How to Answer: What Motivates You?

How to Answer: What Motivates You?

 Some of the most common interview questions can also be the most challenging to answer. “What motivates you?” is a deceptively simple one. It can give your future employer a sense of your aspirations and long-term goals. It can paint a picture of why you get up in the morning and what makes you tick. How you choose to answer this question can either give a hiring manager a compelling reason to remember you or it can unintentionally leave you looking uncertain, or worse, indifferent.

This question can make or break your job interview, so here are a few key insights to consider as you prepare to answer: What motivates you?


If you try to come up with an answer to this question on the spot, you’ll likely sell yourself short. This is an opportunity to demonstrate strong self-awareness and it requires thoughtful reflection to get the answer just right. A helpful strategy can be to think about the times in your life where you felt the most driven and inspired, whether in a previous internship, in your classes, on a sports team or as part of another extracurricular activity. Personality tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can also illuminate new ways to identify and articulate your passions and strengths. For example, if you find that you are most motivated while prepping for final projects or getting ready for a championship game, you can share that having clear and ambitious end goals is important to you.

It can be equally essential to reflect on what activities or spaces leave you feeling discouraged or unmotivated. Taking the time to identify these energy-drainers can help you avoid work settings that may not be a good fit, particularly if you’re looking for your first entry-level job and are still trying to understand type of job will work best for you.

Be authentic.

Hiring managers can quickly tell if you’re being genuine about your motivations. Generalized responses like “I love working with others” tend to be easily forgotten. Overly catered responses could look insincere. You are most compelling when you are authentic. Look at the job description and pull out what you are genuinely excited about. If you’re eager to work on a close-knit team and you see that this role has highly collaborative project management, that’s a great place to dive in. Alternatively, if you get energy from being around others, but this job has you doing predominately independent work like data analysis, that’s something you need to consider carefully.

Keep it concise, positive and connected.

“What motivates you?” is a broad question, so it can be tempting to rattle off a long list of things that get you excited to wake up in the morning, but a compelling response will be succinct, grounded in previous accomplishments, and connected to the job at hand. Curate a list of two to three key motivators accompanied by 1) a specific example of when this motivated you and 2) how you see this playing out in the job that you’re applying for.

Say something like: “I’m very motivated when doing work that positively affects others’ lives. As part of the community service that I do on campus, I had the opportunity to come up with a service project with other team members, and I found that I’m at my personal best when I have the chance to be both creative and service-oriented. I’m excited to see that this job also focuses on fostering a service-oriented mindset.”

Pro Tip: Whatever you say, don’t say money. Salaries are certainly important, but money should never be the primary motivating factor that you share in an interview.

Below are some potential motivating factors and ways to connect what motivates you to job descriptions:

Bringing out the best in others → Example: Laterally managing teammates to their greatest potential
Creative expression → Example: Innovating new solutions to complex problems
Working in teams → Example: Encouraging collaborative practices across teams and departments
Making a difference → Example: Upping the standards for inclusive processes
Winning or competing → Example: Setting and achieving ambitious goals in ambiguous contexts

Self-reflecting on the front-end and identifying what truly motivates you will not only narrow down your job search to a list of more meaningful opportunities, but it will also help you feel confident walking in on interview day. For other ideas on how to get noticed by hiring managers, check out our advice on how to stand out during a job search.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as Advanced Tips to Make Your Resume Stand Out and find answers to common interview questions such as What Was Your Favorite Class?

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