Job Interview Question: What Motivates You?

Contrary to what you might think, the recruiter or hiring manager who asks, “What motivates you?” does not want to hear your life story. She doesn’t want to know what to know that your really need money for rent, and she doesn’t want to know what clippings you have on your dream job dream board. By asking this question, the recruiter is trying to figure out what gives you energy and what saps your energy–and whether or not your answer will align with the environment at that particular company.

How you answer this question will give your interviewer a lot of insight into how you tick. It will also help you figure out whether or not you should take the job. After all, it’s much better to answer honestly and find out if this is a job you’ll enjoy and want to stick with rather than faking an answer to score a job you’ll be unmotivated to complete within a few months. Therefore, it’s important to spend time with this question and get to the heart of what motivates you in life, in your career and in your day-to-day.

(And if you’re not feeling particularly motivated, read this post first!)

Start With the Day-to-Day

Begin your answer with a specific example of what motivates you in your day-to-day. Obviously, we’re not referring to cashing a paycheck. Instead, we’re focusing on concepts and tasks that get you fired up and that you can expect to perform if you get the job.

As you answer this question, frame a few of your day-to-day tasks in the light of how they satisfy your inner motivation to be your quirky, talented self. Your answer will depend on both your job experience and your personal motivations for what inspires you day-to-day.

For example, someone in project management might be motivated by the freedom to be OCD about organizing project deadlines and have those skills recognized and appreciated in the workplace. Someone in graphic design might respect the creative process and enjoy being involved in the generation of a new design from conception to finish. One person in the customer service industry might be motivated by teamwork and collaboration, while another might prefer individual work with the telephone. Understanding exactly what motivates you (whether it’s autonomy, ambiguity, or figuring out puzzles) will help you and your interviewer understand if this job is right for you.

Include Career Details

Next, expand your picture from the day-to-day to explain how this position will tie into your long-term career motivations. Does this job offer on-the-job training that meets your desire to learn and develop as a professional? Does the company culture meet your need for camaraderie within your industry and motivate you with its openness to collaboration? Point out one or two details about this position that align with what will sustain your motivation to work hard over a long period of time.

Get Big Picture With Your Life’s Purpose

Finally, share a small glimpse of how this position aligns with your ultimate motivation: your life’s purpose. In this case, those Millennials and Gen Xers who crave meaning over money are right. There are two good reasons that your day job should align with your life’s purpose. First, it will make you happier over time and more successful at what you do. Second, it will make you more attractive as a job candidate. From customer service positions to executive leadership roles, recruiters and HR managers know that candidates find it easier to keep the big picture in mind and work toward a common goal when they are committed to a job based on their internal motivations.

Check out how to answer other common job interview questions: