How To Answer the Question "What Motivates You?" During an Interview

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 20 May 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The question of what motivates you can help your interviewer learn about your goals and desires. They this question during the conclusion of your interview. It is often direct and requires an honest answer to help them assess whether you are a good fit for their organisation. In this article, we'll discuss how to answer the question of what motivates you and why recruiters ask it.

Related: Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Preparing to answer the question "What motivates you?"

Here are a few tips to help you prepare to answer the question of what motivates you:

Conduct extensive research

It's good to start by reading the job description a few times to understand the role. This enables you to prepare an answer that shows your capability to handle the job duties. For instance, in a job description where the employer requires a proactive team player, you can say that your motivation comes from completing projects successfully with others. You can also research the company's goals, mission and vision to know if you can align your answers with them. For example, if the company is a nonprofit, you can say that one of your motivations is making a difference.

Have an anecdote ready

It's usually helpful to prove how your motivation has helped you in past work situations by providing an anecdote. Ideally, it should be a work related anecdote, but it may also be a personal anecdote if it adequately demonstrates your motivation in a relevant way. To avoid getting stuck on the day of the interview, prepare the anecdote beforehand.

Related: How to Prepare for an Interview

How interviewers ask about motivation

Your interviewer can frame the question of what motivates you in several ways, including, "What makes you who you are," "What are you most passionate about," or "What makes you tick?" These questions give you a chance to talk about your motivations, and there is no right or wrong way to answer. The following are some questions you can ask yourself to figure out your answer:

  • When you talk about your job and why you love it, what stories do you tell?

  • What was your best day on the job, and what made that day outstanding?

  • Why do you think that a particular job is the one you have been dreaming about?

  • What days or periods do you love coming to work, and why?

What to avoid when answering what motivates you

Here are the things to avoid when answering the question of what motivates you:

Unrealistic and presumptuous claims

It's good to provide realistic answers by trying to understand the employer's background. An employer may have interviewed many applicants, and they may be sceptical about your skills if you are too exaggerated. For instance, making presumptuous claims about how you are more qualified than everyone else. It would be better to frame the answer as “I love exceeding goals and breaking records“.

Placing blame on your previous employer

Try to mention your previous employer positively. This allows your interviewer to view you as experienced, and you can relate well with your employers. It also helps in case HR decides to contact your previous employer for clarification.

Basing your motivation on allowances

Avoid basing your motivation on allowances such as salary and benefits. Instead, base your source of motivation on other positive things. Mention that your motivation comes from factors that may help your employer gain confidence in your self-motivation skills.

Avoid rambling

It is ideal to make your point and let it settle. A clear and concise point will impress recruiters and ensure they don't get bored by a long and rambling answer.

Avoid negatives

Keeping your answers positive shows you are progressive. The motivations you talk about should be things you enjoy not ways to avoid losing your job.

Focus on your positive attributes

It is easy to focus on yourself, as the question offers you room to do so. Take this opportunity to mention factors that relate to the job at hand. For example, you can explain how various work responsibilities keep you engaged and ready to grow.

Related: List of Weaknesses: 10 Things To Say in an Interview

How to answer the question about motivation

There are many sources of motivation depending on your desires. However, it's important to remember the needs of an employer. Here's how to answer the question "what motivates you?" without appearing selfish:

1. Ensure your answers are relevant

Interviewers have specific reasons for setting the questions they ask you during an interview. This means that you have to answer in a manner that shows you're suitable for the position. You should avoid banter and jokes that steer you away from your focal point.

2. Back up your claims with examples

Real-life examples of how you have used your motivation in the past can help you substantiate your statements. By providing examples, the employer is better able to judge your abilities and motivations.

3. Incorporate your personality

You can do this by mentioning things such as your hobbies that help to depict the person you are. However, you need to relate the answers to professional situations. For example, you can say you are a leader of a volunteer organisation and love to coach others to build teams. Or, you can say that your hobby is competing in marathons because you love overcoming daunting tasks and challenges to grow.

4. Remain careful and concise

Be careful with your wording while remaining enthusiastic and open. Avoid careless answers that don't align with the company, industry or position you are working to get in. Remain economical with your answers. Avoid making assumptions based on the interviewer's behaviour. Just because your interviewer maintains a cordial smile and nods throughout does not mean that you can start using casual jokes here and there.

5. Have a specific answer

Offer concrete answers, and tell the interviewer everything they need to know about you at the moment. Be specific to the point and mention factors that will convince them you are the best candidate.

Related: How To Use the STAR Interview Technique in Competency-Based Interviews

6. Show confidence

You might feel like the interviewer is your adversary as they sit on the other side of a table and maintain a serious glance. However, maintain your confidence as interviewers hope to find the best candidate, and this implies that they giving you a chance. Being confident as you talk about your motivations can show them you are the right person for the job and earn you the position.

7. Evaluate what type of coworker your response portrays you to be

Recruiters will look to know the employee and colleague you will become. They need someone who not only has the right skills but also fits well within the workplace. You need to show that you can quickly fit into an established group of employees without causing problems. Your motivation should show where you intend to fit within the company, either as a lone worker or within a team.

Why do interviewers ask about motivation?

There are many different reasons why an interviewer asks about what motivates you. However, the principal reasons they ask falls under two categories:

To determine whether you are self-aware of your driving factors

The key thing that interviewers seek to know is how you know yourself. Instead of asking about your strengths and weaknesses, the interviewer wants to learn about you from a unique perspective. Therefore, as you structure your answer, highlight issues that keep you on track and promote consistency.

To determine whether your source of motivation aligns with the company vision

To stand out, your answer should highlight aspects that build on the organisation's vision and mission. Therefore, you must understand the objectives of the company. Research the company and try to adjust your answer so that it is inclusive of the company's values and the values described in the job description.

Example of an appropriate answer to what motivates you

Here's an example of an appropriate answer to give when asked what motivates you:

"I am highly motivated to attend work every morning when I see the people I work with grow. To have come this far, someone held my hand and encouraged me along the way. Therefore, as I work around others, I strive to see the best in them. As a manager in your organisation, I will commit to ensuring that each team player is motivated to accomplish simple tasks to better their lives."

Why interviewers like it: The candidate shows that they have a strong desire to improve the productivity of the company. However, instead of imposing duties on others, they are ready to work with them as a team player.

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