Job Interview Question: What Motivates You?

Man at job interview
••• Peepo / E+ / Getty Images

When you’re applying for a job, you’ll hear a lot of interview questions — some trickier than others. One that’s pretty common, but might catch you off-guard, is the job interview question, "What motivates you?"

This is a broad and open-ended question, which can make it hard to know how to answer. After all, most people are motivated by many factors, including pay, prestige, making a difference, seeing results, and interacting with interesting people.

Why Do Interviewers Want to Know What Motivates You?

In asking this question, interviewers hope to figure out what makes you tick. The hiring manager wants to know what drives you to succeed. He or she also wants to determine whether your motivators will be a fit for the job duties and the company culture.

Honest answers can help reveal what circumstances help you feel excited and enthused (another common variant of this interview question is, "What are you passionate about?,” which also tries to determine what makes an interviewee excited and fulfilled). Providing insight into the forces that motivate you at work can be a window into your personality and style, helping your interviewers get a sense of you as both a person, and how you'd be as their employee.

After all, there's a big difference between the candidate who's motivated by building teams and establishing strong relationships with co-workers and the candidate whose best day is working on a report that improves the company's bottom-line. Both candidates bring with them strong advantages, and this question can help interviewers narrow their pool down to the individual who is the best fit for the position and the company.

What's the Best Way to Answer This Interview Question?

When you answer this question, be honest — but also keep your audience in mind. While you may be most motivated by receiving a regular paycheck, that answer is not very inspiring from an interviewer's perspective. It can be hard to think of a good answer for this question on the spot since it requires a bit of self-reflection.

To prepare your answer, think about the jobs you have held in the past:

  • What happened during your best days?
  • When were you most looking forward to a day at the office?
  • When did you come home from work bursting with stories, and feeling enthusiastic and excited?

Whether it was a successful meeting with a client, a complex project wrangled into submission, learning a new skill, or anything else, keep this in your mind when conceptualizing your answer. As well, consider which skills and abilities will be the most useful in the job. If you are applying to be a manager, framing an answer around relationship-building and helping other succeed and meet goals might be a stronger answer than a discussion about learning new things or working with clients.

Sample Answers

  • I like to be part of a team with a lot of bright people who have interesting ideas.
  • It really excites me to work with clients on a one-on-one basis and see positive results.
  • I love preparing and giving presentations. Being in front of an audience and seeing them respond to my ideas is a real thrill, and making that connection is inspiring and exciting.
  • I'm really driven by results — I like it when I have a concrete goal to meet, and enough time to figure out a strong strategy for accomplishing it. At my last job, our yearly goals were very aggressive, but I worked with my manager and the rest of my team to figure out a month-by-month strategy for meeting the year-end numbers. It was a real thrill to accomplish that.
  • I'm motivated by digging into data. Give me a spreadsheet and questions, and I'm eager to figure out what's driving the numbers. At my current position, I prepare the monthly analytics report around sales. The data from these reports help drive and determine how the company charts its next steps and makes sales goals for the following months. Being able to provide that essential information is really motivating.
  • Learning new things has always been a great motivator for me. In every job I've had, I believe I've always been able to learn something new, or discover a new way to look at a problem.
  • I'm very deadline-driven and enjoy having the opportunity to figure out a new organizational system that will help keep me on track to meet the deadline.
  • I really like providing mentoring and coaching to my colleagues. I'm everyone's go-to person when they have a question or need a second opinion, and I am always happy to help.
  • I was responsible for several projects where I directed development teams and implemented repeatable processes. The teams achieved 100 percent on-time delivery of software products. I was motivated both by the challenge of finishing the projects ahead of schedule and by managing the teams that achieved our goals.
  • I have always wanted to ensure that my company's clients get the best customer service I can offer. I feel that it's important, both to me personally and for the company and the clients, to provide a positive customer experience. My drive to constantly develop my customer service skills is the reason I earned top sales at my company two quarters in a row.
  • I have always been motivated by the desire to meet a deadline. Setting and reaching deadlines gives me such a sense of accomplishment. I love creating an organized schedule for completing a task and achieving my deadlines. For example, when I ran a fundraising event last year, I set multiple deadlines for a variety of tasks leading up to the event. Achieving each milestone motivated me to keep working, as well as ensuring that the event ran smoothly.

    Taking the time to think about what motivates you before you enter your interview will give you confidence and allow you to engage positively and enthusiastically with your interviewer.