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Here’s how to answer the “What motivates you?” interview question

Artwork by: Stas Podgornov

  • Why does your potential employer want to know what gets you out of bed every morning?
  • Tips on answering the interview question, “What motivates you?”
  • Think about your past experiences
  • Make sure your motivators align with the job role
  • Answer the what motivates you interview question with honesty
  • Use a storytelling approach
  • Common motivation factors at work
  • What not to say when answering a what motivates you interview question
  • Bragging about yourself
  • Rambling on and on
  • Choosing a bad example
  • Key takeaways

When it comes to hiring, employers are always on the lookout for positive and self-motivated employees. This is why they need to know what entices you to work when they’re interviewing you. Here’s how to answer this question effectively and get hired.

Whether you’re filling out a job application, preparing for an interview, or in the middle of an interview, you’re likely to encounter a question on what motivates you. The purpose of this question is for the employer to assess your motivation and interests and whether you will be able to meet and exceed your job-related expectations. 

If you’re faced with a “What motivates you?” interview question, we’re here to help you out. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at:

  • Why do potential employers want to know what motivates you at work?

  • How do you answer a question on what motivates you to work hard?

  • What are the different types of things that typically motivate people to do good work?

Why does your potential employer want to know what gets you out of bed every morning?

During a job interview, hiring managers are likely to ask a number of behavioral interview questions to determine whether you’re right for the available job as well as a good cultural fit for the company. And one of these questions involves your motivation.

For the employer, it’s important to know whether your motivators align with the job roles and responsibilities. For instance, if you’re motivated by working in a challenging, fast-paced environment, then maybe a data entry job at a public-sector organization that is resistant to change might not be a good fit for you.

In most cases, employers want to know what motivates you so that they can get a better idea of your personality, management style, and work ethic. There’s a significant difference between an individual who feels motivated and productive when working with a team and someone who prefers to work independently with minimal supervision. 

This knowledge allows the employer to determine whether the individual will be a good fit for the job role.

Tips on answering the interview question, “What motivates you?”

When answering a question on what motivates you at work, your answer should be professional and in line with the job you’re applying for. Here are a few tips to help you respond effectively to this type of question.

Think about your past experiences

Take a look at your previous work experiences and think to yourself, “What motivated me to go the extra mile and complete all work-related responsibilities in a timely manner?” 

Think about all the things at your previous job that motivated you to deliver your best. Maybe it was designing a new system at work, handling customer escalations, or mentoring team members. 

Your motivators don’t necessarily have to be job responsibilities. If you had a solid work ethic because the company’s vision and mission aligned with your personal goals, then that could also be a good motivator worth discussing at your job interview.

Make sure your motivators align with the job role

There might be several things that motivate you at work, but not all of them will be relevant to your job. It’s important to keep any personal motivating factors aside and focus on motivators that relate to your current/previous job and the job you’re applying for.

For example, if you’re applying for a sales job, you probably enjoy making commission on sales. However, what might really motivate you at work could be the opportunity to collaborate with other departments to identify and qualify leads, design a marketing funnel, and secure partnership agreements for the organization. 

Answer the what motivates you interview question with honesty

It’s easy to get distracted when talking about what motivates you and go off-topic. Try to be honest about your motivators at work without being too blunt. For instance, instead of saying, “Money motivates me,” try saying, “Compensation package, growth incentives, and the opportunity to learn are my biggest motivators.”

Use a storytelling approach

When answering a behavioral question, it’s best to rely on a storytelling approach. After all, people are more likely to remember stories. Talk about a situation you faced at work, the action you took, and how it motivated you to meet and exceed expectations. 


Here are a few examples on how to answer the question, “What motivates you?”

Example #1:

I’m driven by a desire to learn new things and think out-of-the-box to discover solutions. At my previous job, we were having a difficult time monitoring and tracking employees’ progress and their hours worked in a remote setting. I spent some time researching and learning Confluence and how it can be used to monitor productivity. I was able to prepare and present a business case for using this software to track key metrics, including working hours and time spent on tasks. As a result, our company was able to design better KPIs for performance evaluations.

Example #2:

I believe proper planning goes a long way in making life easier, which is why the planning aspect of my job excites me the most. As an executive assistant, I love going the extra mile to manage the presentation room schedule so that all teams have access to the room when needed. When booking air tickets and hotel rooms for our C-suite executives, I always call the hotel in advance to book the quietest rooms with complimentary snacks and beverages and make sure our team has access to all the resources they need to make their business trip a success. 

Example #3:

I’m really driven by results. At my previous job, we set highly ambitious targets for our sales team. I worked closely with my supervisor to break those goals into a series of short-term strategies, including setting a weekly quota and monthly incentive plans, which allowed our organization to exceed its budgeted revenue figure for that fiscal year. 

Example #4:

I love talking to people and hearing their stories. At my previous job at a retail store, I would frequently engage in conversations with customers to understand their pain points and help them find what they were looking for. We had a new immigrant family at our store who were having a difficult time communicating with the staff, so I spent two hours walking them through our latest collection and then advising them on what would look best on them. They thanked me for all my assistance. A few days back, they came back with another family and specifically requested me to help them. We ended up gaining more clients as a result. 

Example #5:

I enjoy designing new systems and solutions to streamline operations and increase efficiency across the board. As part of a POS design company, I’ve created multiple automations to track inventory and facilitate self-checkout to reduce the waiting times at cash counters from 45 minutes to 10 minutes across 350 retail stores in New York.

Example #6:

What motivates me the most at work is when the organization’s objectives align with my personal goals. I’m extremely conscious about the environment, which is why I thoroughly enjoy working as the CSR strategist for our company’s zero-carbon initiative. By designing and implementing a new waste management system, I’ve been able to reduce our organization’s emission rates by 85% in 2022. This not only makes me happy, but it also strengthens my commitment to creating a better, safer, and cleaner world for the next generation and exploring other alternatives to bring our emissions down to zero. 

Common motivation factors at work

There are two types of motivation factors: intrinsic and extrinsic. Think of them as internal and external factors. For example, a paycheck would be an extrinsic motivator while the thrill of meeting a deadline is an intrinsic factor. 

When answering an interview question on what motivates you, it’s best to talk about intrinsic factors. Some of the common intrinsic motivation factors at work include:

  • Designing a new system or solution to streamline operations

  • Championing a major business transformation initiative

  • Improving the company’s bottom line, such as by increasing revenue

  • Helping solve a problem and/or motivate a team member

  • Learning a new skill and/or overcoming a challenge

  • Training, guiding, and mentoring team members and/or new hires

  • Conceptualizing and implementing a new business/product development plan

  • Developing subject-matter expertise in a particular area

What not to say when answering a what motivates you interview question

Even though a question on motivation is well-intentioned and generally straightforward, some job applicants fail to answer this question properly. Here are a few common mistakes to avoid when responding to this question.

Bragging about yourself

If an employer wants to know what motivates you, they’re more interested in knowing what entices you about your existing job and how that impacts your overall productivity at work and contributes toward key accomplishments. They’re also looking for anecdotes from your professional life that strengthen their faith in your skills, competency, and aptitude. 

Instead of making it about money, talk about something that helped you accomplish a goal or meet a target at work. Explain how that motivating factor allowed you to go above and beyond in completing a task and how it impacted the company’s bottom line. Don’t just make it about yourself. Think about the company first. Present yourself as the solution to their problems.

Rambling on and on

The last thing you want to do is to provide an extremely long and detailed answer that completely misses the point. Your employer wants to know what motivates you, so you need to be clear and concise with your response.

Don’t confuse or overwhelm the interviewer with a verbose reply that provides too much information. Keep the conversation focused on the motivating factor and how it allowed you to deliver your best. 

Choosing a bad example

While money is an important motivating factor, it should not be the first thing to mention to the interviewer. Similarly, providing vague answers (such as the very nature of the job) or tongue-in-cheek remarks (such as fear of getting fired) should be avoided. 

Key takeaways

  1. During a job interview, the hiring manager is likely to ask you a question on what motivates you in order to gauge your suitability for the job role.

  2. Responding to questions involving your motivating factors help you showcase your excitement and enthusiasm for the job role and why you’d make a good fit.

  3. Pull directly from your past experiences, use a storytelling approach, answer honestly, and always make your motivators align with the job you’re after.

  4. Be as concise as possible, and have the answer be less about you and more about how your motivation will be good for the company.

  5. Focus your answers on intrinsic factors like problem-solving, development, and growth versus extrinsic factors like a paycheck or fear of being fired.

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