BlogJob InterviewsHow to Answer "What Motivates You?" to Impress Employers

How to Answer "What Motivates You?" to Impress Employers

what motivates you

When you’re presented with the “What motivates you?” interview question, your answer should highlight your drive and interest in the role that you’re applying for. While this question can seem innocuous, it is designed to probe into your skills, experiences, and suitability for the job.

That’s why we’re going to examine the rationale behind the “What motivates you?” question and help you understand what recruiters want to find out when asking it. We’ll also teach you how to give an impeccable answer and what mistakes to avoid when doing so.

Key Takeaways

  • When employers ask, “What motivates you?” they look to understand whether you’d be a good professional and cultural fit for the company.

  • To answer this question, you should reflect on your past experiences, identify common themes, connect your motivation to the job, be honest, and tell a story.

  • Some of the biggest motivators include overcoming challenges, developing skills, leading or mentoring, and more.

  • An established three-step framework for answering this question involves opening with a motivator, continuing with a story, and capitalizing on it by emphasizing results.

Why Do Employers Ask the “What Motivates You” Question?

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Employers ask the “What motivates you?” question to better understand how well you’d fit in the role and their company. This represents a complex inquiry into your personality designed to help the interviewer determine whether your motivations align with the job that you’re going to do. Your answer can also show whether you’d be a good cultural fit.

This is one of the most common interview questions, and it also gauges a candidate’s self-awareness, introspection capabilities, and personal drive. A clear and concise answer shows that you’re a conscious professional with precise career goals and a proactive approach to reaching them.

Moreover, the answer to this question tells employers about your passion for the work and determination to progress, which are strong indicators of future performance. This makes it easier for them to ascertain your long-term potential and productivity. 

Professionals with strong motivation and involvement in their field are likely to excel in their roles. More than that, they are also committed to continuous growth and improvement. So, employers always look for such candidates, as hiring them leads to reduced turnover rates and a more stable workforce.

Finally, this question can reveal whether you’re an adaptable candidate ready to face difficult challenges that often arise in professional environments. It also gives you the opportunity to highlight valuable soft skills like problem-solving or decision-making.

How to Prepare an Answer to “What Motivates You?”

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Preparation is key to answering the “What motivates you?” interview question well. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do that.

#1. Reflect on Past Experiences

Your first step should be to reflect on your past experiences, both professional and personal. Think of the moments when you felt exceptionally motivated to perform your tasks and fulfill your duties.

One way to come up with these is to analyze past projects, jobs, and efforts where you feel you did your best work. Consider the aspects of such projects that you found most rewarding, whether that was being a part of a team or overcoming a difficult obstacle.

#2. Identify Common Themes

As you reflect on past experiences, you’ll start identifying common themes and aspects that consistently motivated you. These could be anything from learning new skills or improving current ones to finding creative solutions or helping others reach their full potential.

Your answer becomes more impactful and memorable when it features recurring elements like these, highlighting a common theme behind your drive. That paints a clear picture of where your interests and ambitions lie, helping hiring managers understand how your motivations align with their company’s needs.

#3. Connect Motivation to the Job Role

The key to answering interview questions is connecting them to the job role you’re applying for. That’s why your motivations should be tightly related to the responsibilities you’ll have in the company.

For this reason, it’s essential to research the company to learn about its team, work environment, culture, and other relevant aspects. The information you discover will help you show how your motivation aligns with their needs, helping you excel in your future role.

For example, if the company values interdisciplinary teamwork, you should emphasize your collaboration skills and drive to work with others. Conversely, if you’re having an interview with a startup, you might want to highlight your desire to solve problems and network with others.

#4. Be Honest and Genuine

By being honest in explaining what motivates you to do a good job, you show genuine authenticity, which can resonate with the interviewer. While your answer should be tailored to the job that you’re going for, it shouldn’t be altered to the point where you’re simply telling them what they want to hear.

Instead, you want to be sincere when talking about what drives you, as that will make your answer more compelling. It will also be better in the long run, as it will ensure genuine compatibility between you and the organization you’re looking to join.

#5. Use Stories and Examples

You should use stories and examples in your answer to illustrate your point, making your response more engaging and believable. For example, you can talk about specific projects that you worked on or problems that you solved. By showing recruiters the quantifiable outcomes of your efforts, you’ll give them solid proof of your motivation.

#6. Practice Your Response

Finally, once you’ve done all the preparation, you want to practice your response to ensure you can give it in a clear and concise manner. You want to talk clearly and give a coherent answer that features only the relevant details.

One of the best ways to practice your response is to have a mock interview with a friend, mentor, or colleague. However, you can also rehearse your answer aloud on your own. That will help you spot areas for improvement and perfect your performance during the interview.

Motivations to Focus on as You Develop Your Answer

career goals

Let’s check out some of the best motivations to focus on when answering the “What motivates you?” interview questions.

Taking on or Overcoming Challenges

Many professionals are driven to take on and overcome difficult challenges. They thrive in environments that allow them to use their problem-solving skills. By highlighting your passion for tackling complex problems, you’ll also showcase your resilience, resolve, and adaptability.

This motivation shows recruiters that you’re not someone who gives up easily. It’s also a strong indicator that you’re someone who takes every opportunity to grow and learn new things, which is a valuable trait that employers look for.

Developing New Skills

Commitment to learning new skills and continuously developing is a strong motivator. This one is particularly appealing to employers in creative fields and evolving work environments where tasks and responsibilities always change.

Your drive to develop new skills further shows a proactive approach to your career, which translates to a forward-looking professional attitude. Employers will see you as someone who’s quick to adapt to new technologies, upskill or reskill when necessary, stay up to date with the latest industry trends and practices, and more.

Working Independently or with Others

Your preference for working independently or with others can be a strong motivator and have a significant impact on your performance. If you excel in collaborative environments, you can emphasize your collaboration skills and your love for teamwork when talking about what motivated you to apply for this position.

Conversely, if you prefer focused, independent work, you can talk about your organizational and time management skills and your ability to take initiative. Giving a clear answer about your preferences helps interviewers understand what role in their company would best fit your work style.

Leading a Team or Mentoring Others

Leadership and mentorship are strong motivators for individuals who love to teach, guide, and inspire others. You can emphasize your leadership skills if you’re enthusiastic about piloting teams, creating goals, making decisions, and fostering a collaborative atmosphere.

Your desire to mentor and motivate others and help them reach their full potential is another strong indicator of leadership tendencies. It also shows that you’re highly skilled in your area and able to significantly contribute to organizational success.

Creating New Processes or Improving Existing Ones

A drive to create new processes or improve existing ones highlights your tendency to innovate and be efficient in your work. Employers always look for ways to streamline and optimize operational processes and workflows, reduce costs, and implement new technologies.

That's why showcasing these qualities is essential when answering these “motivation” questions. Interviewers will recognize your proactive approach to problem-solving and your ability to identify potential issues and find ways for improvement.

Achieving Goals and Meeting Targets

Results are vital for a successful business, which is why many professionals are highly motivated to achieve goals and meet targets. If you enjoy tracking progress, measuring outcomes, and setting and attaining clear objectives, you should showcase that in your answer.

Your efforts to reach sales targets, project milestones, or personal goals demonstrate personal accountability and your commitment to efficiency, which are highly valuable in professional settings.

Consider the Possible Follow-Up Questions

Depending on your answer to the “What motivates you?” interview question, employers might ask you several follow-up questions.

The ones to consider include:

Possible Follow-up Question #1

“Are you self-motivated?”

The purpose of this question is to examine whether you’re capable of working independently and without supervision. You can highlight instances in the past when you achieved goals and objectives on your own to showcase initiative and self-motivation.

Possible Follow-up Question #2

“What are you passionate about?”

This question is designed to help interviewers paint a complete picture of your passions and aspirations. Your passions, in combination with your motivations, give an insight into your personality and demonstrate whether you’re a good fit for the company.

Possible Follow-up Question #3

“What can you contribute to this company?”

Interviewers ask this question to determine what some of your specific skills and qualifications are that might help the company achieve its goals. This is the time to give a more tailored response and focus on those abilities that you know are needed for the role you’re applying for.

Possible Follow-up Question #4

“What strategies would you use to motivate your team?”

If leading and mentoring are some of your biggest motivators, recruiters might ask you to explain in detail how you manage and motivate your team. With this question, they are looking for the exact strategies you use to impact the morale of your colleagues and enhance their productivity.

Example Answer Framework

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There’s a proven three-step framework that you can follow to give an optimal answer to the “What motivates you?” interview question. It involves three steps, and they go as follows:

Example Answer Three-Step Framework

  1. Open with a motivator. You should begin your response by immediately giving a concrete answer to the question. Clearly define what motivates you to join the company, whether it’s reaching goals, mentoring others, or something else. This sets the stage and allows you to naturally transition to the second step.

  2. Tell a story. Next, you want to provide a captivating story about some of your past experiences that are tightly related to your motivator. For example, you can choose a specific project that you led or participated in, explaining your role and actions as well as the skills you used to complete it.

  3. Highlight the results. By giving concrete results of your motivation and actions, you can capitalize on the story you told. Add measurable value to your competence and highlight personal satisfaction by including statistics and numbers when talking about aspects such as reaching sales goals or deadlines under budget.

3 Sample Answers to “What Motivates You?”

Let’s check out some examples of answers to the “What motivates you?” question to help you put into practice everything that you’ve seen so far.

Example 1:

Here’s an example where a candidate highlights their drive to overcome challenges and solve complex problems:

Overcoming Challenges Good Answer

“I am motivated to overcome difficult challenges. In my previous role as a software engineer, I was tasked with solving a serious bug that was hindering an entire project that was approaching a deadline. After several workdays of alternating between collaboration and deep, focused work, I resolved an issue with my team. We delivered the product five days ahead of schedule and experienced an incredibly rewarding launch. The experience reinforced my desire to seek greater challenges and continue looking for ways to improve my competence.”

Example 2:

In the following example, a job seeker emphasizes their collaboration skills and motivation to be a part of a team of equal-minded individuals:

Working Collaboratively Good Answer

“I thrive when working collaboratively and bouncing ideas off of other experts in my or adjacent fields. In my previous company, I had the role of a project coordinator, and I held regular interdisciplinary meetings to ensure everyone was on the same page while working toward a common goal. I fostered a synergistic environment with a focus on transparency and open communication. In the end, we completed a large-scale project 7% under budget, and a shared success only bolstered my enthusiasm for collaborative work.”

Example 3:

If what motivates you to succeed in the workplace is the opportunity to inspire, teach, lead, and mentor others, here’s how you can answer this interview question:

Leading and Mentoring Good Answer

“I am driven to lead and mentor others. During my previous tenure as a team lead, I deeply enjoyed everything from giving direct project-related feedback to offering constructive career advice. I enjoyed having regular one-on-one meetings to help individuals improve and gained great pleasure from watching others succeed, which only made me want to perform better in leadership roles.”

5 Common Mistakes to Avoid

Finally, here are some common mistakes to avoid when replying to “What motivates you?”:

1. Focusing too much on compensation

While salary, perks, and benefits are valid motivators, they shouldn’t be your main ones. They are seen as superficial and much less impactful, as opposed to genuine interest in the job and passion for the craft.

2. Rambling or being vague

Every answer to an interview question should be clear and concise. A vague, incoherent, and long-winded response can sound confusing and might detract from the main goal of highlighting your key strengths.

3. Mentioning negative motivators

Negative motivators, such as trying to avoid boredom or criticism, don’t convey genuine passion for the job.

4. Giving generic answers

Broad responses like “I like to contribute to the company” aren’t personal and memorable. Instead, you want to talk about concrete experiences and motivations.

5. Not being honest

Recruiters can easily spot dishonesty and your attempt to give them an answer you think they want. A sincere response is authentic and will best convey your passion. 

Final Thoughts

“What motivates you?” is an open-ended question to which every candidate should provide a unique answer. That’s what makes preparation and reflection on your past experiences key to giving a solid answer.

Remember that while your answer should always be tailored to the role that you’re after, authenticity and honesty will yield the best results. Through them, you’ll demonstrate genuine passion and have the best chances of impressing future employers!

Henry Garrison
Henry Garrison
Senior Content Writer
Henry Garrison is a senior content writer, but he is also a guitarist, a baseball fan, and a family man. He has years of experience in the industry, and he loves challenging himself and thinking outside the box. His passion is writing high-quality content that helps thousands of people land their dream job! He has had his fair share of editing content too, and loves to help out everyone in the team.

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