What Motivates You? Interview Question

What Motivates You Interview Question and Answer

“What motivates you?” as an interview question may sound odd, but what the hiring manager is trying to figure out is what makes you tick. The manager is looking for insight into why you are motivated to do this particular job and if it’s a good fit. In this article, you’ll read:

  • Why Ask This Question
  • What Kind of Motivation
  • 3 Types of Intrinsic Motivation
  • How You Can Find Your Honest Answer
  • Sample Answers


Why Ask “What Motivates You?”

When hiring managers ask “what motivates you?” they already know that you need a paycheck. Managers also know that you can work anywhere. This is another way of trying to understand what drove you to apply to this particular position.

The hiring manager is also trying to figure out if your personality is a good fit for the role. If you’re clearly a people person, than a job doing data entry with little to no communication with other people isn’t the job for you. They need to know if you’re the right personality for this position. No one wants to hire someone only to watch the new hire be miserable. Your performance would suffer, your boss would know that they had made the wrong decision, and ultimately you would leave, either by your own choice or not.


Ways to Ask “What Motivates You?”

This question also shows up as:

  • Does something in particular drive you?
  • Name what inspires you.
  • How do you push yourself at work?
  • what influences you at work?


Types of Motivation

Motivation is what causes us to get up and do something. There are two kinds of motivation:

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to external rewards meaning outside the person, such as awards, social recognition, money, or praise. This can be difficult to keep up after a period of time, such as when someone reaches the top of their field. It is excellent in fields such as manual labor or sales, but if creativity is involved, the amount of pressure can ultimately lead to defeat. This kind of motivation is as good as the reward is a novelty. This kind of motivation is excellent to get a group of people to work together or to achieve a specific group goal.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that comes from within. It’s because the act itself is rewarding. For instance, if you are cleaning your house because guests are coming over, that’s extrinsic motivation. If you enjoy being organized and appreciate a clean place to live, that’s intrinsic motivation. When people are overly praised for the bare minimum, they are less motivated to do extra work. This is one reason why most managers use extrinsic motivation sparingly.


3 Types of Intrinsic Motivation

According to this TED talk by Dan Pink, there are three types of intrinsic motivation.

  • Autonomy – to self direct our own lives
  • Mastery – to master a skill to get better and better
  • Purpose – a greater purpose of something larger than ourselves

For some tasks, rewards narrow our focus. For any jobs related to cognitive work, you need to have your own motivation. Do you have a story of when you took control of a problem? Took it upon yourself to learn something new? Worked on a project for the greater purpose?


“What Drives You?” or How You Can Find Your Honest Motivation

In an interview, this question is specifically about what motivates you intrinsically. The hiring manager already knows what kind of raises, bonuses, and awards are handed out. Your best answer will, of course, be an honest one, so think of what you actually enjoy.

An easy way to figure out how to answer this is to think about what you enjoyed at your past jobs.Think about what kind of work environments you enjoyed, such as whether it was a loud vs. quiet, cooperative vs. competitive, busy or slow, etc. That will give you a good idea what kind of work you enjoy and what kind of situation you’d prefer to work in.

Telling a story about when you showed your motivation is more memorable than just listing something.

How to Frame a Story For Your Interview


Sample Answers About Motivation

Things that you might genuinely like doing that provide intrinsic motivation:

  • solving problems, including someone else’s
  • coaching others
  • meeting deadlines or hitting targets
  • solving difficult challenges
  • creative projects

If you need an example of a good answer to “what motivates you?”, we have written three examples:


Example 1

I love finishing assignments before a deadline. I know people complain about them, but I love the thrill of accomplishing something before it’s necessary. When that happens, it’s not only easier for the next person who needs my work to be done, but also reflects well on whatever team I’m on. When I was working as a picker at the Timberland shoes warehouse, I loved meeting the goals before they were needed. My team all got into it and by the time I left, we had the top numbers for the whole factory three months in a row. 

Why it works: this answer is great because it shows that they’re able to not just meet deadlines, but surpass them AND that they have the soft skills to encourage the rest of the team to do the same. This person has a great attitude that clearly inspires other people around them to also do excellent work. If their performance meets this answer, not only is this person hired, but also likely to be promoted to a team lead type of position.

Example 2

I really love digging into data and solving problems. Working with challenges is a big thrill for me and the more complicated, the better. At my last job there was a piece of coding that gave us trouble, but it was such a thrill when we solved it. Whether it’s working on a team or independently, I just really love solving puzzles like that.

This answer shows that they’re willing to work on challenges in any team environment. This is excellent because it shows the main drive really is to solve problems.


Example 3

What motivates me about working with patients is knowing that I’ve done absolutely everything I can to get them their medication delivered to them. Giving them the best customer service I can is really important to me. My drive to constantly give the best experience and solve their problems as efficiently and effectively as possible is the reason that my patients have consistently given me five star reviews for the last year and a half. 

Here you have an excellent answer from someone working with medical patients. It shows how customer service drives this person forward and an outside result showing that they are good at it. Giving an outside result is an excellent way to “prove” that you really have this motivation.

In Conclusion

So the next time you’re asked “What motivates you?” in an interview, you should have a good idea that they want to hear about an internal motivation. We’ve gone over the different kinds of intrinsic motivation, how to answer honestly, and some examples.


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