Interview Question: "What Motivates You?" (With Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When looking for an ambitious candidate to fill their role, hiring managers often ask interview questions that gauge your ability to be self-motivated. As you answer such questions, it's important to show which strategies you use to stay productive and focused. The goal is to prove that you can be a self-starter in your desired position. In this article, we explain why employers ask, "What motivates you?" and share steps and examples that can help you effectively answer this common interview question.

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Why employers ask, “What motivates you?”

Employers ask, "What motivates you?" for several reasons:

To learn whether your sources of motivation align with the role

The responsibilities and experiences associated with a position naturally energise the best candidates for a job. For example, if you're interviewing to be a news reporter and you share a motivation for deadline-focused, fast-paced work, the interviewer can draw clear parallels between the job and your ideal work environment. In your answer, think about what drew you to apply for the position.

Related: How To Write a Motivation Letter (With Template and Examples)

To decide if you're an independent person

When looking for someone who can support their own motivation, employers might ask this question. It gives them the chance to see whether you can motivate yourself or if you need external motivation from others. In your answer, it's important to show that you value both internal and external motivators.

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To learn more about your personality

Employers typically ask this question at the beginning of their interview to get a better sense of your personality. Your answer tells them a lot about your work ethic and desire to advance your career. If you have a lot of strategies to share, they may be able to tell you're a highly motivated person.

To determine whether you are self-aware enough to know what drives you

Much like asking about your greatest strengths and weaknesses, interviewers ask what motivates you as a way to learn how well you know yourself. A candidate who can quickly provide a well-crafted, natural explanation of what keeps them motivated on the job is someone who is likely also a self-starter and knows how to stay on track.

How to answer "What motivates you?"

Follow these steps to answer this common interview question:

1. Keep it relevant to the job

The most important strategy is to keep your answer relevant to the role requirements. While many factors may motivate you, this is the time to discuss the motivations that illustrate your fitness and potential for the job for which you're interviewing. Carefully read through the job description to help yourself brainstorm some relevant motivators for this position.

Related: Essential Qualities of a Powerful Team Player

2. Make it personal

If possible, discuss how your personal passion relates to your professional motivation. This shows interviewers that you may have a deeper dedication to the role. For example, if you're interviewing for a recruiter position, you might briefly discuss your previous struggles with finding the right job and how that further motivates you to help others in their job search.

3. Consider internal and external motivators

It's helpful to show hiring managers that you have multiple ways to stay motivated. When deciding what to share, consider a blend of internal and external motivators.

Internal motivations

Here are several examples of internal motivators:

  • Creating goals for yourself

  • Saying positive affirmations each morning

  • Eating a healthy breakfast before work

  • Reminding yourself of your strengths

  • Making an effort to be present at work

External motivations

Here are several examples of external motivators:

  • Receiving praise from your manager

  • Getting feedback from your colleagues

  • Meeting a quota to get a raise

  • Working hard to get a promotion

  • Winning employee of the month

4. Keep your response positive

Rather than acting like staying motivated is a challenge for you, show employers that you're eager to find ways to stay productive and driven at work. Whenever you share each strategy, explain how it has helped you be a better employee in the past. Consider sharing how these techniques have helped you reach your goals and advance your career.

Related: Important Soft Skills Employers in Hong Kong Look For

Examples of best answers

When answering this question, be sure to be as specific as possible, provide real-life examples and relate your answer back to the job role. Here are a few examples of well-crafted responses:

Sample answer 1

Here's an example where a candidate shows the interviewer that they have a strong desire to execute the responsibilities of the role. Their specific example conveys their depth of experience and passion for the job. In addition, it's always helpful to include how your motivations would drive your future with the company.

Example: “As a marketer, I've always been motivated by creative projects, teamwork and being able to draw a connection between my efforts and the organisation's bottom line. One of the things I loved about my last job was witnessing the results of our team's campaigns and watching as the leads we nurtured became customers. Having the opportunity to lead campaigns from ideation through launch was one of the reasons I was so excited to apply for this role.”

Sample answer 2

Here's an example answer that gives the interviewer a good preview of how the candidate would perform at work. It lets the employer know they're self-motivated and willing to leave their comfort zone to meet ambitious goals. The answer consists of outstanding qualities that show one's motivation, such as the love for a challenge, the ability to perform well under pressure and the will to help the company thrive.

Example: “The gratification of overcoming an obstacle is my greatest motivator. For example, math has never been my best subject, but I opted to take calculus in college, even though it wasn't required for my major because I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. The course wasn't easy, and I spent many nights studying late, but I passed with high marks. The feeling of accomplishment that comes with exceeding challenging goals is what drew me to a career in sales.”

Sample answer 3

Here's a response an employer might like since it shows you can apply feedback to become a better employee. It also shows that you can use external motivators to help yourself find internal motivation, which, in this case, is setting your own goals.

Example: "I'm motivated by the feedback of my manager. I see that in this role I would be working closely with the creative director, who would oversee my work and give me edits. In this role, I would take their feedback to motivate myself to do better work. Feedback helps me create my own professional goals and know how I can best serve the company."

Sample answer 4

This response shows that when applying to a role where there are opportunities for growth, you want to show employers that you want to take on more responsibilities and leadership duties. The desire to advance your career is an excellent motivator. This answer shows an employer that you would hope to grow with their company, which is beneficial to both of you.

Example: "I am motivated by my desire to grow in this field. When I started out as an intern, I would strive every day to develop my skills and better understand the finance industry. These motivators helped me become a full-time employee at my firm. Now, as I hope to pursue a supervisory role, I plan to continue to stay motivated and focused on my end goal."

Sample answer 5

Here's an answer that shows the candidate's intrinsic motivation, a quality that is especially useful in fields such as the medical industry, which can be physically and emotionally taxing. By showing their willingness to provide quality care in order to see others succeed, the candidate shows how their motivation makes them a more passionate and dependable employee.

Example: “I'm motivated by the fact that, when I leave work at the end of a shift, I know I've helped make a difference in the lives of my patients and their families. Seeing the smiles on their faces and watching them improve makes me look forward to work. That's why I became a nurse, and why I'm pursuing a position in paediatrics."

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