Motivation is an extremely powerful tool and comes in many forms. Whether mental, emotional, or physical, motivation matters. Interviewers and hiring managers want to feel that you genuinely cannot wait to start the job and possess a drive to succeed.

Motivation is personal. Exploring it is, therefore, crucial to be able to answer this common interview question honestly while remaining mindful of its importance to your job interview.

This article will help you consider what motivates you and how to approach this famous job interview question effectively. So let’s take a look at the question of motivation to see how you can answer it appropriately.

Why Do Hiring Managers Ask This Question?

Motivated employees are more productive. They are more engaged, productive, and creative in their work, making them perform better. Potential employers gain valuable information from this question.

Not only does it help them understand the type of person you are, but it also helps them decide if you’re going to be a good fit with the company culture, among other things. They want to know what gets you to that level in a job role and will keep going even if others around you aren’t.

Figuring Out Your Motivation

This requires some self-analysis. While you can try to model a perfect sample answer, hiring managers can often tell when you’re not providing genuine answers. Several verbal and non-verbal queues act as an indicator that good hiring managers are trained to look for, so ensuring that your answer has an element of authenticity will go a long way.

More often than not, there is no single answer to this question. People are motivated in different ways by different things. However, knowing all (or most) of those things is extremely useful. List down all these things as it will help you formulate effective answers at the end. Here are a few questions that you can ask yourself to get started:

  • What would I do if money was not a constraint?
  • What would I do if time was not a constraint?
  • What kind of work do you look forward to doing?
  • What have you accomplished or done in the past that you are most proud of?
  • What is the main driving force that makes you get out of your cozy bed each morning?

The answers to these questions are common motivators. It’s important to ensure that there is a balance between work-related and personal responses.

How to Answer the Question

In your job search, it’s important to select a path that you’re genuinely interested in and look forward to being a part of. Having a sense of fulfillment in your job goes hand-in-hand with your level of work motivation. Practice a few responses ahead of time to ensure that you sound fluent and that your answer is relevant.

Be sure to listen to the question carefully. Often employers may ask two separate questions in this regard which are either “what motivates you in life?” or “what motivates you at work?”

Each of your responses will need to be relevant to the question. If the interviewer provides no distinction, you should clarify what motivates you for each in your responses. In addition, below are some additional guidelines to help you prepare:

  • Be honest and make it personal – The hiring manager is gaining valuable insight into you as a person and as an employee. Therefore, making up stories may help you through the interview but will come back to bite you later down the line. Share what you find personally meaningful.
  • Keep it relevant – Once you have your list of strong motivators, consider the role that you’re applying for and strike off any motivators that are not at least broadly relevant to the role. Try to emphasize the motivators that fit with what you’re expecting to do daily.
  • Use a real-life example – Perhaps the most powerful tool of all, nothing beats a real-life example in an interview. Scour your memory of previous positions for a time when you genuinely felt a sense of accomplishment and your ideal work environment. Include every detail possible. If it’s your first job, feel free to pull on examples from your college or schooling career and extra-curricular activities, including your career and personal goals. 
Young woman doing a job interview

Common Mistakes

Interviewees make two common errors when answering the “what motivates you?” question.

Inauthentic Answers

Interviewees are often tempted to over-tailor their responses for these types of questions. Anticipation is a powerful tool if used correctly. Knowing that this question is likely to come up allows you to prepare for it better than other questions. In your preparation, while keeping your audience in mind during your response, you also need to ensure that you come across as sincere and honest.

Boring Answers

Motivation is something that makes you feel good. This should come across in your response in both your words and body language in every interview answer. This is where the real-life example we discussed will come in handy.

Other Considerations

By this point, your preparation should be well underway, but there is one final thing that you need to consider when building your responses. What type of role is it? Each type of role generally requires specific traits relevant to your environment. For example:

  • Team-based role – Collaboration, coordination, team player
  • Management role – Planning, organizing, leading, controlling
  • Data-driven role – Accuracy, software applications, problem-solving
  • Marketing role – Creative skills, new technology, innovation
  • Sales roles – Customer service skills, self-motivated person

Aim to pull on real-life examples that clearly show off the relevant traits you possess and make them memorable.


“What motivates you?” can be a much more difficult question to answer in an interview setting than many think. While there is no right or wrong answer to the question, there are right and wrong ways to answer the question. Using real-life examples is an excellent way of giving your response more oomph. You want to ensure that your answer resonates with the hiring manager among the sea of applicants that they are likely to encounter.