How to Answer ‘What Motivates You’ Interview Question

Quick Navigation:

One of the more common interview questions is, ‘What motivates you?’ How you answer this is important because it tells employers what excites you about coming to work and gives them an idea of what kind of employee you will be.

This article shows you how to answer ‘What motivates you?’ in an interview with an employer.

Why employers ask, ‘What motivates you?’

Employers ask this question to see what gets you excited and makes you productive at work. They want to know what drives you. Your answer gives employers an idea of how you will fit into the company culture and what kind of employee you will be—team-oriented, self-motivated or goal-oriented.

The ‘What motivates you?’ question has any number of different responses. If you’re unsure what to focus on, think about what got you excited at previous jobs: 

  • What were the types of tasks that you were eager to work on and why? 
  • Did you enjoy contributing to and being supported by a team? 
  • Were you passionate about the mission of the organization and proud to see your work make an impact? 
  • Did you enjoy the satisfaction of seeing positive results from your work? 
  • Did you like working independently? 
  • Did you like setting and achieving goals? 

Surprising ways employers ask, ‘What motivates you?’

Since ‘What motivates you?’ is such a broad question, employers may phrase it differently to ask the question in a more pointed way. 

They may ask, ‘What are you passionate about?’ or ‘What inspires you?’ Remember that regardless of the way interviewers phrase this question, they are looking for an answer that relates back to the work you will do for the company. 

How to answer, ‘What motivates you?’ 

Follow these steps to prepare an answer to the interview question, ‘What motivates you?’:

1. Firstly, decide on an idea beforehand

Brainstorming before the interview and practicing how to word your response will help you speak confidently when answering this question. Take a look at the job description to make sure that what you choose to talk about relates back to the qualities the employer is looking for. 

2. Secondly, focus on your strengths

Your answer should demonstrate your strengths as an employee. If you enjoy solving complex problems, talk about a time you were able to analyze a large amount of data and create an easy-to-understand presentation for an important meeting. 

3. Thirdly, be specific in your answer

The more specific your example is, the more impactful it will be to the interviewer. For example, saying that you increased sales by 20% during your time as a cold caller will make a greater impact than if you were to say you increased sales at your previous position. 

4. Use real-life examples

Real-life examples help the employer get to know you during the interview. Evaluating previous work experiences will give you good examples. Instead of saying that you generally enjoy helping others, point to a time when you helped a colleague by offering to help on a project they were struggling with. 

5. Finally, relate your answer to the position you’re applying for

It’s important to keep in mind that even though ‘What motivates you?’ is an open-ended question, employers are really asking this to see how you will perform on the job.

If you’re applying for a managerial position, talk about how you enjoy leading a team to success. If you are new to the workforce, a good possible answer would focus on learning new things. If you are applying to work for a nonprofit, you could talk about why you are motivated by the organization’s mission. 

Example answers to use in an interview

Here are some examples of answers to the ‘What motivates you?’ interview question: 

Example 1: Achieving goals

‘Reaching goals is a big motivator for me. When you have set a goal for the quarter, coming up with a detailed plan to meet it is important to ensure that steady progress is being made. At my previous position, my team and I had three months to work with contractors to launch a new website. We came up with a detailed timeline to do a soft launch internally after two months and spent the last month perfecting the layout and copy before launching to the public. Seeing the polished website and receiving positive feedback from the public after all that hard work was incredibly rewarding.’

Example 2: Learning new skills

‘I’m motivated by learning new things and expanding my skill set. At my most recent position as a marketing intern, I started with no previous experience using Photoshop. I had a great mentor who showed me the basics of the program and was there to answer my questions. To go further, I joined an online course that taught more in-depth use of the program. I started using Photoshop to edit images for my personal social media accounts as fun practice and really got a well-rounded experience. I now have a great new skill on my resume and one that I can bring to this position.’

Both of these answers uses specific examples to demonstrate what motivates the person and demonstrates the skills or qualities employers are looking for in these positions.