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Along with a few other questions — such as “what are your strengths and weaknesses,” and “where do you see yourself in five years” — the question "What motivates you?" is one of the most common interview questions job candidates receive. And it’s a tricky question, too, because it's both open-ended and open to interpretation. How can you answer it in a winning way? That’s what this guide is all about. Here, we’ll explain why "What motivates you?" gets asked, how you can prepare for it and what you need to say to wow your interviewer.
There are a lot of reasons a hiring manager or interviewer might ask this question, but you can count on at least two things they’re getting at — they want to know if your personality will fit the open position, and see if you know yourself well enough to explain what drives you.
When it comes to the former, a potential employer will try to see if your values — as well as the way you work and the incentives you like to receive — align with what they can offer in the job.
As for the latter, knowing yourself well is an indicator that you are a clear-headed, proactive, thoughtful person — the kind any company would gladly want to add to its team.
This is not an answer you want to wing. Ramble on, and you could turn a hiring manager off. But there are two easy steps you can take beforehand to knock this answer out of the park.
First, read the job description and its requirements over and over. If you’re familiar with the job, then you can tailor your answer to better fit the position. For example, if the job description says that the employer is looking for a person that is “a self-starter and a resourceful problem solver,” then saying you’re motivated by the opportunity to be proactive and work independently in a position might sit well with the interviewer. It’s also worth researching the company’s mission and values to see if you can align your answer with them — for example, if you’re interviewing with a nonprofit, you might say that you’re motivated by the chance to make a difference in the world.
It’s one thing to say that you’re motivated by the chance to work as a problem-solver, but another entirely to share an anecdote about how your quick thinking saved the day during a previous work crisis. When you answer “what motivates you,” explaining your motivation as well as providing an example of that motivation at work is a winning combination.
Sometimes, the best way to answer a question well is to know which answers just don’t work. Really bad answers might include:
Unfortunately, talking about personal, surface-level motivations doesn’t — excuse the pun — motivate an interviewer to hire you. On the contrary, it makes you sound as if you’re only showing up for the paycheck, and what kind of hiring manager is looking for that?
Instead, when you answer this question, you must connect what motivates you to the job or company itself, in order to highlight how you would be a beneficial addition to the team.
With all of this in mind, some good answers might be:
Most hiring managers are far more interested in a potential employee whose motivation is position- or company-centric versus the “feel good” answers some are compelled to give. Remember, authenticity is key!
Now that you know how to answer this question, here are some other articles to help you prepare for any interview you might have!