has been published as a career expert on Forbes, Glassdoor, Dice.com, WorkWise, American Express, Reader's Digest, LiveCareer, Zety, Yahoo, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, SHRM.org, Process.st, FairyGodBoss, HRCI.org, St. Edwards University, NC State University, IBTimes.com, Thrive Global, TMCnet.com, Work It Daily, Workology, Career Guide, MyPerfectResume, College Career Life, The HR Digest, WorkWise, Career Cast, Elite Staffing, Women in HR, All About Careers, Upstart HR, The Street, Monster, The Ladders, Introvert Whisperer, and many more. Find him on LinkedIn.

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