How to Answer “What Motivates You?” Interview Question (+ Examples)

what motivates you

By Mike Simpson

UPDATED 6/30/2022

what motivates you

Motivation is a powerful tool. It drives you to complete tasks and encourages you to keep going when times get tough. Whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional, selfish or altruistic, motivation matters, particularly on the job.

The issue is that motivation is often highly personal. That’s why answering “What motivates you?” during a job interview can be so tricky. If you’re trying to figure out how to answer the “What motivates you,” interview question, here’s what you need to know…

Why Do Hiring Managers Ask “What Motivates You?”

So, why do hiring managers like to ask this question? Is it because they want to see job seekers stumble?

No, that isn’t the case. 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. In the end, motivation leads to a more effective performance at work, and that’s why hiring managers care about what motivates you.

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. Namely, it’s asking, “What motivates you in life?” and “What motivates you at work?”

This question requires serious self-examination, and it’s something you should be asking yourself long before the interviewer does. This isn’t something you can typically answer off the top of your head. Instead, it’s better to prepare.

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? What hobbies do you enjoy? How do you like to spend your time?

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? Perhaps it was how you felt when you learned a new skill?

Whatever it is, focus on that. That helps create a foundation for a strong answer to this question and ones like it.

What Motivates You at Work?

Yes, we all know that the paycheck is a big reason why we get jobs. However, that alone isn’t usually enough to lead to job satisfaction, even if your salary is pretty high. After all, only about 36 percent of employees are engaged at work, so money alone isn’t enough to keep people focused.

So, what motivates you to do a great job at work? 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?

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.

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 match up with the skills and abilities required. That way, you can integrate those points in when you’re answering questions like “What motivates you to do a good job?”

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.

First, never mention the paycheck. Hiring managers know that money is part of the equation, so it’s not necessary to bring it up in your answer.

Similarly, focusing solely on fast promotions or rising up through the ranks as much as possible, particularly if you mention anything that alludes to loving power, it’s a bad move. While ambition isn’t inherently wrong, you need to phrase it carefully if you don’t want to raise any red flags.

While these bad answers may seem obvious, it’s still a tricky question, and it’s easy to make small mistakes when answering, including:

Being too generic or vague in your answer

Remember, specific examples and direct tie-ins to the position you’re applying for will highlight your position as the perfect candidate and make it easier for the hiring manager to see you not just as an applicant but as a future employee.

Being too focused on the paycheck

Again, we all know that’s a major motivator, but an employer wants to see beyond that. Even if you’re applying for a commission-based job, where money could motivate you to perform better, it’s best to leave money out of the discussion. Instead, focus on the other metrics or the general drive to improve your performance.

Being dishonest with your motivation

As with all interview questions, honesty is the best policy. While telling your future boss you’re motivated by the opportunity to interact with customers might get you the job, if it turns out you actually hate dealing with people, it’s just going to come back to bite you.

Good Motivators to Discuss in Your Job Interview

Just as there are points you want to avoid, there are a few good motivators that can be a strong foundation for your answer.

First, there are company motivators. These are specific to the opportunity, outlining what you want to find in a job and an employer. Maybe a particular work environment or company culture helps you thrive? Or perhaps there are job duties or types of work that light your fire?

Second, you have social motivators. These generally include motivations relating to interactions with others. That could consist of your family and friends, as well as coworkers or colleagues. Teamwork, collaboration, and similar skills can also fall in this category.

Finally, there are career motivators. This category usually includes opportunities to advance, chances to grow skills, and abilities to expand responsibilities. While compensation could also come into the equation, it’s usually best to avoid discussing money as a motivator, as coming across as only being interested in the paycheck isn’t ideal.

MIKE'S TIP: If you want to discuss how compensation motivates you, it’s typically best to make that a secondary thought within your answer. Leading off with it is always dangerous, even if the point you’re making it valid. Instead, focus on another point or two first, and make any references to pay more casual and less detailed.

Five Tips for Answering a “Motivation” Type Question

Now that we’ve covered some good motivators and what not to say, it’s time to talk strategy. Here are five easy tips to help you answer “What motivates you?”

1. Be prepared

Ask yourself this question ahead of time and outline possible answers, as well as examples from your life and work history that relate to the job.

2. Be self-aware

This goes hand-in-hand with being prepared. Hiring managers want to know that you’re genuinely thinking of what motivates you. A fast answer with a generic response isn’t going to win you any points. Take time to really answer the question by first really looking at who you are and what you love, and most importantly, what drives you!

3. Be enthusiastic

This is what drives you. This is what you’re passionate about. Let that enthusiasm show! The more enthusiasm you have for what motivates you, the more enthusiasm the hiring manager will have for you.

4. Be self-motivated

Hiring managers love self-motivated people. Even if the job you’re applying for has you working on a team, hiring managers want to know that you’re strong enough on your own to complete the tasks assigned to you. If all your motivation comes from outside forces, a hiring manager might feel some concern about your ability to complete tasks if not constantly supervised.

5. Be honest

We’ve already gone over this, but just in case, it’s worth mentioning again. Be honest.

“What Motivates You?” Example Answers to Guide You

In order to get you ready to craft your own answer to the interview question “What motivates you,” we thought we’d give you some example answers. Use these as a jumping-off point for your own answers, and don’t forget to tailor them!

EXAMPLE 1 – Sales

“One thing that motivates me, unlike anything else, is seeing my numbers improve. As a sales professional, I know the importance of metrics. Whether it’s the number of leads I turn into customers, the amount of repeat business I secure, or the customer satisfaction scores after engaging with a client, I continuously strive to reach new heights. It’s a genuine point of pride, and not just when my performance rises. If I’m able to help a team excel, that’s even better, as it lets me do my part to ensure the success of the whole.”

EXAMPLE 2 – Design

“As a product designer, nothing is as magical as watching someone use an item I created and genuinely enjoy the experience. In my career, I have had the opportunity to impact people’s lives in an incredibly unique way. Whenever I see someone discovering that the product I made can solve their problem, I’m legitimately overjoyed, and that inspires me to keep creating and innovating.”

EXAMPLE 3 – Tech

“Overall, I relish learning opportunities. That’s part of the reason I pursued a career in technology. The tech world changes so quickly, and I enjoy spending time exploring what’s on the horizon and figuring out how I can harness emerging technologies to improve my workplace or assist customers.”

EXAMPLE 4 – Marketing

“What motivates me at work is knowing that I can reach someone on an emotional level in just 30 seconds with a commercial or even a quick glance with a print ad. It’s amazing to see someone connect with an idea based on my efforts. When that turns into increased sales for my client, that’s a demonstration of my success.”

EXAMPLE 5 – Management

“I’ve worked in management for five years, and the one thing that makes all of the challenges worthwhile is seeing my team grow and advance. I genuinely enjoy coaching and harnessing the potential of constructive feedback. When I’m able to help a struggling employee start exceeding expectations or a thriving team member take the next step in their career, I’m always elated. That’s what sustains me at work, and it will likely do so for the rest of my career.”

Putting It All Together

While there are right ways and wrong ways to “What motivates you?” you still want to make sure your answer will resonate with the hiring manager. Use the tips above to get moving in the right direction. That way, you’ll stand out as an exceptional candidate.

And as always…

Good luck!

P.S. Don’t forget 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?

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.