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What Motivates You? How to Answer This Interview Question

HR manager conducting job interview

By the time you are called in for an interview, the hiring manager has seen your resume. They have checked your references as well. Chances are, they know you have the skills and expertise they need. More importantly, so does every other person they are interviewing. Now they want to know that you can be counted on to be an engaged, interested, motivated employee who fits into their organization. Essentially, will you apply your skills in a way that benefits the company? That’s why the question, “What motivates you?” is so common during interviews

How to Answer “What Motivates You at Work” Interview Question 

  1. Identify your main motivators (beyond money). 
  2. Align your reply with the requirements of the new role. 
  3. Be honest and choose 
  4. Frame your reply as a short personal story. 

Consider Your Experiences on The Job

Think about the jobs you’ve held in the past. What are the elements of the work that you found to be satisfying? Don’t limit yourself to jobs you loved. Think about the ones you hated as well. What was it that made those jobs worthwhile? If you can identify some common things that motivate you no matter what, you have the beginning of a great answer.

Consider writing out a list of tasks and activities that really made the day sail by, or that you wished you could spend more time doing. Maybe you enjoyed mentoring and training new employees.

Sometimes, your motivation doesn’t come from any particular task. Instead, you might find it at a higher level. For example, you may find your work at a non-profit to be a bit on the boring side. At the same time, knowing that you are helping a cause that matters to you makes it all worthwhile.

Tie in Your Reply with The Company’s Mission and Your Role

Whatever you communicate about your motivation must be relevant to your new job duties. After all, the interviewer wants to be able to draw a parallel or two between the things that make you want to work hard and things you’ll be expected to do on the job. Ideally, at least one of your motivations will show some passion for the company’s mission, values, and/or core services.

team brainstorming

This is why it’s good to select one idea that is very career-relevant. Imagine you are applying to be an auditor. You could mention that as a highly organized person, you enjoy helping others ‘keep their house in order’. 

Just be sure the motivation makes sense for the role you are pursuing. You should mention your love of music if you are applying for a job as a radio station disk jockey. If you are applying for a job as an accountant at the same radio station, probably pick some other driver.

As you formulate your answer, don’t hesitate to draw a direct connection. Here’s an example for a teacher:

“One of the reasons I am so excited about this role is that it will give me the opportunity to mentor teenagers. I truly believe that this age group can do great things with the right guidance.”

Tell a Story About What Motivates You at Work

Here’s a little reality check. Your answer about what motivates you the most may not be unique. After all, people tend to be motivated by the same things:

  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Working with great people
  • Helping others
  • The satisfaction of taking on a task and doing it well
  • Learning and professional development 

That’s okay. You can still put your unique spin on the answer to this interview question to make your reply more personal and memorable. The best way to do this is to tell a short story that illustrates what motivates you, and why it does.

One benefit of storytelling is that it doesn’t need to be fantastical to be memorable. Your story doesn’t have to portray you single-handedly saving a business, or breaking sales records. You simply have to share a true example that explains how you could use your motivation to be a great new employee. For example: 

“Like most other people in the industry, I feel the most motivated when I see how my daily actions at work positively contribute to the community. I first learned about Acme’s ‘give back program’ when I was in my second year of accounting school and it made me think more about how corporate social responsibility initiatives shape the businesses and the consumer perception of them. For me, joining the Acme compliance team would mean working for a company that shares the same value as I do.” 

Final Thoughts: Be Brief, But Make an Impact

Consider rehearsing your answer before you head to the interview. The best answer will be short and to the point. Focus on composing a succinct statement that names your source of motivation, tells a simple story to demonstrate it, and shares how you will use that in the new position.

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