How To Answer “What Motivates You?” (With Examples): Job Interview Question

By David Luther - Sep. 28, 2021
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“What motivates you” is one of the most common questions you’ll hear at a job interview. Your answer provides interviewers with insight into the “why” of your career, which is something seriously lacking from resumes and most cover letters.

Answering this question well demands a bit of introspection, a dash of eloquence, and a whole lot of intuition about what the interviewer is looking to hear.

This article will cover interviewers’ reasons for asking this question, how to prepare a response, and sample answers to bring all our advice together.

Why Interviewers Ask “What Motivates You?”

Interviewers ask “what motivates you” to learn both why you chose your field and what you’re passionate about as an individual. If a hiring manager can understand what drives you, they’ll be able to determine whether you’ll be happy and capable in the role you’re interviewing for.

Hiring managers and recruiters also want to see how self-aware you are about your motivations. The better you’re able to articulate what drives you, the better you’ll be able to handle tasks independently.

Additionally, like all job interview questions, the interviewer wants to know if your motivations and ultimate career goals align with the position you’re interviewing for. If you’re motivated by a deadline-centric, fast-paced work environment, then the company can expect you to succeed in a role where that’s the case.

Tip: Other common variations of this question include “what makes you, you,” “what makes you tick,” and “what are you passionate about?”

How to Answer “What Motivates You?”

To answer “what motivates you,” reflect on your past successes, consider why you go into your field, and prepare a story that brings your motivations to life. Let’s go over these steps in more detail:

  1. Read the job description. Before you start preparing an answer, re-read the job description. Look for the soft skills that describe an ideal employee, as well as the main responsibilities of the job.

    We encourage authenticity, but a strong answer will show that you paid attention to the job description. For example, if you see that the job doesn’t involve much collaboration or interpersonal communication, you probably shouldn’t say how you’re motivated by personal interaction and teamwork.

  2. Reflect on your past accomplishments. To start putting together an answer, look back on your most significant professional achievements. Don’t just focus on moments when you were praised by a boss or given a reward like a bonus or a plaque.

    Instead, reflect on moments when you felt proud of your work or experienced a sense of meaning and purpose in your professional life. Of course, these events may have been complemented by external praise or rewards; just don’t make those your criteria for an “accomplishment,” especially for a question like this.

  3. Look back on your history in the field. A (very) brief history of your interest and entry into the field can provide great insight into your motivations.

    For example, having an impactful teacher who made a big difference in your life could have gotten you into education, or an experience of providing emergency support to a stranger in need sparked a desire to become an EMT.

  4. Prepare a story. Stories help the hiring manager contextualize the rest of your answer. When you say you’re motivated by solving problems and helping people, it’s a pretty flat statement.

    Bringing up a story about how you stayed late during the holiday rush because you were so motivated to make sure each customer was satisfied makes for a much more memorable answer.

  5. Mention your motivation to apply for the job. Finally, it’s wise to bring your answer back around to the job you’re applying for as you wrap your answer up. Tie in those details from the job description that we mentioned in step one.

    That way, you can make sure that your motivating factors line up perfectly with the ideal candidate outlined in the job posting. Of course, don’t go so far with this that you give an inauthentic answer.

Example Answers to “What Motivates You?”

  1. Example Answer 1: Past Results and New Challenges

    I’m motivated by my past results. I strive for constant improvement, which is why I make it a goal to acquire at least one new certification each year. Taking on a new challenge and coming out the other side with more knowledge and resilience is my chief motivation. It’s led to some great results. Just last year, after picking up a certification in Google Analytics, I was immediately able to make small optimizations to our site that made a significant difference.

    Part of what excited me about this role is that it interacts with a wide palette of clients and departments. I enjoy a job where I’m kept on my toes and constantly incentivized to get out of my comfort zone and learn more.

  2. Example Answer 2: Deadlines

    A fast-paced, deadline-centric work environment has always been my best motivator. At my last position as an editor, I had to handle over 40 articles a week for my company’s blog while managing a team of writers. I have a knack and love for planning and organization, so developing and maintaining a spreadsheet to keep my tasks and delegated tasks was a real treat for me.

    I was always able to hit and exceed my success metrics thanks to my keen sense of deadlines and my motivation to reach milestones on assignments. That experience has set me up to thrive working for a publication like yours.

  3. Example Answer 3: Solving Problems

    I’ve always been motivated by meeting new people and solving problems. Customer service is a natural fit for my inclinations and motivations. From my first retail job in high school, I knew that helping people get what they need out of an experience was satisfying for me.

    Helping people as a customer success manager as part of a web development team proved a bit trickier than helping people pick the right sneakers, but with greater challenges, I felt even more motivated. Accomplishing a 98% positive customer feedback over 2020 was a major achievement for me, as it brought my company over $200,000 in return and subscription-based customers.

    ABC Corp.’s commitment to top-notch customer service is well-known, and I’d be thrilled to work in this environment and continue developing my customer service skills.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Answering “What Motivates You?”

  • Rambling. Your answer to this question should be clear and concise. Hit a few major points — don’t get caught up in a long autobiographical tale of how you got into the field.

  • Being negative. For pretty much all the most common interview questions, you want to avoid negativity. Your motivations should be because you enjoy something, not because you’re trying to avoid something (like getting fired).

  • Being too focused on yourself. It’s hard to not get laser-focused on yourself with interview questions like these, but it’s important you tie back your motivators to the job in question.

Tips for Answering “What Motivates You?”

what motivates you

  1. Keep your answer relevant. Interviewers choose questions for strategic reasons, and you need to answer with your motivation in a way relevant to the position.

    If it’s a non-profit, focus on feeling good about helping people. If it’s a sales position, talk about satisfaction from exceeding goals.

  2. Be prepared with examples to back up your motivators. You can help recruiters see that you’re right for the job by coming prepared with real-life examples of how you’ve excelled in the areas the job requires. It’s not exactly a behavioral interview question, but you can still incorporate past examples using the STAR method of when your motivations helped you succeed.

  3. Bring your personality into it. Mentioning hobbies is an excellent way to subtly describe yourself as an individual, but relate them to professional situations. For example, if you enjoy strategy games, you can bring up how you enjoy the sense of achievement you get when you solve a puzzle or figure out a replicable tactic.

  4. Be specific. Being vague on a question like this probably won’t hurt you much, but it won’t help you etiher. Discuss specific elements of your job that you find motivating, bring in examples, and draw it all back to the job description when appropriate.

  5. Think about how your answer reflects on you as a coworker. Interviewers want to know what you’ll be like as an employee and as a coworker.
    Hiring isn’t just about who has the best skills to do the job; it’s also about who will fit in best with the workplace. Interviewers think about the fact that they’re going to be around whoever they hire quite a bit.

Final Thoughts

Answering the most common interview questions doesn’t have to be hard. Take a step back, do some self-reflection, and you’ll have a winning answer to “what motivates you” in no time. It’s not just about landing the job either.

Learning what motivates you can help you get a job offer, sure, but it’s also an important step in determining your career goals. Look at your strengths, the reasons for your past accomplishments, and areas where you get excited about work, and you’ll be on your way to a more fulfilling career.

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David Luther

David Luther was the Content Marketing Editor for the Zippia Advice blog. He developed partnerships with external reporting agencies in addition to generating original research and reporting for the Zippia Career Advice blog. David obtained his BA from UNC Chapel Hill.

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