No matter how hard you prepare for an interview, there's something daunting about the common interview question, “What motivates you?” Our lives are busy and complex, so it can be hard to select just one thing when we have a variety of motivations at any given time. Plus, we want to answer in a way that compels the interviewer to extend an offer for the job role. Well, what if you had a better understanding of your motivations at work? Find out how we can help you to answer this common question and land your dream job.
Why do interviewers always want to know “what motivates you?”
Like all interview questions, it’s easier if you break it down and think about what the interviewer is really asking. If we use empathy and put ourselves in the interviewer’s shoes, we can see the question's purpose from the hiring manager's perspective.
Here’s a little secret from my recruiting days. Recruiters want to make the best choice when selecting a potential employee. Many people are counting on them. If they don’t find a truly qualified candidate, it can put the department, and even the whole company, at risk.
If a recruiter is working within an agency, it takes years to build a solid reputation that inspires loyalty and trust from clients. Candidates may seem ideal on their resumes, but ensuring they can deliver in person is vital. Think about the amazing dating profiles you've read who seem to have little in common with the person sitting across the table from you.
By asking what motivates an applicant, insight is gained into how the candidate's goals might fit the job. A recruiter can also see whether the candidate's values align with the organization they're being put forward for.
Really think about what motivated you to apply for this specific role
As a recruiter, I saw many super impressive resumes. Yet when I connected with the candidate, it was clear that they'd applied for more than 50 jobs, and I was the one who called back. Their answers were generic and could have applied to any company.
Like the Cheap Trick song, I Want You to Want Me – recruiters feel the same way. They want to find candidates who are deeply motivated to secure their roles.
Motivation significantly impacts job performance
Research has found that employee motivation can significantly impact job performance1. So it’s in the hiring manager's best interest to find motivated employees who will perform well and positively impact team morale.
The Wharton School's Professor Adam Grant conducted research in call centers and with lifeguards2. He found that employees are much happier and much more productive when they can see that their work has a real, positive effect on others.
If you think about why the motivation question is important to recruiters, it can help you dig deep and prepare an honest answer to show what drives you. And by extension, how you would be a top performer for the role.
Self-reflection is key
So you look good on paper and you've landed the interview. Preparing for theWhat motivates you? interview question is critical. It calls for more introspection than most other behavioral Tell me about a time when... type questions. You really have to know yourself for this one. Luckily, at Fingerprint for Success we have tools to help you reflect.
Fingerprint for Success can map 48 of your work motivations
Over the past 20 years, at Fingerprint for Success (F4S) we've studied the soft skills of individuals, teams, and the world’s top performers. We've identified the X Factor core attitudes and motivations that lead to high performance, fulfillment, and well-being in the workplace.
Now we’re on a mission to make professional growth and personal growth accessible to anyone with an internet connection. With our help, you can uncover what type of work will be most fulfilling for you. You can also develop any areas you need to improve—we call them blind spots.
Start learning more about your unique motivations by taking the free F4S assessment. It only takes 15-20 mins and it will help you understand what drives and motivates you at work. You'll immediately receive a detailed report on your account dashboard that reveals your top motivational traits. These refer to the ways you're invigorated at work. You’ll also learn what is most likely to drain your energy.
Next, you can connect with your AI coach, Marlee. Marlee uses your motivational data and makes suggestions and insights based on your goals and areas of improvement. There are free coaching programs for areas such as emotional intelligence, creativity, leadership, and communication skills.
Knowing your strengths, aka your top 5 motivations, can help your professional and personal life. You can use this information to help:
- Answer tough interview questions and nail the interview,
- Make career decisions,
- Be happier and more energized,
- And learn more about yourself and what drives you.
Our findings show that when a person has a good attitude and is motivated, they're more likely to be successful, happy, and enjoy their job.
It's important to know about yourself and what you believe in when looking for a new job or growing your business. Understanding these things can help you make good choices and be successful.
Another helpful way to learn about what drives you is to examine your values. Looking at what’s most important to you at this particular moment in your life will shed light on your motivation. This can change over time with your life circumstances. For instance, a 22-year-old just starting a career may value gaining experience and travel. While someone in their 40s may require a higher-paying job close to their home with limited travel due to family obligations.
Try a Values Exercise that includes around 30 attributes of jobs. Then select the top five that are important to you at this time and rank order these.
Using your F4S assessment results and your values exercise in combination can help you choose the right motivations to talk about in your interview.
Framing your answer to fit this particular role
When selecting your top five motivations, consider which ones match the needs of the job you're applying for.
Make sure your motivations align with the qualities the company is looking for in a candidate. For your information-gathering phase, try these steps:
- Let the job description be your guide. Ask yourself, what are the competencies this employer seeks for this role? Which of your top five motivations are related?
- Check out the employer’s mission statement and values. Do any of these relate to your top five motivations?
- Align your personal motivations with company culture, values, and goals to showcase that you're the perfect candidate.
How to prepare a five-step checklist of what to include in your answer
1. Be honest
You want to protect your integrity and avoid giving an inauthentic answer. This could harm your reputation and the agency or recruiter putting you forward for the role. Ensure your motivation genuinely aligns with the role and organization to ensure greater job satisfaction. Lying may lead to an offer, but eventually, the truth will surface, causing potential misery in the role.
2. Use storytelling to bring your resume to life
It’s not enough to say I’m motivated by helping people or being creative. To show how motivated you are, give specific examples of how it has changed your behavior and led to past successes in your career. In addition, you want to make sure you're not simply restating your resume. Think about the details you omitted from your resume due to space constraints. Paint a picture with words about what you did, why you did it, and how it made a difference.
3. Look for themes in your past experience
Use exercises to understand what you're good at as you consider your motivations. Especially the one about past highs and lows in your life. Look to those high points and think about your biggest motivation at that time. Construct your success stories around those high points.
4. Use the CAR Method
As you consider what motivates you and construct a success story, you want to be concise and keep your answer focused. The CAR method stands for Challenge, Action, Result. It is a useful way to structure your stories and ensure you convey pertinent information and focus on your impact. To see more details about this, check out the Greatest Hits exercise.
5. Articulate your experience in a way that is meaningful to this particular employer
Consider the industry and company when showcasing your motivations. Use relevant examples, such as why you want to work in a group setting. This allows you to show that you're a good fit for a large tech company that values teamwork. Keep your answer professional and relevant.
Things to avoid
1. Generic answers with no examples
The whole point of an interview is to set yourself apart from other candidates. You want the hiring manager to feel confident that you can do the job, that you want to do the job, and that they would like to work with you.
If you give generic answers without concrete examples, you're selling yourself short. You're also not differentiating yourself from other candidates.
2. Using someone else’s answer
Your friend or family member may have an amazing answer to an interview question. It’s fine to let that inspire you but avoid outright copying. You need the success story to back it up, and you could easily veer into embellishment territory, so be careful. It's best to come up with your own memorable answer.
3. Please love me syndrome
Limit your responses to interview questions to between 90 seconds and 2 minutes. Any longer, and you could start rambling. I call it the please love me syndrome. Candidates get nervous and start delivering monologues that they hope have a good nugget of information somewhere inside. This makes the candidate look unfocused and dilutes the impact of what they're saying. The CAR method above helps you dive in, provide relevant, impactful information, and gracefully close out the story.
4.Being too blunt
Most people work to provide for themselves and their families. Yet saying you're only there for the money could make the interviewer question if you'll be a dependable employee. Think back to a time when you had a project that meant a lot to you, and you needed to bring on additional help. Which answers would make you want to hire someone, and which answers would raise a red flag? Think from the recruiter’s perspective and consider how you're coming across.
Five examples for you to answer “what motivates you?”
This job interview question can be tough to answer. But it's important to have a good response ready. Here are five sample answers to help inspire you.
Working for a larger purpose motivates me to do a good job. I take pride in my work no matter the context, but I find that I perform best when I’m in an environment where I’m making a difference. I spent the majority of my career working in academic administration. I love the energy of college campuses because students are coming there to change their lives and open up a new world of possibilities.
As an advisor, I have had the opportunity to connect with thousands of students and provide clarity for their journey. Which has given me a sense of accomplishment in my career journey. The fall can be overwhelming with lots of evening hours. But I have been doing this for seven years and I remind myself of past successful programs and that the challenge is why I'm drawn to working at a college. Staying late to provide information in workshops that could help a student find an internship or job offer is worth it. That’s what made this open position stand out to me. The chance to continue helping students.
I have always thrived when leading teams. It is one of my biggest motivators. It started in high school when I was elected President of the Student Council. Throughout college and my professional career, I found myself drawn to positions managing people. That’s why project management has been such a great fit. It’s the intersection of my ability to connect with people and bring out the best in them and my organizational skills.
At ABC company, I was the youngest manager. Promoted after only a year (which traditionally took two years or more). During that time, I led our team through a successful project with one of our biggest clients transitioning from a legacy system. I not only had group meetings, but I also checked in with each team member on a regular basis. I ensured they understood the goals, had the resources they needed and could solve problems as they arose.
We completed the transition to the new system within budget and a week ahead of schedule. It’s a testament to the team and how hard they worked. The client was really happy with the results and hired us for another even larger project.
Providing an amazing customer experience is what motivates me. It started during a summer job at an upscale hotel in college, where they taught us the importance of strong customer service skills.
That experience influenced my decision to go into UX/UI because as I create websites, I think of the users as guests. I want to provide them with the ultimate experience with the company website.
At the hotel, we learned to anticipate needs and really listen to people. At the startup where I worked, that level of customer service was critical as we navigated to our Series A round of funding. In fact, the founders brought me to those meetings with angel investors to talk about how our design and customer service set us apart in the market.
I’m happy to say the funding came through, and I was glad to be part of the team that helped take the company to the next level.
I am motivated when I have the opportunity to learn new things. In each of my jobs, I've made a conscious effort to focus on professional development. I think it's important to keep learning to perform well and stay competitive.
During my meetings with my supervisor, I asked about future projects and what I could do to prepare in advance. The last one involved Python, which I had never used before. I was able to take a few online courses ahead of time, which helped me dive into the project.
My thirst for learning new things also helps me navigate change well. I see it as an opportunity to broaden my skill set and bring more to my role.
I am motivated by data because I’m analytical and have strong technical skills in evaluating data to find hidden stories and insights. The satisfaction of discovering meaningful patterns and insights through data analysis drives me.
In my last role, I was brought into a 50-year-old family company that wanted to start focusing on analytics. First, I extrapolated years of data (both digital and hard copy invoices before 2000). Then analyzing the results to help the company see areas of vulnerability and strengths.
This project allowed the company to conduct a comprehensive SWOT analysis. This led to a successful expansion into new markets based on data-driven recommendations. It was exciting to contribute to the growth and company mission. That's why I'm drawn to this role, which focuses on helping startups expand and align with their mission, leveraging my data analysis skills.
Final reflections on the “what motivates you?” interview question
It’s worth the effort to self-reflect and gain clarity on what motivates you at work. By thinking back to your high points and when you felt enthusiastic at work, you can formulate success stories based on your past wins. This will inspire confidence in the hiring manager.
They want someone who can hit the ground running and quickly make contributions. Your vivid stories about relevant motivations, aligned with your target job and company, will help you land that offer.