How to Answer “What Motivates You?” (Sample Answers Included)

By Mike Simpson

In order to get to the bottom of what motivates you, it’s important that you get a crash course in the specifics of motivation.

Motivation is a powerful tool.

It’s what we use to drive ourselves forward to complete tasks.

It can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from something physical (like the additional 10 minutes on the treadmill each time I work out at the gym so I can fit into the speedo I plan on wearing this summer in Hawaii) to mental (putting in the extra work on that proposal to your boss in the hopes for a promotion) and everything in between.

Motivation can be selfish (I want to become the best baseball player so I can humiliate the office jerk at the annual summer picnic) or altruistic (I want to work those extra shifts so I can contribute more to the family budget and let my mom retire a few years early.)

Motivation can be as simple as setting your alarm a few minutes early so you can swing by the coffee shop on the way to work for your favorite latte or as complex as outlining your entire career trajectory from junior high on in order to retire on a tiny tropical island in the middle of the Caribbean.

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Motivation comes in all shapes and sizes and is limited only by your imagination.

Motivation is driven by personality, skills, expectations, drive, ambition, gender, age, needs, wants, desires…the list goes on and on…which is why being asked what motivates you can seem almost like an impossible question to answer…especially in job interviews.

Ok, so before we get started on learning how to answer this difficult interview question, we wanted to let you know that there are over 100 other difficult interview questions you could be asked in your job interview. Sounds stressful right?

Don’t worry, because we created a free PDF that outlines the most common questions and gives you word for word sample answers that you can use at your next interview. Click the link below to get your copy now!

Get Our Job Interview Questions & Answers Cheat Sheet!

FREE BONUS PDF CHEAT SHEET: Get our "Job Interview Questions & Answers PDF Cheat Sheet" that gives you "word-word sample answers to the most common job interview questions you'll face at your next interview.

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Why Do Hiring Managers Ask “What Motivates You?”

So why do hiring managers like to ask this question? Is it because they like to see job seekers stumble? Do they get a sick thrill each time they see a potential hire break out in a cold sweat as they fumble for the right words? Are hiring managers really that…mean?

No.

While it might seem like the only reason behind asking this question is purely for the entertainment of your interviewer, there are actually several important things an interviewer can learn about the interviewee based on their answer, including just what sort of person they really are and how that matches up with what the company is looking for in a new hire.

Hiring managers want to know what you like doing and why you like doing it. They also want to know what you’re good at.

They’re looking for answers that show them examples of characteristics you possess that will help them decide if you’re going to be a great employee.

  • Are you a team player or a lone wolf?
  • Do your strengths align with the job?
  • Do they align with the company overall?
  • Are you applying for a position that you’ll want to excel at or are you just there for a paycheck?

To sum it up even more, they’re trying to figure out exactly how you view and approach success and what drives you. What motivates you as an individual is directly related to your goal-orientation and ambition levels.

Are you someone who is motivated to achieve more in life or are you comfortable doing the bare minimum? Are you willing to work hard for what you want or do you prefer a more relaxed approach to tasks?

Of course, that means there is absolutely a right way to answer this question and a wrong way… Good thing we’re here to help you figure out which is which and exactly what to say when confronted by this often confounding question.

So let’s get started!

How To Answer This Interview Question

In order to give a good answer to this question, you need to understand that it is actually two interview questions in one…

First off, we need to examine exactly how this question is different from the more traditional interview questions. Because this question requires serious self-examination, it’s a question you should be asking yourself long before the interviewer does.

While many basic interview questions can be answered off the top of your head, the question “What motivates you” is one that covers more than just your career history or salary requirements. You’re going to have to look at the whole big picture and realize in some ways this question is actually two questions in one:

What motivates you in life…and what motivates you at work?

“What Motivates You in Life?”

Another way to ask this question is “What are you passionate about?” What is it that gets you out of bed every day with enthusiasm? Where does your mind go when you’re allowed to daydream?

  • Are you an avid rock climber?
  • A dedicated sport enthusiast?
  • What hobbies do you enjoy?
  • Are you most comfortable whipping up elaborate recipes in the kitchen?
  • Do you find satisfaction in creating art?

Now dig deeper. What is it about these activities that you enjoy? Is it the satisfaction that comes from making something from nothing?

Is it the sense of accomplishment after finishing an intricate project that drives you? Maybe it’s seeing how much others enjoy seeing what you’ve done?

Maybe it’s the feeling you get from helping others or leading them through something and teaching them new skills?

Maybe it was how you felt when you learned a new skill? Whatever it is, focus on that.

“What Motivates You at Work?”

Yes, we all know for 99% of us the primary motivation for most jobs is the paycheck, but for the sake of this exercise (and your future interviews) let’s just assume the hiring manager already know that and look at other factors that motivate you.

Is it similar to what drives you in life?

Do you love the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a big project on time and under budget?

Is it the glow you get from being told you did a great job on a difficult task?

Maybe it’s the feeling you get from leading a team successfully?

Look back on everything you’ve done both job and career wise so far. What was it about your best days that made them the best days? When you tell stories about what you do that highlight what you enjoy, what specifically do you tell people about?

Can you take those feelings and apply them to specific moments from your life and past work experiences? Remember, real-life examples make your answers not only more compelling to a hiring manager, but also give them a great idea of how you’ll behave in future situations as well. (We call these “success stories“)

Finally, take a long look at the job you’re applying for and see how the things you’re motivated by in both life and at work matches up with the skills and abilities required.

Preparing an answer ahead of time that specifically addresses those skills and abilities will not only make answering this question easier if it’s asked, but will only help highlight you as the Perfect Candidate.

What Not To Say When Asked About Your Motivation

Now that we’ve gone over the subtext of what a hiring manager is actually asking you when they ask “What motivates you,” let’s talk about what not to say in response.

“I’m totally motivated by that fat paycheck I’m gonna get every 15 days.”

They know. What else motivates you?

“I’m motivated by the opportunity to get promoted as fast as possible and as high as possible because I love power and money.”