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"What motivates you?" is a typical job interview question that can be difficult to answer if you don't know what the interviewer wants to hear. It's broad and open-ended, and everyone has different motivators, including pay, prestige, impact, learning new skills, passions, etc.
A good answer provides insight into how and why you're motivated to achieve at work. The hiring manager will also be assessing whether your motivations align with the role expectations and the company's goals.
This article outlines why interviewers ask this question, how to answer it and provides examples of great answers, tips, and mistakes to avoid.
Why interviewers ask, "What motivates you?"
Interviewers ask, "What motivates you?" to assess whether your motivators are in line with the job description and company culture. The best candidates are excited about the opportunity and can explain why.
Suppose you're applying for a product manager job and share that you love talking to customers and solving problems. The interviewer can draw parallels between the role and your ideal work environment.
Inversely, if you're motivated by an outstanding work-life balance, you may not be a good fit for a career in a fast-paced startup.
In addition to deciding whether your motivations align with the role, interviewers also assess whether you understand what drives you. Much like asking, "What is your greatest weakness?"
If you can provide a concise explanation, you'll stand out.
How to answer "What motivates you?"
Like any job interview question, the best way to have a good answer is to prepare ahead of time. Your response needs to demonstrate why you're the right person for the job.
Follow the steps below to formulate your response.
1. Research the company and job
Invest time researching the company and reading the job description before your interview. The more you know about the organization and role, the more likely you'll provide a great answer. The research will also help you answer many other common interview questions.
Make a note of the company's needs and try to identify examples of situations from your education, skills, accomplishments, and experience valuable to the role and exciting for you.
2. Think about your ideal day and why you applied for the role
It's hard to think of an excellent answer to this question if you don't do a bit of self-reflection. Take a moment to reflect on what your perfect day would be and what gets you excited to come to work.
Think about what drew you to your profession beyond compensation. Whether it's meeting new people, managing an important project, learning new skills, or anything else, keep these situations in mind when preparing your answer.
It can also be helpful to think about which job responsibilities persuaded you to apply.
3. Be honest with the interviewer and yourself
Always be honest when talking about what motivates you. The interviewer is trying to understand your strengths, work style, and personality.
Every person is unique and has things they can bring to the table. "What motivates you?" helps interviewers filter out job applicants who would be better suited to a different role based on their personality and motivators.
4. Make your answer relevant
Now that you've researched the company and role and thought about what motivates you, it's time to formulate your answer. Chances are, many things inspire you. Focus your answer on something relevant to the role and company.
We recommend using the STAR interview method to structure your answer. While designed to answer behavioral interview questions, it can also help you answer open-ended questions like "What motivates you?"
The STAR method is helpful because it provides a clear framework to answer interview questions. The STAR acronym stands for situation, task, action, and result:
- Situation: Describe a situation that motivated you.
- Task: Outline your goals or problems.
- Action: Describe the steps you took to solve the problems or achieve your goals.
- Result: Explain how solving the problems or meeting your goals contributed to the company, then emphasize how achieving the results motivated you.
Using the STAR method to structure your answer ensures that you provide a compelling and memorable response that provides a great explanation of what motivates you.
Remember to pick a situation where the interviewer can quickly draw parallels to their company and role.
Related: How to create a STAR method resume
Examples of the best answers to "What motivates you?"
Review these example answers and use them as the basis of your response. Remember to tailor your response to match the skills, responsibilities, and characteristics the employer wants.
Sample answer #1: Results
"I love seeing numbers go up and to the right. Nothing motivates me more than when I have a concrete goal and the resources needed to achieve it. For example, in my last position, I was responsible for increasing our organic traffic by 100x in 12 months and had a team of writers and software engineers to do it.
I devised a two-pronged strategy to use editorial and programmatic SEO techniques to drive traffic to the website. By the end of the twelve months, we had grown organic traffic to the site from 1,000 visitors per month to more than 150,000.
That's also why I applied to this role. I loved how you outlined what you wanted, the goals the person hired would be working on, and when you wanted them to be complete. It's a fascinating opportunity."
Why it works: The candidate has done a good job of outlining what motivates them while tying in a story that highlights how they've achieved something in the past. The final part of their answer is sure to impress interviewers because they've outlined how their experience relates to the role.
Sample answer #2: Data-driven
"I'm motivated by using data to improve businesses. Give me access to the database and a set of questions, and I'll get to work figuring out how we can improve them. I developed a real-time analytics report for our sales team in my current position. The data from these reports help drive prospecting and outbound sales processes by helping show the sales team where to focus their efforts.
Since I implemented this report, the sales team has hit their numbers for eight quarters in a row. It's used by every sales team member each day, and both the qualitative and quantitative feedback I've received has been fantastic.
That's why I'm applying for this sales operations role. I'd love the chance to build a sales operations function from the ground up that has data baked in from the start."
Why it works: The candidate has shown how they're motivated by data analysis and its value to their team. They've also done a great job of showcasing how their previous experience aligns with the company and position.
Sample answer #3: Management
"I love managing people and helping them become the best version of themselves. I was directly responsible for twelve engineering managers who managed 150 staff in my previous role. Each team achieved 95% on-time delivery and 99.9% uptime for the last four quarters.
The best part of my job was taking junior engineers from individual contributors to managing a team. I love recommending people books like High Output Management and Radical Candor and seeing management click for them."
Why it works: This response shows the interviewer that the applicant is motivated by several factors, management, project management, and developing staff. These are all essential things to like when you're managing large teams, so they'll be sure to stand out!
Sample answer #4: Helping people
"I love helping people. There's something so great about taking someone from knowing nothing about a product to being the biggest evangelist at their company. Not only is this important to me, but it's important to every company. Happy customers retain better and drive word-of-mouth growth. In fact, in my previous technical account manager role, I was able to keep net revenue retention of the customers I managed at 150% for two years."
Why it works: The candidate tied their love of helping people to an essential business metric and made a strong case as to why happy customers are crucial and how they were able to keep customers happy in a previous role.
Sample answer #5: Learning new skills
"I've always been motivated by the desire to learn new skills. Finding a problem and figuring out how to solve it gives me a sense of accomplishment. I love teaching the skills I learned to my team too. For example, when I was the marketing manager at my previous company, I taught myself how to do performance marketing, and it eventually became our biggest growth channel. Once that happened, I taught a more junior staff member everything I knew so I could focus on developing new channels."
Why it works: This answer shows that the candidate can learn new things independently and teach them to other staff members, which is a particular skill.
Tips for answering "What motivates you?"
Follow these tips when answering "What motivates you?":
- Make your answer relevant: When preparing a response, think about the skills, abilities, and experience essential for the role and highlight them. For example, if you're applying to be a software engineer, frame your answer around problem-solving, deep work, and developing more junior engineers.
- Account for the company culture: If the company values team members who can work asynchronously, you might mention how deep work is an essential motivator. If you aren't sure what the company values, you need to continue researching to learn what you can before your interview. The research will help you answer many common interview questions.
- Make it personal: Outline how your passions relate to your professional motivations to show interviewers why you're applying to the role. If possible, talk about how your incentives align with the company's mission, culture, or values.
- Share an example: One way to stand out to a potential boss is to share a specific example from a previous job that shows what motivates you. For example, if you are driven by improving metrics, you could indicate when you set a goal and exceeded it. The STAR method is an excellent technique to structure your answer.
- Explain how you see yourself growing at the company: If you see yourself growing with the company long-term because you are passionate about the role, make sure to explain that. Tying your motivations to grow in your career with the employer assures them that you'll stick around if hired.
- Be honest: If you tailor your answer solely based on what the interviewer wants to hear, you might be unhappy when you land the job.
- Keep your audience in mind: While you may be most motivated by money, it won't be an inspiring answer for the hiring manager.
- Practice aloud: Ask a friend or family member to conduct a mock interview with you. You'll be less stressed and present better in the discussion if you've practiced answering this question aloud.
- Think about how your answer reflects on you: Interviewers want to know what you'll be like as an employee and co-worker. They're not only looking for someone who can do the job. They're also looking for someone who can fit into the workplace and is nice to be around.
- Use open body language: Your body language is as important as the words that come out of your mouth. Be sure to show how excited you are about the position by sitting straight, making eye contact, and smiling.
Mistakes to avoid when answering "What motivates you?"
Review the list of common mistakes below so you can avoid making them during your interview:
- Focusing on yourself: Focus your response on work-related motivators rather than the benefits you'll receive, e.g., a shorter commute or better compensation. Interviewers want to hear what responsibilities and opportunities at work keep you interested.
- Rambling: A long-winded response is confusing and hard to remember. Keep your answer focused. Outline what motivates you, share a specific situation that demonstrates it, and move on. The interviewer will ask a follow-up question if they need more information.
- Being negative: Always be positive in job interviews. People prefer to work with others who are happy and content.
- Generic answers: The purpose of an interview is to set yourself apart from other candidates and to motivate the potential employer to hire you. If you give a generic answer, you won't do an excellent job of differentiating yourself from other candidates.
- Using someone else's answer: You might have found a great answer on the Internet or from a friend, but it's worth putting in the work to figure out your answer.
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