Employers want motivated, self-starters who are driven to succeed.
Employees want to work for a cause or company that they feel passionate to support.
How does that happen?
It all comes back to one question:
What motivates you?
If you’re on the exciting path of choosing a career path after graduation, you have probably asked yourself this question already. And there’s a good chance that an interviewer will do the same.
Today you’ll learn how to formulate a truly meaningful answer to the “What motivates you?” interview question.
We’ll explore how to determine your motivation before the interview and articulate your answer to an interviewer, including how to address inexperience and career changes. We’ll also see great answers, good answers, and the bad answers that some prospective employees fall into.
Why do interviewers ask this question?
Motivation is at the core of an employee’s work.
Motivated employees are satisfied, think creatively, and perform better. Companies want satisfied employees, but it is ultimately about the bottom line.
Hiring motivated employees will help the company reach its goals.
So interviewers will do everything they can to make sure you’re a good fit.
How to determine your motivation
To answer this open-ended interview question, you have to have some idea of what actually does motivate you.
An interviewer will be able to tell when you’re not genuinely excited about what you’re saying. Thinking through what motivates you ahead of time will ensure that your answer is authentic.
So how do you determine what motivates you?
First of all:
It’s probably not just one thing.
Most of us have many things that light our fire on the spectrum from fears to hopes and dreams.
Think about what you would do if you didn’t have to consider money or time constraints. What kind of work do you look forward to doing? What have you done in the past that you’re proud of? What makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning?
Those are your motivators.
How to structure your answer
Keep your initial answer clear and concise.
Make sure that you coherently state what motivates you. Try to have a one-sentence answer ready to go, even practicing it ahead of time. If you’re not confident about your answer, the interviewer won’t be either.
Follow up with concrete examples from previous experiences to illustrate your answer.
If you’re motivated by leading others, tell the interviewer about a time that you led a team to complete an important project. If you enjoy learning new skills, discuss the work that you put into earning professional certifications.
How to address a lack of experience
Most job seekers think of paid work experience when writing their resume or looking at job postings.
But what if you don’t have much or any relevant paid work experience?
If you’re a recent college graduate, mine your time on campus for relevant experiences. Did you lead a student organization? Did your classes give you any skills relevant to the job?
Also, volunteer experience can be just as valuable. And volunteering can be a great opportunity to learn about what motivates you.
Here’s the thing about motivation:
Things like leadership, passion for helping others, interest in solving complex problems—those are all applicable across many industries.
It all comes down to this:
Show how your motivation translated into results.
Did you save an organization money? Did your work impact a certain number of customers? Did you streamline a particular process? These are all things that can be quantified, making it easy for an interviewer to understand.
Ultimately, a company wants to know what you can do for them.
Show that the way you performed in previous paid and unpaid work is top-notch and can offer something valuable to the interviewer.
They will want to know more.
How to answer in a new industry
The same goes for changing industries.
You most likely have motivations and skills that will help you in your new chosen field. For example, a talent and passion for public speaking is valuable in all workplaces.
What worries employers about hiring someone with no industry experience is that they don’t know what they’re getting. Explain how your motivations and skills transfer to the new position using specific examples.
You can also cite conversations you have had with those currently working in the field to show that you have done your homework.
Common mistakes interviewees make
Don’t let yourself stumble into one of these classic errors:
- Vague or generic answer
“What motivates you” is a broad, open-ended interview question. But that doesn’t mean your answer should be overly general. You may choose to lead with a broad motivator, but you should follow it up with specific examples.
- Insincere answer
You may also be tempted to tailor your response to what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Don’t! This is not to say that you shouldn’t customize your answer for the company at which you’re interviewing. You should. Just remember that while it’s important to keep your audience in mind, answering in a way that you can’t back up can come off as insincere or worse—a lie.
If you answer that you’re motivated by what the company does, you had better know what that is and be able to point to examples from your own history that show that you’re a good fit.
Sample interview answers for “What Motivates You?”
Now that we have the ground rules covered, let’s look at some actual answers you might use for “What motivates you?” in an interview.
I like to help those who are less fortunate. I have worked at a soup kitchen and volunteered with Meals on Wheels. It makes me feel good to give back to those in need.
Why is this a good answer?
- First, it starts with a succinct, one-sentence summary.
- Then, it backs it up with a real-life experience.
Can we improve on this?
I’m motivated by opportunities to identify and meet the needs of the place where I work. My junior year in college, I noticed a growing trend of drunk driving on campus. As a leader in the student outreach organization, I developed an initiative to address this problem. We reached over 8,000 students through focus groups and classroom education. Our safe ride program was used over 400 times per month.
Why is this a better answer?
- Not only does it start with the brief summary and follow that up with a real example. It also connects that experience to how the candidate can impact the workplace.
- Bonus points for including quantitative results. That’s the sort of thing that moves your resume to the top of the pile.
Before we wrap up, let’s finish with the type of example you want to avoid.
I feel very passionate about the work that you are doing here. I haven’t worked much in this area in the past, but it is something that motivates me a lot.
This answer falls into both of the pitfalls that we covered earlier. It’s vague and probably comes off as a little insincere.
Some of the best advice we can give you as a job seeker is to discover what motivates you. That’s the key to not just successful interviews but to a successful career.
Because nothing—not money or titles—can take the place of true passion.
Once you’ve secured an interview, be enthusiastic about sharing your motivations with the interviewer.
Thinking through how to answer the interview question “What motivates you?” in a genuine way using specific examples will help you land the perfect job for you.