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Why “What Motivates You?” Is Asked & How To Answer Properly

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Picture this: you’re halfway through an interview for the job of your dreams.

You’re confident, and you look the part.

Things are going swimmingly until the hiring manager hits you with the dreaded question “what motivates you?”. 

If you’re sweating at the thought of trying to conjure up an answer on-the-spot, you’re not alone.

This is one question that’s destined to get candidates flustered, and that’s why it’s always thrown into interviews unexpectedly.

You’re off guard and on the spot, and in the moment, your answer could shape your hiring manager’s opinion of you. 

What Does The Interviewer Want To Know? 

Understanding your interviewer’s intentions will help you answer this question.

In most cases, your interviewer wants to find out what pushes you to succeed, what makes you a good fit for the job, and the company culture. 

Your motivations should be in line with the responsibilities of the job you’re applying for.

Answering this question honestly will help both you and your interviewer decide whether or not this job is the right fit for you. 

Even if you’re not asked this question outright, it may be disguised as the infamous “what are you passionate about?” question.

This question strives to find similar answers and determine what makes you feel fulfilled and excited in the workplace and beyond.

This builds up a firm picture of your character, personality, and abilities. 

How To Answer The “What Motivates You?” Question 

Whatever role you’re applying for, we’d always recommend planning an answer to this question beforehand.

As you would with any other interview, you should also take the time to research the company thoroughly prior to the interview.

Find out about company goals, culture, and achievements, and familiarize yourself with the duties of the role you’re applying for, so you’ll be well equipped to answer whatever questions are thrown your way. 

“What motivates you?” is an open-ended question that requires you to self-reflect.

To answer this question, you’ll need to think about your previous jobs and answer the following questions: 

  • What was happening at work on the days you looked forward to the most? 
  • What happened during your best days at the job? 
  • What happened at work when you came home feeling excited and enthused? 

Your answers could be anything from mastering a new skill, navigating an interaction with a difficult client, or pulling off a successful meeting. 

Note down your answers to these questions – they’ll help you conceptualize your answer.

If you need some inspiration, here are some example answers that you can tailor your response to. 

“What Motivates You?” Example Answer 1

Concrete goals and results are my main motivators.
I work best when I have a set goal to work towards, and I enjoy having the time and resources to establish a strategy to achieve it.
At my last job, we had ambitious end-of-year goals.
This was motivation in itself, but by working with my colleagues to establish a monthly strategy, we could see results happening in real-time.
It was such a great accomplishment and one that I’m very proud of. 

This answer clearly indicates what motivates you, and gives your interviewer an example of what you can achieve for the company with the right motivation. 

“What Motivates You?” Example Answer 2 

“What Motivates You?”

If you’re motivated by several factors rather than just one, try laying out your answer in this way. 

In my previous job, I was tasked with directing our development team and implementing successful, repeatable processes.
Thanks to my achievements, the development team smashed their 100% on-time delivery target.
Challenge is what motivates me, especially finishing projects before the deadline, and also by managing a team and witnessing their success.
These motivations are what helped me direct the team’s success. 

This answer clearly defines your motivations and gives your interviewer an actionable example. 

How To Give A Strong Answer 

Use Examples

Show, don’t tell.

Anyone can sit in an interview and claim to be a master of just about anything.

Giving your interviewer examples of your motivations and achievements in action will make you more credible and help your interviewer build a stronger picture of your personality and character. 

Focus Your Answer On The Job 

Before you answer this question, keep the job in mind.

Take another look through the job advert and note any key skills and abilities your hiring manager is looking for.

Is there a way you can highlight these in your answer with examples?

For example, if the job you’re interviewing for wants a candidate with good data skills, can you point them to an example where analyzing data helped you deliver successful results for your company? 

Research Company Culture 

One of the most important things you can do before going into an interview is to research the company culture.

Does this company appear close-knit? What are the values and beliefs held up by its founders, and how do other employees work to maintain these?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you can find ways to weave company culture into your answer.

For example, if this company values teamwork and camaraderie, you could describe how working as a team motivates you to achieve the best results.  

What Not To Say In Your Answer 

By now, you should be well equipped to answer the dreaded “what motivates you?” question successfully and with confidence.

To avoid any doubt, let’s talk you through a few things you should not be discussing in your answer. 

Keep Answers Positive 

Try and keep your answers positive.

Don’t use ‘getting fired’ or ‘being punished’ as example motivators.

Your prospective employer wants to know that you’re motivated by achieving meaningful results. 

Avoid Rambling

We know this is a tough one.

You’re on the spot, and you’ve just been thrown a dreaded open-ended question, but for the sake of seeming confident and self-assured, try and avoid rambling.

Preparing an answer to this question before your interview will help you avoid this. 

Final Thoughts 

With a little bit of confidence, research and preparation, there’s no interview question in existence that can shake you – including this one.

Plan, research, and practice, and you’ll be well on your way to making a lasting impression and getting the job you deserve. 

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