It’s a classic interview question: What motivates you? It’s not the easiest to answer because, honestly, we work for money. Of course, some of us have intrinsic motivations for choosing our industries and career paths. Check out our tips for answering the question in an interview.
How to identify what motivates you
Sometimes it’s hard to really know what motivates you at work. It could be small moments of success or it may be the mission behind your industry. We encourage you to ask yourself a few questions that might help you get to the core of why you do what you do.
Why did you choose this industry?
The last time you had a really great day at work, why did you feel that way?
Even on your worst day at work, what’s the silver lining?
When you chose this industry, what did you think you would be doing?
What have been your favorite parts of previous jobs? What do those things have in common?
What do you get excited about?
In a perfect world, what job would you do? Why?
Use the answers to these questions to get a better idea of what motivates you. Is it the positive impact you’re able to make on your community? Do you enjoy adding beauty to the world? Are you driven by seeing the people around you succeed? Do you love seeing the physical product of your hard work? Do you love reaching goals and satisfying KPIs? What about making someone else’s day? Do you love being really good at your job? Are you all about personal achievement? Social justice?
Common answers to the question and how to word your response
There are a few pretty common reasons you might be motivated, particularly if you’re looking for a new job.
When you’re motivated to climb the ladder
Sometimes the reason you are in a job interview is because you are motivated by career advancement. Let’s translate “I want a promotion” into professional language:
I am motivated to move up in my career. I like responsibility and making an impact in a company.
When you’re motivated by money
Of course, honesty is the best policy, but professionalism is key. If you tell a potential employer know you’re motivated only by money, they may see you as a flight risk. There’s nothing wrong with demanding fair compensation, though, so try something like:
I am motivated by an employer who recognizes and rewards my talents. A company that treats employees well, pays them fairly and equally, and rewards hard work is the kind of company I get excited about.
When you’re motivated by quantitative goals
Hitting your goals just feels good. You get that little rush of adrenaline which keeps you coming back for more.
I love meeting and exceeding my goals. I love to see my hard work translated into numbers—it’s like a game I get to win every quarter.
Safe responses to: What motivates you?
There are some classic answers to this question. They’re safe bets, so while they might not make you stand out, these are generally employer-approved:
I want to make the world a better place.
I’m motivated to help people.
I really enjoy being a part of a team and having people depend on me.
I was just meant to be doing this kind of work.
I’ve known since I was a kid that this is what I wanted to do.
Perhaps one one of these answers really does describe what motivates you. If that’s the case, add color by sharing a story...
Share a story
It may be hard to sum up what motivates you in a single phrase or sentence, but you might be able to point to a moment in your life that inspired you to do what you do.
If you’re a teacher, it might have been a breakthrough moment with a student (maybe the student was you!); If you’re a police officer, it might have been a moment when you were able to keep a child safe; for a fashion designer, it might have been seeing people express themselves with their clothes; a software developer might cite a great moment of problem-solving.
Get prepared for all of your interview questions: 16 Interview Questions & Your Guide to Crushing Them