Before your next job interview, make sure you're prepared to answer this question!

If you're one of those people who struggles to come up with great answers to open-ended interview questions, you're not alone. Many job seekers find themselves unprepared for these types of questions and may find themselves caught flat-footed during their interviews. For example, suppose your interview is going well and the interviewer suddenly asks you some variation of the question, “What motivates you?” Would you be able to come up with an inspired answer without proper preparation?

In this post, we'll consider why employers might want to know what motivates you, and the types of answers they are hoping to hear. We'll also offer some tips to help you to prepare an answer to this question and provide some examples that you can use to create your own response.

Why do employers ask the “what motivates you?” interview question?

Obviously, when an employer asks about what drives you at work, they want to understand your motivations for doing a great job. However, that question can also provide a great deal of insight into your personality, work style, ability to collaborate with others, and career goals. This insight can help them to better understand how well you would fit within their work culture, their team, and the desired job role.

What do employers want to hear when they ask what motivates you at work?

To answer this question in a compelling way, you need to ensure that your response aligns with the company culture and the role. Why? It's simple, really. When an interviewer asks you any question about your motivations, they want to see how well your values align with the company's needs. Your response can provide the employer with key information that will help them try to predict whether you're a good match for the position. It can also help them to identify your long-term career goals.

Employers may ask this question in different ways

As you prepare a response to this question, keep in mind that there are many ways that hiring managers may ask you about your motivations. For example:

  • “What part of this job inspires you the most?”

  • “How do you define success?”

  • “What motivates you to head to work each day?”

  • “What type of challenges drive you to do your best?”

While these questions seem very different in tone and delivery, they can all be used to assess your motivations. Fortunately, a well-prepared answer can be flexible enough to cover any of the most common motivation-focused interview questions.

Tips to help you answer “what motivates you?” questions

The good news is that there are some simple tips that can help you to prepare to answer questions about what motivates you. The following tips will require you to do some self-assessment about your own motivations, learn how to research job descriptions and company cultures, and avoid responses that could turn off interviewers.

Identify the things that have motivated you in the past

When preparing to answer questions about what motivates you, it's vital to begin with a self-assessment. Take some time to think about your prior work experience and the things that inspired you at each job. Create a list that details your motivations at each company, as well as things that you disliked about those job roles.

Try to identify some common themes that can help to define your motivations. As you do so, you may gain even greater insight into your own career trajectory and a better understanding of why you do what you do!

Research the company and job

You should also focus on learning as much as you can about the company and the role you're seeking. The firm's website and social media should give you some idea about its values and overall company culture. Meanwhile, the job description will contain key information that can provide insight into the types of duties and responsibilities associated with your desired position. Take note of anything that you find particularly inspiring.

Align your motivations with the company culture

Once you've identified your key motivations, try to match them to the job and company culture. By aligning your needs with the company's culture and job expectations, you can better ensure that you create an answer that shows you're a good fit for the position. That will also help to demonstrate your interest, since the hiring manager will be able to see that you've taken the time to do your homework about the company and the job.

Be specific

As you craft your prepared answer, make sure that you avoid any vague language. Don't just offer some generic response like, “I'm motivated by a great work culture and a strong team.” Employers want to hear an answer that tells them something about your work style and needs. Instead, focus on some specific aspects of the company or job that motivated you to apply for the position.

Tell a story

Storytelling is one of the best ways to convey this type of information to an employer. Once you've identified your motivations, you should try to put them into context by telling a story that describes how your motivations helped you to accomplish something for a previous employer. By telling a relatable story that reflects the prospective employer's values and culture, you can help the interviewer to better understand how your motivational needs align with the company's work environment.

Don't say “money” or “promotions”

While money and the desire for career advancement are some of the most obvious motivations for most employees, they should not be included in any answer about what motivates you at work. Sure, you want money – and lots of it – but mentioning your desire for compensation won't give the interviewer any insight into your values, work ethic, or ability to fit within their company culture. The same holds true for any mention of career advancement, like the desire for regular promotions.

“What motivates you to work?” - sample answers

Once you've identified your core motivations and aligned them with the company, you should prepare a simple but compelling response that you can use in your interviews. To help you to craft that response, we've put together several sample answers that you can customize to fit your unique situation. Each example focuses on a different motivation, to provide you with a variety of template responses that can meet almost any need.


“What motivates me is a job where I can use my critical thinking and analytical skills to solve problems for my team and the company. I spent three years as a manager in a software development firm and always enjoyed an extra boost every time a new challenge was presented to our team. On one occasion, we were tasked with completely revamping a client's mobile application and were given only six days to complete the task. That tight deadline was something that got my adrenaline pumping, motivating me to push myself and the team to get the job done in five days.”

Creativity and innovation

“I've been a creative person for as long as I can remember, beginning in early childhood with painting, sculpting, and tinkering in my father's workshop. For me, there's nothing more inspiring than having the opportunity to create something new and innovative for myself and others. When I was employed by Alpha, Inc., I enjoyed the creative environment and the company's commitment to staying at the cutting-edge of technological advancement.

That was also the first thing I noticed about this company when I researched it before applying for this role. Over the last five years, your firm has been first-to-market with every breakthrough in this industry. That's the type of commitment to innovation that motivates me to want to join this team.”

Customer satisfaction

“Is there anything more inspiring than showing up to work each day knowing that your entire team is focused on the company's mission of meeting customer needs? For me, knowing that each customer walks away with the best possible experience – with their most pressing needs met by our services – is the ultimate motivator. This company's customer-centric approach to doing business is what separates it from its many rivals and is the primary reason why I knew that I had to apply for this position. I would be thrilled to help further that mission.”

The opportunity to make a positive impact

“There are different things that motivate me to achieve more at work, but nothing inspires me more than the chance to know that I'm making a real difference in my company and its customers' lives. In fact, this company's commitment to the community it serves is what first captured my attention and motivated me to submit my resume. In my previous role at ABC Corp., I was directly involved in our community outreach efforts and was proud to help increase our customer loyalty and retention by 32% year-over-year.”

Collaborating in pursuit of shared goals

“I've always been goal-oriented and love nothing more than working with a team of dedicated professionals who all share the same vision and mission. I'm reminded of a Senior Marketing Director position I held at Vision Corp. several years ago. I drew inspiration each day from knowing that I was working with a company and team that were singularly focused on achieving the firm's mission. That motivated us to reach levels of success we otherwise might never have achieved, raising the company's revenue by more than 15% each year I was there.

I know that this company shares that same drive and focus and has made its commitment to teamwork and collaboration abundantly clear. That's exactly the type of company culture that gives me the motivation I need to not only meet expectations but exceed them, which is why I was so eager to submit my application for this position.”

Developing new skills

“When I ask myself what motivates me, the main thing that always comes to mind can be summed up in one word: value. My inspiration comes from seeing my value as an employee steadily increase over time as I learn new skills, further develop my abilities, and strive to keep pace with changes in the workplace. There's never been a time in my life when I haven't been thrilled at the prospect of learning new things – a fact that has helped me to focus on enhancing my skills throughout my career.”

Fast-paced work environment

“I'm always motivated by roles that challenge me to keep up in a fast-paced environment. When I was working with Dynacorp, the deadlines were tight, and change was a constant companion. For me, that fast pace of action and constant need to adapt to changing circumstances was a powerful inspiration that forced me to continually improve in every area of performance.

From everything that I've learned about how this company operates, I have every confidence that I'll feel right at home as part of your team. In fact, that's why I applied for the position, and I'm convinced that I'm the right candidate for the job.”

Identify what motivates you and excel in your next interview!

It's often difficult to know how to answer open-ended interview questions about what motivates you to do your best at work – especially if you haven't taken the time to prepare a response. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prepare for questions like these. By following the tips and examples in this post, you should be able to craft your own response to questions that focus on motivation and ensure that you make the best possible impression during your next interview.

Are you still not sure if you're ready to succeed in an important interview? Our dedicated expert interview coaches are standing by to provide the help you need to ace that interview and land a great job offer.

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