Motivational Interview Questions and Examples of the Best Answers

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Motivational interview questions are a common part of the interview process. One typical form of the question is, "What motivates you?" but there are other variations as well, such as inquiries about what you're passionate about or the challenges you're seeking

Discover some common ways interviewers ask job candidates about their motivations, and get advice on the best responses, along with answers to avoid. 

What Do Interviewers Want to Know? 

Any question in this category helps hiring managers understand what you feel enthusiastic about and what drives your success. Of course, interviewers are aware that earning money is a major reason for working. With this question, they're trying to discover other factors that make you show up for work. 

This question also helps interviewers assess fit. As you respond, they'll be looking for signs that what motivates you is a good match for the job responsibilities and company culture.

What Is Motivation?

First, let's take a look at what motivation is, exactly. In everyday usage, the term motivation is frequently used to describe why a person does something. You can define it as the process that helps drive goal-oriented behaviors.

Motivation is what causes us to act, whether it's getting a glass of water to reduce thirst or reading a book to gain knowledge.

There are two different types of motivation:

  • Extrinsic motivations are those that arise from outside of the individual and often involve rewards such as trophies, money, social recognition, or praise.
  • Intrinsic motivations are those that arise from within the individual, such as doing a complicated crossword puzzle purely for the personal gratification of solving a problem. 

How to Respond to Interview Questions About Motivation

During job interviews, you should do your best to highlight intrinsic motivations rather than extrinsic ones. 

Before your interview, review the job description and find out as much as you can about the position. Then, tailor your responses to match what the employer is seeking in a candidate. Also, review these examples of motivational skills.

Your response will vary based on your background and experiences, but you should keep it positive. In your response, share your enthusiasm and what you liked best about your last or current job.

The best answers to motivational questions are honest and yet should also connect to the job you're applying for. Your response should strongly suggest that you'd be highly motivated by, and suited for, the work involved in the role at hand.

When preparing to answer this question, you should think about: 

  • What have you enjoyed while working at previous positions? Think about your day-to-day work and your broader interests, too. 
  • What types of tasks are you best at? In what sort of environments (busy, deadline-driven, cooperative, competitive, loud, quiet, etc.) do you work the best?

Whatever you say, you need to back it up with examples from your studies, work experience, and volunteer activities, and your answers should relate to the skills and aptitudes required for the job you're applying for.

Examples of the Best Answers

Example Answer #1

I'm very motivated by solving problems. In my last position, I helped resolve customer complaints. There's something so satisfying about providing answers to confused customers, and making frustrated customers happy again because of my help.

Why It Works: This is a great response for someone working in a customer-facing position. It shows that the applicant is driven by problem-solving and giving customers help. 

Example Answer #2

I'm incredibly motivated by solving problems and puzzles. In my personal life, I love doing the daily crossword. In the office, this takes the form of digging into data and spreadsheets. At my last job, I was responsible for preparing the annual report on which products performed best. This information was used to determine where the company would focus its efforts in the upcoming year. It was validating to know that the work I did, reviewing monthly spreadsheets and customer feedback, helped guide upper management. 

Why It Works: This applicant response connects the personal to the work in a very effective way. In the response, the applicant is able to provide an example of how something that motivates them is helpful for an employer. 

Tips for Giving the Best Response

  • Give examples. If you can, point out the situations where you work well. For instance, if you're deadline-driven, give an example of how that played out on a particular project. Or, if you flourish when you work on a team, talk about how teamwork helped you stay on track and motivated. 
  • Be honest. While it's smart to consider the company culture and frame your answer in terms of how people at the company work, it's also key to be honest. That will help you sound both positive and authentic when you respond.
  • Be relevant. If there is a way to connect what motivates you to the job at hand, that's ideal. As you plan your response, consider the skills and abilities that will be the most useful for this job 

What to Avoid Saying

There are some answers that will not reflect well on you as a candidate. Here's what to avoid in your response: 

  • Being off-base from the job at hand. If you're motivated by factors that aren't involved in the job description, it's going to be a red flag for the interviewer. For example, if you say you're a person motivated by interpersonal communications and working with people, but the job is an accounting position with little interaction with others, you won't be considered a good fit for the job.
  • Namechecking money. Avoid responses that name money (your salary, a bonus, a commission, etc.) as a motivating factor. While a paycheck and financial benefits are an important reason for working, that's not the kind of answer interviewers are looking for. Being motivated by praise and acknowledgment is also best avoided in your response. 
  • Do your best to provide an honest or specific answer. Vague responses aren't helpful for interviewers. Remember, every question is an opportunity to show off your strengths.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

PRACTICE AHEAD OF TIME: You'll find it easier to respond if you jot down a list of what motivates you in advance of the interview.

FOCUS ON RELEVANT ACHIEVEMENTS: Focus your response on the motivators that are the closest match to the employer's job requirements.

BE ENTHUSIASTIC: Since you're talking about what drives you, show some excitement and positivity in your response.