Job Interview Tips

How to Answer the “What Motivates You” Job Interview Question

Written by Peter Jones

The “What motivates you?” question is a job interview standard, but it can be tricky to answer, and lots of prospective employees find they often have no idea what to say. The last thing you want to do, however, is to give a vague or noncommittal answer. Think of this annoyingly broad and open-ended question as a great opportunity to show off a unique side of yourself in the interview.

Remember, interviewers are trying to get at what makes you tick with questions like these. Show what you are passionate about, what makes you excited and enthused to go to work—your answer can help a hiring manager gauge whether you’d be a good fit for the company culture. Say you love digging into projects and barely coming up for meals… you’ll want to be in a more solo position rather than a team-building co-working situation.

The best way to answer this question is to be honest, but revelatory, and to use it to your advantage. Here are a few strategies for preparing a killer answer.

1. Think about past jobs.

What happened during your best days at your last job? What did you look forward to the most about going to work? What made you go home excited and gushing?

2. Frame for the job you want.

If you’re applying for a managerial position, try to frame your answer to include relationship building, or encouraging your team to reach goals. If a particular skill is required for the position, try to frame your answer to show you being dominant at that skill. Feel free to mention your successes—just don’t brag.

3. Self reflect honestly.

Your interviewer will see through an answer that lacks self-awareness, even if it’s a good sound byte. Really do the work to probe into what makes you tick. Think about what sorts of projects inspire you the most, and try to get a sense of what really, honestly motivates you.

4. Be specific.

Just saying you’re a people person and love making the work environment fun isn’t going to cut it. Make a convincing case that’s relevant to the job you’re applying for. Talk about team building, sales goals, training, etc.

5. Be concise.

You may find there are a lot of things that drive and motivate you. Try not to spew them all out in your answer. Stay on message. Be concise and coercive. Your top three motivators are x, y, and z. And these relate directly to your job performance because…

6. Be positive.

Whatever you do, be upbeat! No one is going to believe you’re motivated by anything if you can’t muster any enthusiasm in your answer. Don’t go overboard, but show some spirit and positivity.

7. Don’t be greedy.

Even if money is your number one motivator, it’s best to keep this little secret to yourself. Choose your second best motivator and lead with that.

About the author

Peter Jones