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How to Answer What Motivates You? (Amazing Examples Included!)

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At your job interview, everything seems to be going well. Your resume is impressive, and you have enough experience under your belt to feel confident about your qualifications.  

Suddenly, your interviewer asks, “What motivates you?” How do you respond? Do you find yourself freezing up, or furiously racking your brain for a response? 

If you have a series of job interviews lined up, you might quickly find yourself in this hypothetical situation.

The best way to prepare for an interview is to practice commonly asked questions and keep a selection of anecdotal examples for each question.

In this article, we’ll help you prepare to answer the brain-stumper, “What motivates you?”

Why Do Interviewers Ask This Question?

Businesses take a lot of care in hiring people – taking on a new employee can be a risky investment.

  • So, employers have to be sure that those they hire are the best suited for the work at hand.
  • They also look for potential employees whose personalities and personal goals fit in well with the rest of the company.

Work experience and a great resume can get your foot in the door.

However, what employers are really looking for are people who know where to find motivation when the going gets rough.

Even dream jobs have their rough spots, where the work is boring or difficult, and can be a chore to accomplish anything.

Companies want to know how you find inspiration and continue forward even when the work isn’t fun anymore.

Similar Questions to “What Motivates You?”

Not all interviewers use the exact words “What motivates you?” They may use a variety of different questions that all end up asking the same thing.

For that reason, you can easily modify your potential answer to fit any of the following questions:

  • What makes you tick?
  • What inspires you?
  • What influences you to do your best work?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What drives you every day to achieve better?

However they ask, the key part of the question is figuring out what drives you.

For instance, how do you keep going when things get tough? What parts of your work do you look forward to? What is the carrot you dangle in front of yourself to motivate you?

How NOT to Respond

Your resume and cover letter can get your foot in the door, but the interview makes or breaks your chances of getting the job. Therefore, it is crucial that you do not fall victim to some of these common blunders:

Don’t Talk about Money

“What motivates me is money. I mostly want to live a comfortable life without having to worry about money. I worked hard throughout school to get a well-paying job to achieve my goal. I measure my success in life by how much money I earn, and my motivation is mostly bought.”

Do not ever mention money when talking about your motivations. Money motivates everyone, to some degree.

  • Ignoring that you might come across as greedy, amoral, and facetious in your answer, you also won’t set yourself apart from a vast majority of the human population.

While at your interview, you should try to put your best foot forward and differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.

  • Securing a well-paying career might fit into your overall goals, but that isn’t what businesses want to hear.
  • They’d rather know how you fit into their work culture and the way you work under pressure.

In general, you likely shouldn’t bring up money during the interview.

Unless they’re offering you a job right then, salary negotiations and money talk are strictly off the table. Even if the job’s money is important to you (and it likely is), you’ll have no chance of getting that money if you practice bad interview etiquette.

Don’t Be Vague

“I’m motivated when I have goals.”

Don’t be too general when answering. This is an opportunity to open up and share something about yourself that didn’t fit in your job application or cover letter.

  • The interviewer isn’t trying to get you to confess to a crime, so don’t treat it like a hostile interrogation.

Clamming up and keeping your answers impersonal might make it seem like you don’t have much to say or that you don’t really want that job position.

Expanding upon your answers with specific experiences and goals you have will definitely leave a better impression.

When you practice, try to answer the question within two minutes. That might seem like a short amount of time at first, but use a stopwatch when practicing your interview answers.

The average person speaks somewhere between 125 and 150 words a minute – so you’ll have enough space to fit a decent amount of information in those precious seconds.

Don’t Make a List

“I’m motivated when I set goals for myself. I am also motivated when I help others. I also am motivated by healthy competition. I am also…”

While being vague can make you seem closed off, just rattling off a long list of motivators can seem like you either don’t know yourself well or you’re just hoping you’ve mentioned something the interviewer may like.

  • You may also fall into the trap of just mentioning things without expanding upon them, which leaves a significant chunk of the question unanswered.
  • Remember, the interviewer isn’t interested in hearing what might motivate someone; they want to know what specifically motivates you.

When you walk into the interview, you should have one or two motivators in mind with a couple anecdotes as examples.

Really dive in deep when answering the question. Remember, interview questions should be answered like short essay prompts: with one main point, and a significant chunk of evidence to support your answer.

Don’t Overly Cater Your Response

“I am motivated by the idea that I might attend your prestigious company. I want to honor your business’s high standards for excellence, and I push myself so that I will be accepted for this position. Your company website says…”

If your answers are more about the company than yourself, you may come across as a little insincere and untruthful.

  • Mentioning certain aspects of the company’s mission and about pages can be a great way to demonstrate that you’ve done your research and you’re genuinely interested in their company, rather than just a job position in your field.
  • However, your interviewer primarily wants to know about you, not the company.

It’s fine (and encouraged) to mention how specific parts of the company’s culture or achievements align with your passions, but make sure that your answer covers the full scope of your experiences and professional aspirations.

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Well, How Should I Answer “What Motivates You?”

Most of all, you should be authentic when answering.

The first step to being authentic is self-reflecting. Sit down and really think about what excites you about your work.

  • What achievements are you most proud of, and why?
  • Identify why you’re proud of them.
  • For instance, you might be proud of building a drone, managing a CMS integration or raising thousands of dollars for your former employer.

Then, you want to discuss what makes that accomplishment so special. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Were there any obstacles that you had to overcome?
  • Besides a desire for job security and a paycheck, what inspired you to push yourself and overcome said obstacles?
  • Name the things you learned from these challenges.
  • How did you build a bond with your team members?
  • What made you look forward to a day at work?
  • What accomplishment left you feeling enthusiastic about your impact within the company?

Even if you’re new to the professional workforce, you can still pull from your experiences in college, internships, or volunteer opportunities.

  • Maybe there was a club or class in which you were responsible for putting together a project.
  • Maybe you helped organize a fundraiser or improved a nonprofit’s website.
  • What motivated you to complete the project?

Here are some great examples of motivators for people:

Great Idea #1: Teamwork

“I consider myself a team player at heart. In my last position, I was responsible for managing several teams developing new marketing strategies. We all had different ideas about how to approach the goal.

Collaborating with my coworkers, bouncing new ideas, and fine-tuning others kept me invested in my work because I found that I was always learning something else. It also kept me motivated by holding me accountable to contribute just as much to the team as anyone else.”

Teamwork is a great skill to talk about because you’ll likely be required to work within a team at your new company. Culture is such an important part of professional life that companies are willing to hire and fire based on the value of teamwork.

An answer based on teamwork demonstrates your ability to embrace company goals.

Great Idea #2: Helping Others

“I love helping someone solve a problem. When I worked in customer service, I frequently changed my customer’s mood from frustrated to pleased because of my quick thinking polite attitude.

In sales, I feel motivated when a customer leaves the conversation excited about their purchase. In my last job, I made sure that each and every customer I spoke to felt respected, and didn’t feel pressured to go through with a transaction.

In fact, many of them were satisfied and made repeat purchases. My approach to sales increased our district’s earnings by 27 percent, which drove me to continue working on improving customer satisfaction.”

Companies in competitive markets need to serve their customers to the best of their abilities. That’s why customer service is such an important part of doing business.

Employers want to hire team members who prioritize happy customers and clients. This is good for their bottom line.

Giving an answer on wanting help others is a great way to demonstrate your potential value to the company, its customers, and its growth.

Great Idea #3: Completing or Achieving Something

“I’m a goal-oriented kind of person. I regularly set challenging but attainable goals, and I push myself to complete them by the deadline.

At my last position, I was in charge of a software development team, and we were working on a huge project. I broke down the project into manageable weekly tasks and divvied up the work equally between all of us.

My management kept our team ahead of schedule, and we were able to release our product well within our deadline. Seeing a project to completion is always the biggest motivator for me.”

Speaking about your desire to achieve something in life is a great way to demonstrate your work ethic and ambitions. Companies want to hire people who don’t need external motivation to go the extra mile.

The best employees don’t need excessive direction or guidance. They know how to get things done on their own. They know how to produce high-quality work.

Great Idea #4: Interest and Innovation

“I just love finding new and better ways to write program code. I often strive for perfection, and finding more efficient algorithms or creating more intuitive user interfaces for our clients drives me every day.

At my previous job, I worked on the front-end development to improve the usability of our software. As a result, our clients loved it so much that they recommended it to others via word-of-mouth and social media.

Our sales nearly doubled, and many customers continue using our software and downloading the updates. I’m always interested in finding creative solutions to old problems.”

Passion drives human beings forward. Harboring a love for something is one of the best ways to find solutions to a problem.

Think about it.

If you’re really interested in a problem, you’re going to think about it all the time. The more you think about it, the more solutions you’ll find. Companies make money when their employees think of better products for their customers.

That’s why companies love hiring dreamers and passionate individuals.

Great Idea #5: Personal History

“I didn’t grow up with much. I was born in a small town in southeast Ohio – my dad was a sheet metal worker and my mom died when I was young. It was just my dad and me growing up.

I remember eating grits all the time and not having health insurance. Luckily, I earned a scholarship to Ohio State, which is how I was able to study political science and learn more about the problems plaguing our communities, like the one I grew up in.

As I move up in my career, I want to work for nonprofits and companies that place ethics and values above profits. Everyone can chase money, and money’s important. We can also chase the idea of making our country a better place. I want to work with people who want to do better for those that get left behind.”

Connecting your personal history to a problem is a great way to show why you’re so invested in a field. Hiring managers and CEOs want to hire employees who are invested.

You can discuss your personal history with the following, plus more:

  • Poverty
  • Fishing
  • Food allergies
  • Ocean cleanup
  • Mental illness

Personal connections make your story relatable, so think of why you’re motivated as a result of your past.

Conclusion: How to Answer “What Motivates You?”

These are just a few examples of how to approach the question, “What motivates you?”

If there’s something completely unrelated to any of the categories above that makes you giddy about going to work, go for it. Whatever makes you enthusiastic is most likely a great answer.

The interviewer primarily wants to get a feel for your personality and how you work.

In your answer, be cognizant of the job you’re applying for.

  • For instance, if the job you’re applying for is performed primarily in a cubicle with minimal interaction with others outside of meetings, playing up your drive to be a better team might not fit in with the position.
  • Similarly, if you plan to say that you’re inspired by innovation and reinventing the wheel while the company you’re interviewing for strongly believes in the phrase, “don’t fix what isn’t broken,” you might want to reconsider your answer.

If you’re prone to interview anxiety, try writing down and rehearsing some potential answers with a friend.

You may also consider imagining yourself as an esteemed guest on a late night talk show. Watch the guests’ relaxed frame and cheerful disposition, and try to emulate that in your interview.

But overall, try to stay relaxed about the interview. You’ve impressed the hiring manager enough to make it to an interview – now’s the time to play up all of your good sides.