How to answer the “What motivates you?” interview question

January 08, 2023  •  Reading Time: 10 min.

Your job search is going well and you have been invited for an interview? 👏 Congratulations!

Now it’s time to focus on preparing for this opportunity! To impress the interviewer (e.g. the hiring manager of the company), it is important to be well prepared and maybe even already have a great answer to the “What motivates you?” interview question.

We’ve dedicated an entire article to this question, and you know why? Because it is simply something that almost every interviewer asks. It doesn’t matter what field or industry you are applying to. That’s why it makes sense to be thoroughly prepared and hit the ground running when you’re asked, “What would you say motivates you the most?”

📝 Note: Be sure to prepare an honest answer. Even though we have great sample answers lined up for you further down in this post, only talk about things that are really important to you and draw on your own experience and skills. This is the best way to leave a positive impression and get one step closer to the job offer!

Which questions should you prepare for your job interview?

Before we get into more detail about the “What motivates you?” question, let’s take a quick look at other interview questions you can easily prepare for.

  • “Tell us a little about yourself.”
  • “Why do you want to work at this company?”
  • “What are your greatest strengths?”
  • “Why should we hire you?”

Going into the interview with at least a rough idea of what you want to answer if you’re asked any of these questions will give you a lot more confidence, especially if it’s one of your very first job interviews.

💡 Tip: Prepare yourself with the STAR interview method!

Young job applicant preparing for his next interview on his laptop

Is the “What motivates you?” question a tough interview question?

In fact, it can be a little difficult to come up with a good answer to this question right off the bat, as it requires some self-reflection.

To get ideas, think about these questions:

  • What happened on your best days at work?
  • When did you come home from work full of enthusiasm and excitement?
  • When did you look forward to a day at work the most?

📝 Note: If you’ve never had a job before because you just graduated, for example, think about it the same way, but do it with “school” instead of “work”!

Is it wise to refer to the job description when answering the “What motivates you?” question?

To give the perfect answer, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the job description as well as the work environment and company culture.

So if you can link your answer to the question “What motivates you?” to the particular role you’re applying for, that’s obviously a big plus. For this reason, it’s a good idea to read the job description thoroughly and also take a look at the company’s website or its social networks, such as their LinkedIn page.

What are smart answers to the interview question “What motivates you”?

To come up with some really good answers yourself, take a look at these answer examples.

📝 Note: These are just some ideas, the fully-formulated examples follow later in the article.

  • You could say that you really enjoy learning new things, and that the opportunity to acquire new skills is your biggest motivation.
  • Or maybe meeting deadlines, goals and objectives is something that really motivates you?
  • It could also be doing something like coaching others, leading a team, or simply being part of a team.
  • Perhaps you love improving processes and finding ways to solve complex problems or overcoming challenges? That’s a great motivator, too.
  • And why not mention that your greatest motivation is to come up with creative ideas for a difficult project?
Enthusiastic applicant at the job interview, talking to the recruiters about his motivations

Now let’s look at some more detailed examples of answers to “What motivates you?”. We’ve put together different kinds of answers to show you several approaches you can take. Of course, you can also mix and match!

How to answer “What motivates you?” – sample answers & real life examples

📝 Note: Keep in mind that the best answers to questions about your motivation should relate to the job for which you are applying. So when you answer “What motivates you?”, you should show the hiring manager that are genuinely interested in the job.

1. Example answer: Talk about what’s really important to you in your job

“I have always strived to offer the best customer service to our clients. I believe that providing customers with a great experience is not only vital for them, but also for myself and for the company. In my last job, I exceeded my quarterly goals and achieved the highest sales because of my commitment to constantly improve my customer service skills.”

2. Example answer: Share a specific work environment/work style that you thrive in

“I’ve noticed that I work best in an atmosphere that fosters creativity and allows me to think freely and in creative ways. I’ve discovered that doing graphic design enables me to truly express my creativity, which inspires and drives me. I really can’t imagine working in any other role, so it’s easy for me to go to work every day motivated to do what I love.”

Job seeker doing her research and noting down examples for answers to the interview question “What motivates you”

3. Example answer: Provide insight into why you would do well in the job role

“In my previous job, I successfully led our team through a project with one of our biggest clients. Each team member and I met frequently to discuss the project’s objectives, make sure they had the resources they required, and problem-solve as necessary. We finished the project on time and even under budget. The client was thrilled with the outcome and gave us another, even more important project to work on.

I’ve always enjoyed managing teams. I first became drawn to management roles after being elected president of the student council in college, and this interest continued as I started my professional career. My interpersonal abilities, which help me to collaborate well with others, and my organizational prowess all come together in this situation. I have no doubt that this will help me in my new position with your company as well.”

4. Example answer: Talk about past achievements and how they motivated you

“My main source of motivation is the sense of achievement I get from overcoming difficult challenges. Even though math has never been my strongest subject and it wasn’t a requirement for my major, I took calculus in college because I wanted to tackle new challenges. I had to work really hard and study for the course, but I was able to pass it with an A. My interest in a profession in sales derives from the motivation I get from exceeding challenging objectives.”

📝 Note: Interviewers like these answers because they get a good idea of how the applicants would perform in their role. They also allow them to learn that they are self-motivated and willing to step out of their comfort zone. This gives employers the impression that the candidates are likely to perform well and help the company succeed.

Young job applicant how has just given her best response to the “What motivates you” interview question

The “What motivates you?” interview question – final thoughts & key takeaways

Answering this question “correctly” can really make a big difference in the number of job offers you end up receiving.

However, figuring out how best to answer can indeed be a challenge. Therefore, self-reflection is very important when it comes to preparing and answering this question. And don’t worry, your story doesn’t have to suggest that you are a superhero, it just needs to show that you would be a good fit for the job in question. What makes you feel excited about your job? Why does it fit the targeted position? Simply tell that story.

Make sure you always give an honest answer, because your reply may lead to follow-up questions about the topic. If you say, for instance, that you enjoy helping others, the hiring manager might respond with: “How did you feel your previous roles helped others?” This doesn’t mean it’s a trick interview question, but the recruiter may want to get to know you better and that way you can easily expand on the topic.

In summary, we have a few final 💡 tips for you:

  • Stay true to who you are in your answers, but don’t give replies about how money motivates you, for example, or share overly personal interests.
  • However, you can definitely align your answers with your passions. If you can figure out where your interests intersect with the company’s values, you’ll have a great answer!
  • Don’t try to answer the “What motivates you?” question on the spot, but really take some time up front to prepare. Your reply should be specific to the job and the organization, so you may have to give a different answer at another interview.
  • Also, when preparing your response, think about the abilities that will be most useful for this position and try to highlight these in your answer. For example, if you’re applying as a manager, an answer related to building relationships and helping others achieve goals may be more meaningful than a conversation about learning new things or working with customers.
  • Don’t forget to consider the company culture. For instance, if the business places a high value on the companionship of its employees, you could mention how achieving goals as a group motivates you.
  • You could also give an example from your previous job to explain what kind of tasks motivate you. If you say you are results-oriented, give your interviewer an example where you set a goal and achieved (or even exceeded) it.

🎯 Good luck snatching the job offer away from the other candidates, you can do it!

📝 Note: Did you know that the questions you ask at the very end of the interview can also make a major difference? Check out our article on this topic, and also read up on other job application related topics in our extensive guide!

The hiring manager is taking notes of an applicant's response to the question “What motivates you”

The “What motivates you?” interview question – FAQ

What are hard interview questions?

Job interviews can go smoothly and there may not be any “difficult” questions (at least you won’t consider them as hard). However, there are some common interview questions that are generally considered a bit more difficult than the straightforward “Tell us about yourself” question. These include the following: 1️⃣ What are your weaknesses? 2️⃣ Why do you want to change jobs? 3️⃣ How would your colleagues describe you? 4️⃣ Tell us about a mistake you have made.

What are the different types of motivation?

There are two different types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. A paycheck is a prime example of extrinsic motivation. The desire to overcome a difficulty or the delight of completing a task are examples of intrinsic motivation. When it comes to job interviews, it is generally best to tell the interviewer about intrinsic motivations.

How do you answer the question “What motivates you”?

A great answer to the motivation question could be this one: “There are many factors that really drive me. Among other things, meeting deadlines, targets or goals is what keeps me motivated. Because it makes me feel very accomplished, I think I perform at my best when I am in charge of meeting major deadlines.”

What is a good example answer to “What motivates you in your work”?

Another good example for job seekers is this reply: “What drives me is to provide the best possible product to every user. Also, I’ve observed that the culture of the company where I work inspires me to always do my very best.”

What are other ways to ask the question “What motivates you?” in an interview?

Other possible ways this question might be asked by an interviewer: 1️⃣ What motivates you to apply for this role? 2️⃣ What motivates you to join our company? 3️⃣ What motivates you in life?

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