10+ Best Answers to "What Motivates You?" in an Interview (+ Answer Tips) [2020]

what motivates you

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 opportunities for career growth, 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 needs of the job, and any previous job as a job seeker. Use previous work scenarios to better describe the reasoning behind the answer. 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 that 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 motivation for managers 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 be helpful to understand the difference as a job seeker to develop a good answer and reasoning to the interview question.

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 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 as a job seeker. Use good judgment with the examples 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 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. 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.

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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