What Motivates You? (Frequently Asked Questions in an Interview)

by | Mar 9, 2020 | Interviewing

As we continue our series examining the questions Interviewers most frequently ask, we will, this time, focus on “What Motivates You?” This question might, on the surface, appear to be the ultimate “trick” question, as a Job Seeker tries to figure out what the Interviewer would like to hear in the answer.

There can, however, be some strategy employed for the Job Seeker when facing this question. So let’s examine why the question is asked, provide some tips on how it should be answered, and warn you on what not to do.


Why Is It Asked?

It is easy to draw the conclusion that this question lacks a right or wrong answer, but the reality is, however, that the Interviewer is attempting to determine if you are a good fit for the position. The goal for the Interviewer is to find someone whose motivation best fits the culture and the position.

• If you are asked this question, by the Hiring Manager, he or she is likely determining whether there is a “values match” with you. In other words, they want to ensure what motivates them is the same as what engages you. If there is a disconnect on the “motivation front”, there will likely be a major impediment in the relationship.

• This question helps to filter out those who are not committed to their profession and work in general. Answers revolving around possessions and time off can often serve as an early knock out for the Job Seeker.


How Should It Be Answered?

• Be Specific – Provide examples during the interview of situations, people, events that were particularly motivating to you. Prior to the interview, review during your career when you were most engaged and determined what caused this motivation.

• Make It Business – We all have something in our personal life that motivates us, however, this is a business interview, so make sure you provide a professional example.

• With Enthusiasm – You are now talking about something that motivates you. This is the time to quicken your pace just a tad, make eye contact, and use some voice inflection. The thought process is, if you can’t get a little excited about what motivates you, when will you ever?

• Place Yourself in a Positive Light – Use examples that will reflect well on you professionally. Ideas include a successful project where you were driven by the challenge, or your desire to provide superior customer service. This tip is particularly important in sales-related positions where making sales, exceeding goals, and satisfying customers is particularly crucial. The trick is to sell yourself while not coming across as too “corny”, and therefore fake.

• Tie It to the Job – In a perfect world, this is a natural partnership. What motivates you should tie perfectly to the type of job you are seeking. For example, if you are seeking a Customer Service position, your answer should factor around how you like solving problems and satisfying customers.

• Leading Others – If you are interviewing for a position in leadership, weave into your answer how your team’s success motivates you. Convey how you enjoy the responsibility of leading others.


What Not To Do:

• Not Answer – Surely something motivates you. Practically the worst thing you can do is not have anything that motivates you. Anticipate this question and come with an answer.

• Make It All About the Money – Really the only time I recommend even bringing the subject up is in a sales-related role. Short of that, stay away from the money subject. I know that compensation is a great motivator for all of us, that is why work is called what it is…work. In an interview, however, it makes you come across as a shallow and someone who will chase after the dollar instead of committing to the company. You want to be considered committed and dedicated, not selfish.

• Convey a Need for External Motivation – Do not answer this question in a way that conveys that you need considerable supervision. Provide an answer that will frame you as being self-motivated and reliant, considerably on your own internal motivation.


Preparing for this question often has an unexpected side benefit in that the soul-searching involved can assist a Job Seeker in determining what they should be seeking in their next job. Determine what truly motivates you and then you are on your way to finding the job you desire and a successful career.

As always, best of luck in your job search.

The following has been prepared for the general information of WNYJobs readers. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.

Joe Stein
WNY Human Resources Professional

Feel free to contact Joe Stein regarding questions or comments at:
Joe Stein

Search Job Listings

Find a job with WNY Jobs

Article Navigation


Forgotten Password?