Interview Question: “What Motivates You?”

When applying for a job, you will be asked numerous interview questions, some of which are more difficult than others. A common question that may catch you off guard is, “What motivates you?” The interviewer wants to know why and how you are motivated to achieve workplace goals and be successful on the job.

The hiring manager will also seek to determine whether your motivations align with the company’s objectives and the position for which you are applying.

Tip: By responding honestly and thoughtfully, you can impress your interviewer and demonstrate that you are the ideal candidate for the position.

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What the Interviewer Is Looking for

The purpose of this question is for the interviewer to determine what makes you tick. The hiring manager is interested in your motivation for success. In addition, they want to know if your motivations are compatible with the job’s responsibilities and the company’s culture.

Important: The hiring manager must determine whether your motivations align with the responsibilities of the position. For example, if you are motivated by a challenging workplace, you may not be the best candidate for a routine data entry position.

Sincere responses can help reveal the circumstances that make you feel excited and enthusiastic. (Another common variation of this question is “What are you passionate about?” which also seeks to determine what excites and fulfills the interviewee.)

The factors that motivate you at work can be a window into your personality and work style, allowing your interviewers to better understand you as a person and a potential employee.

There is a significant difference between the candidate whose best day is working independently on a report that improves the company’s bottom line and the candidate whose best day is building teams and establishing strong relationships with coworkers. This question can help interviewers determine which candidate is the best fit for the job and the organization.

How to Respond to “What Motivates You?”

Before the interview, devote some time to researching the company and the position. The greater your understanding of the organizational objectives of the employer, the better prepared you will be to respond.

It can be difficult to think of a good response to this question on the spot because it requires some introspection. To prepare your response, consider the positions you have held in the past:

  • What occurred throughout your best days?
  • When did you anticipate a day at the office the most?
  • When did you last come home from work brimming with stories and feeling energized and enthusiastic

Whether it was a productive meeting with a client, the completion of a challenging project, the acquisition of a new skill, or anything else, keep these positive experiences in mind when formulating your response.

Examples of the Top Responses

Examine these sample responses and tailor your response to align with the qualifications the employer is seeking.

  • Example Response 1
    I am extremely motivated by results. I enjoy having a specific objective to achieve and sufficient time to devise an effective strategy for achieving it. At my previous job, our annual goals were extremely ambitious, but I worked with my manager and the rest of my team to devise a month-by-month plan for achieving them. It was very exciting to achieve that.

This response is effective because it focuses on accomplishments and results. It is positive and highlights the candidate’s accomplishments.

  • Example Response 2
    I am motivated by data analysis. Give me a spreadsheet and some questions, and I’ll eagerly determine what factors are driving the numbers. At my current job, I am responsible for preparing the monthly sales analytics report. The information in these reports guides and determines the company’s next steps and sales targets for the following months. Motivating is the ability to provide this essential information.

The candidate is motivated by both data analysis and the ability to provide information to their team. This demonstrates to the interviewer that the candidate possesses both the hard and soft skills necessary for success in the role.

  • Example Response 3
    I was in charge of multiple projects in which I oversaw development teams and implemented repeatable procedures. The teams delivered 100% of software products on time. I was motivated both by the challenge of completing the projects early and by managing the teams that achieved our objectives.

Why it succeeds: This response demonstrates to the interviewer that the candidate is motivated by a variety of factors, including management, scheduling, and teamwork, and is capable of multitasking.

Best-answer tips

  • Keep working. When preparing your answer, consider the necessary skills and abilities. In your answer, emphasize these. If you’re applying to be a manager, focus on relationship building and helping others succeed and meet goals rather than learning new things or working with clients.
  • Consider the culture. If the company emphasizes staff camaraderie, say how group goals motivate you. Before your interview, learn as much as you can about the company culture.
  • Explain. Include a previous job example to explain what motivates you. If you say you’re results-driven, describe a time you set and met a goal.

Make sure the example shows how your motivation helped an organization.

You saved a company money, finished a project early, or helped an employee. Telling an interviewer about your accomplishments is a good way to showcase them. This will show the interviewer how motivated you are.

Answer honestly. You’ll seem insincere if you tailor your answer to what you think the employer wants to hear.

Honesty will help you determine if you’re a good fit for the job and company.

Mind your audience. Paychecks may motivate you, but an interviewer won’t be impressed.

What Not to Say

  • Be humble. Respond with work-related motivators. Instead of saying you like a weekly paycheck, discuss work responsibilities that keep you challenged and interested.
  • Stop babbling. Respond to the question clearly. Know what motivates you, and don’t overwhelm the interviewer with details.
  • Positive. Respond positively. You shouldn’t say you’re motivated to avoid being fired for poor performance.

Athina Iliadis is a Human Resources Professional with over 25 years’ experience in corporate environments working for companies such as Pearson, LexisNexis, Hershey, and Reckitt. In her current role as a consultant working with clients around the world, she coaches managers and employees on HR issues, supports leaders in their business, produces content about careers, interviews, and job opportunities. She is fluent in English, French and Greek, and she holds a BBA with a major in HR from Université du Québec à Montréal. Find her on LinkedIn and at

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