How to answer the interview question, “What motivates you?”

We know you’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: You should love your job. After all, you spend a huge portion of your life at work. Adults employed full time in the U.S. report working an average of 47 hours per week, a recent Gallup survey found.

A key to being happy—and good—at your job is being motivated. An awesome boss should be keenly aware of this. “They want to know what it’s going to take to bring out the best work from you,” says Peter Engler, career coach and author of Your Crystal Clear Career Path: Featuring Smart, New and Effective Job Search Strategies.

And when you’re happy with your job, says Priscilla Claman, president of Boston coaching firm Career Strategies, you’ll also get more done.

Consequently, a lot of hiring managers ask job candidates, “What motivates you?” It’s an open-ended question, but there are good and bad ways to answer it—which is why you should prepare your response in advance.

Do a self-assessment
To figure out what your talking points will be, reflect on your past work experience. What projects made you feel energized? What did you like most about your last job? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

One way to jog your memory is to look at your resume. “It’s the easiest reminder of what you’ve accomplished,” says Julie Jansen, career coach and author of You Want Me to Work With Who?

You can also look at past performance reviews, Jansen says. Just be sure to focus on achievements that not only made you happy but also made you a valuable asset to your past employer.

Get a third-party’s perspective
In addition to doing some self-reflection, you’ll want to reach out to former co-workers for their input, says Jansen. (“What is it about me that made you like working with me?”) She also recommends getting feedback from your former managers. (“What were the one or two things that you could always count on me for?”)

How these people respond can give you insight into what motivates you. Plus, “you can incorporate a testimonial into your answer during the job interview,” Jansen says.

Align your motivations with the company’s goals
This is an opportunity to show you’re a good cultural fit for the company. How? It’s actually pretty simple: Look at the company’s mission statement to see what its core values are and then tailor your response appropriately.

For example, if the company says that it’s invested in employee development, you could say, “Learning new things is important to me, and what I love about this job is how many learning opportunities there are.” Then, you’d talk about specific skills that you’ve honed at previous jobs and why having them would make you a valuable employee.

Sample answers
Obviously how you answer this question will depend on what motivates you as an individual, but we still want to offer some examples of good responses. You’ll notice each one starts with “I love.” Why? Because it shows you’re passionate about what you do!

Good answers
For a public relations job: “I love talking to new people and building relationships.”
For a business analyst job: “I love figuring out how to interpret data and unpack it for consumers.”
For a consultant job: “I love helping companies become more efficient and working with managers to find ways to make businesses more profitable.”
For an events coordinator job: “I love organizing meetings, conferences, and company retreats. One of my favorite aspects of this industry is that I get to travel for work.”
On the flipside, here’s what you shouldn’t say:

Bad answers
“Advancement. I love getting promoted.”
“Money.” (Caveat: If you’re applying for a sales or financial job, this could be a good answer.)
“Having as much free time as possible.”
Stand out from the crowd
The bottom line: Employers want to hire motivated and energetic people who can help create a positive work environment—and it’s your responsibility to show that you fit the bill. Could you use some help convincing them? Join GradSiren today. As a member, you'll get interview insights, career advice, and job search tips sent directly to your inbox. From describing a time when you had to solve a problem to explaining why you should get the job, you'll learn how to phrase your answers to show off your strengths.


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