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  1. Blog
  2. Interviewing

How to Answer: What Motivates You?

Plus, four sample answers

Woman figuring out what motivates her
Photo courtesy of Jason Goodman

The question ‘what motivates you?’ is commonly asked in interviews. It helps recruiters and interviewers find out more about you as a person—what you enjoy doing, what you value, and whether you’d fare well in the position and team.

Career coach Alejandra Hernandez says, “What motivates one person won’t necessarily motivate another to the same degree because their vision and their values are different. As a career coach, I always start with building a clear foundation with my clients. I cannot say this enough, you must have clarity in who you are in order to live a fulfilling life.”

‘What motivates you’ can be a tricky question to answer since it’s open-ended, up for interpretation, and requires thoughtful research beforehand. This guide will help explain why ‘what motivates you?’ is an important interview question, how you can figure out what motivates you at work, and how you can prepare a few sample responses.

Read more: How to Answer 10 Tough Interview Questions + Example Answers

Why 'what motivates you' is an important question for everyone

Interviewers ask this question to suss out a few things. Firstly, they want to know if your level of drive will fit in with the position at hand and if your goals, values, and work style align with those of the company. 

For example, say there are two candidates for a software engineer position that requires a decent amount of teamwork. One candidate says they’re motivated by working collaboratively with a team, and the other candidate says they’re motivated by grinding away on individual tasks. Their honest answers have helped the interviewer narrow down their pool to find the individual who’s best fitted for the position.

Many interviewers also use this question to see if you know yourself well enough to explain what motivates you. Knowing yourself well is a positive sign to the interviewer that you’re proactive, self-aware, and reflective.

In addition to being an important question for interviewers, knowing what motivates you in general is incredibly important for your career trajectory, especially during a pandemic when you might be feeling more lost or uncertain about the future of your career path. To find a fun job that you’ll feel excited about, think about what you value in a position.

Life coach Shanita Liu says, “If you don't have values to anchor you in your motivation, you may succumb to taking on roles that don't feel truly aligned with what you want. It's so easy to apply for roles where you check all the eligibility boxes, but you must ask yourself, does this really light me up? Or is this merely a means to an end?”

Hernandez adds, “I’ve had many clients come to me with impressive titles and six-figure salaries feeling burnt out and unfulfilled. How could that be? They often just followed what they thought was the right thing to do, had no internal direction or clarity, and reached a point where they could no longer ignore the voice telling them, ‘enough!’”

She says, “The past two years were a huge disruptor in life that forced us to really look at how we are living our lives and if it’s really what we desire. It’s so important for women to know what motivates them so that they can cultivate a life on their own terms. … All human beings want these things, but how and what that looks like is unique. … Being grounded in your vision and values will motivate you, and it will serve as your guide even through uncertain times.” 

Read more: 38 Motivational Quotes from Successful Women We Admire

How to figure out what motivates you

In order to effectively answer this interview question, you have to look inward and ask self-reflective questions that get to the root of what your genuine motivations and inspirations are. 

Liu says that looking inward requires pressing pause. “Our brains are in so many different places that it can be difficult to be fully present for ourselves. So, in order to look inward, we have to set aside quiet time—at least an uninterrupted 15 minutes—to refrain from looking at our phones or computers so that we can make space for listening to what's really coming up.”

To get to the root of what motivates you, she advises to try and immerse yourself in spaces and places that inspire you with no particular agenda so you can let your authentic creativity flow. Be open to the thoughts that emerge as you roam through a museum, flip through a magazine, or take a stroll in nature.

Preparing for this question also means doing adequate research on the company and position you’re applying for. The more you know about the goals of the company, the better equipped you’ll be in your answer. Try to also think about previous positions you’ve held. What happened on your best days? When were you looking forward to work the most? When did you come home from work feeling enthusiastic and fulfilled?

More self-reflection questions to ask yourself:

  • What are your non-negotiable needs in a new position?

  • How do you want others to speak about you when you’re not around?

  • When do you feel joy in your life?

  • Who do you feel like you can be your authentic self with? 

  • What do you care about most?

  • What problems in the world do you wish to contribute your energy to the most? 

Liu says that "what do I need?" is an especially important question. “We don't ask ourselves this question enough and as we're trying to go for our goals and aim high in our ambitions, we bypass the basics (e.g. eating, resting, leaning into joy to recharge). This inevitably leads to burnout, and who can think clearly about what they really want when they're burned to the ground?” 

But Hernandez adds that motivation can be fickle, and banking on running your life based solely on motivation might not always necessarily work. She says, “Think about it, when people start a new venture, there’s excitement, motivation, and optimism. But eventually that dims, and then come days when your situation is messy, difficult, or lonely. On these days, motivation is not enough and if you’ve been running on motivation alone, this is when you quit. So the question becomes, how do you stick through the highs and lows? The answer is: commitment to your vision and values.”

How to answer 'what motivates you'

Once you understand your unique motivations, you should start practicing your interview answers. Your response should clearly articulate your motivations and how that ties to your job performance. Here are three sample responses that you can adapt to fit you personally.

‘What motivates you’ example answer #1

“Providing excellent customer service and building positive relationships is what motivates me. It feels like a challenge every time, and I take pride in being able to connect with a variety of people, no matter their background. My drive to constantly develop my interpersonal skills is one of the reasons why I earned top sales awards at my previous company three quarters in a row.”

Read more: Say It Without Saying It: How to Show You’re a People Person During an Interview

‘What motivates you’ example answer #2

“I’m motivated by meeting deadlines—it gives me a sense of incentive and accomplishment. There’s nothing I love more than creating schedules for completing a task on time. For example, when I managed a marketing campaign last year, I set multiple deadlines for each micro goal leading up to the campaign launch. Achieving each milestone motivated me to keep going and helped me feel confident that the campaign would run smoothly without any major issues.”

‘What motivates you’ example answer #3

“Working with a passionate team and contributing to a goal bigger than myself are my two biggest motivators. At this company, I think I would be constantly motivated and inspired by the highly collaborative environment and your mission of uncovering value-driving insights about health care through data—working in a mission-driven environment fuels me every day.”

‘What motivates you’ example answer #4

“Living a well-rounded life. I’m passionate about the work I do and excited about the energy I could bring to your company, but one aspect of your culture that drew me to your organization is your support of work-life balance through your X benefit and X benefit. I do my best work when I’m also able to live my best life. I’m looking for an organization that supports that.” 

Read more: How to Answer: What Are You Passionate About?

About our sources

Shanita Liu, MPA, CPC shows people how to activate their courage. As a healer and Chief Energy Officer at Coach Shanita, Inc., she shows people how to tune in and reconnect to their courage, power, and strength so that they can stop sacrificing themselves and start transforming what’s in their hearts into realities. Visit her website to activate your courage, a powerful exercise based on her recent talk, as seen on

Alejandra Hernandez is a women’s career and leadership coach. She founded empowHER change to focus her efforts on what motivates her the most: helping women be confident and trailblaze their way into leadership. She offers 1:1 coaching and is launching a women’s leadership mastermind in May. Connect with her here

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