10 Best Answers to "What Motivates You?" [2020 Updated]

what motivates you

Open-ended questions like “What motivates you?” can elicit a deer-in-the-headlights reaction from job candidates if they are unprepared. It’s a broad question and can leave the interviewer knowing less about what makes you tick than they did before they posed the question. That doesn’t have to be the case, however. By anticipating the question and planning a response in advance, you can offer a clear, compelling answer every time.

Ready? Let's dig right in!

Table of Contents

Why Do Interviewers Ask, "What Motivates You?"

In many cases, the interviewer simply wants to get a sense of your personality. Asking an open question leaves room for individuality. As organizations continue to place a high value on company culture, they will use interview questions to get a better sense of who you are as a person and how you may or may not meld with the culture.

Secondly, the interviewer wants to find out how you react in the face of adversity--and not just the adversity of being asked an open-ended interview question. They want to know how you respond to challenges. Do you shrink back, or do you attack them head-on? What do you do if you’re given a task that falls outside of your usual job description or you are given a project that is especially tough? Your reply to “what motivates you?” answers a multitude of questions.

Pro tip: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the price of a bad hire (for a company) is estimated at a minimum 30% of the employee’s first-year salary. This means hiring is now more strict than ever before.

So how do you offer a memorable answer? Here are a few quick tips for what to do and what not do when answering “what motivates you?” in an interview.

Best Practices For Answering “What Motivates You?” In A Job Interview

1. Don't let money into the picture. Even if money is truly your top motivator, be sure that your answer is not all about money or the paycheck you’ll collect. If it is, the interviewer may question your loyalty to the company 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--just use good judgment with the examples you choose and tie it to a professional goal. Making your children, spouse, or a 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 you think the interviewer wants to hear. They will see through it immediately, and you’ll leave them with the impression that you’re disingenuous.

4. Be specific. Whenever possible, connect your 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. You should always assume that you will be asked an open-ended question like “what motivates you?” and you should have a good response practiced and ready to deliver.

6. Answer with excitement. Whatever answer you provide, be enthusiastic. You want to convey that you’re ready for a new challenge and already brimming with motivation to take it on.

The best tip for confidently answering any interview question is to practice until you are comfortable with your responses. Even if the questions vary in your live interview, you’ll be far less likely to be caught off guard if you’ve thought through potential questions and are comfortable tailoring answers to fit your personal narrative. To help prepare for your next interview, here are some sample answers to practice, modify and perfect.

Pro tip: TalentNow reports that 42% of employers are worried they won’t be able to find the talent they need. And 72.8% are struggling to find relevant candidates. This is good news for job seekers and an important reason why relevant resume, cover letter, and interview answers are key to your future employment.

How Do You Motivate Others

If the interviewer asks you this question, recognize that this is a similar interview question but not the same as "What motivates you?" The interviewer, when asking, "how do you motivate others" is trying to understand some of your leadership qualities. It is the same type of question as "what is your leadership style". It's vital that you recognize the path the interviewer has chosen for you in the round of questioning and be prepared to answer it.

Answering how do you motivate others will be best answered with a situational example as well as some background on the ways that you personally like to be led. Before you get asked this question, be sure to read our guide here.

Related: Answering "What Is Your Leadership Style?" In A Job Interview

Example Answer To What Motivates You To Be A Leader

If the interviewer asks you, "what motivates you to be a leader" then they're asking the same question as what motivates you. But it is most likely phrased this way because you are interviewing for a management or leadership position. Here's an example of how you might answer:

"It's really not about me, it's about the team. The motivation for me is the ability to encourage a group of people to take a risk and see the potential success and positive outcomes. Of course, sometimes, we have to deal with the losses. But rolling with the losses and the wins, together, as a team, is what motivates me to be a leader."

How Are You Motivated For This Position

Another interview question that is often confused with "what motivates you" is, "why are you motivated for to apply for this position?" When the interviewer asks you this they are seeking your answer to why you feel you are the best fit for the job. Recognize that this is also another interview question that you should know how to answer and is NOT related to "what motivates you". In order to answer this question correctly, read our guide here.

Related: 8 Answers To “Why Should We Hire You” By Department

10 Example Answers To “What Motivates You?”

As you consider the best direction to take with your answer, don’t be afraid to frame your response around your particular strengths. Tying quantifiable results to an abstract question such as “what motivates you?” is a powerful way to get the attention of the interviewer.

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. I’ve learned through the years 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. As an 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 how I can help solve a problem for them. 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 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.

Which items on this list give you a feeling of excitement or pride? Do any elicit a memory of a job well done or a project you were particularly proud of? Weave those memories and examples into your response. In doing so, you’ll convey confidence, competence, and authenticity in every interview.

Moviation Interview Question FAQ

Common interview questions from job seekers.

Why does the hiring manager ask this question?

This question is like an opener to the conversation. It starts the discussion around what your strong work ethic looks like and helps them search for a way to customize the interview to what your motivating factor is in life and in work. That's why it's important you have a great answer to this interview question as it indicates whether or not you're a good fit for the job right away.

What makes a standout interview answer to this question?

If you want to stand out, start from the company's mission or company's goals. Then try to align what motivates you to be a similar motivator as the companies.

What if I say that I work hard?

That's not really an answer. What do you work hard at? Try to focus on answering this question with intent and showing your levels of motivation on the things you work toward.

What if I want to show that I know how to motivate people?

Managers will often get a variation of this question, how do you motivate people? The perfect answer lays in communicating that everyone has different motivators. And that it's your job to learn about people's lives and determine how you can speak to their motivating factors. That's what turns a good answer into a great one.

How important is motivation on the job?

It's incredibly important for any job. A manager does want to have to consistently motivate you. It is your job to be motivated by your own work. Or else why would you be applying to this job? And why would you want this job?

What are successful people motivated by?

Problems. While this is a tricky interview question, you can always rely on saying that you are motivated by solving problems. Then go into depth for what the reason is and what skills you get gratification in using in order to solve problems.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation refers to the psychological behavior of being driven by internal rewards versus an external reward. This can be very valuable for your potential employer to find out about you. It means that they better understand where your internal motivation lays and how they can increase employee engagement for you. They do this by providing you with work or teams that compliment you. This is why your employer cares so much about this interview question. It can be a great way to get inside the mindset of a job seeker. That's why this has become a staple and common interview question for the employer.

What if I don't like this interview question?

It's a very difficult one. If you don't have an achievement from a previous job in mind, then it might be hard to answer. But try to have a positive attitude when thinking through your answer. Your interviewee will appreciate you taking the time to think through your answer. Try to use a sample answer from the many available in this guide to process your own answer for this interview question.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.


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