How to Answer the Interview Question, “What Motivates You?”

Need to convince a potential employer of your drive? This is how to align your passion and skills with the company.

How to Answer the Interview Question, “What Motivates You?”

A key to being happy—and good—at your job is being motivated.

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. A key to being happy—and good—at your job is being motivated. An awesome boss should be keenly aware of this and will want to know what motivates you, because when you’re happy with your job, says Priscilla Claman, president of Boston coaching firm Career Strategies, you’ll also get more done. 

“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.

The interview question “What motivates you?” is open-ended, 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.”

Use your resume show your enthusiasm

The bottom line: Knowing what motivates you can provide a more focused job search. Employers want to hire energetic people who can help create a positive work environment—and it’s your responsibility to show that you fit the bill. One of the earliest opportunities you have in which to convince them of this is on your resume. Could you use some help? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. Monster's experts will show you how to present yourself in the best, most professional light so that hiring managers sit up and take notice.