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

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Imagine this: you sit in a tiny office across from your potential future boss of your dream job. Overall, you feel pretty good about the interview thus far. Then, they throw you a curveball and ask, “What motivates you?” You freeze. How do you answer that question? Endless amounts of answers exist for this common interview prompt, so your head might get full of things to talk about. But don’t you worry.

Go into your next interview feeling prepared with these 10 ways to talk about motivations (with a sprinkle of good interview tips).

1. Working with others

A big part of the work force includes working with other people and collaborating with a team. If you thrive in a work setting interacting with others, learn to promote this skill in an interview. If you apply for a job where you know you’ll constantly work with a team, find a way to talk about that. “My motivation increases as I work in a team context as group synergy excites and challenges me,” Temple University Professional Development Advisor Liz Anselmo said. Emphasizing your motivation to work with others screams “team player.” Jobs that involve a lot of team collaboration include advertising when working on a campaign or slogan and politically relevant jobs.

2. Results

Everyone wants to feel happy and satisfied with the work they do. Concrete results motivate people in the work force because they have something to show for all of their hard work. It feels great to say I did that, and I’m really proud of it. Results-driven jobs include financial planning, painting and design. “I think results definitely motivate me in the workplace. It’s nice to see something you made out there in the real world, influencing and attracting other people, or in my case, the way you’ve designed something,” Temple 2018 grad Abby Muth said. “My senior year of college I worked in the marketing and communications office of Klein College at Temple as a designer, and every time I would see something I designed posted around the school or on their social media, I would get so excited. It made me realize that I was really making something for people to see, which made me want to do the work to the best of my ability.” Seeing visible results makes you feel fulfilled and rewarded as an employee. If consistent results drive your motivation, consider incorporating this into your answer if you plan to apply for a job where results push your work.

3. Work/life balance

We all struggle to balance work and leisure time. Millennials, in particular, search for that perfect balance. We want to travel, spend time with friends and live life to the fullest… but we still need to make money (you know, the thing that makes everything else happen). Balancing life and work certainly motivates people in the workforce. “One of my motivators for wanting the job I am currently in was a better work and life balance,” WRT Design Human Resources Coordinator Kim Warren said. “As an Executive Recruiter, I was working many evenings and it was difficult to plan time off. In this position, I have set hours and my company provides an excellent benefits package that includes time off for vacation, sick and personal time.” Finding a job that gives you balance will keep you motivated to continue doing your job and living your life in the way you desire.

4. High financial goals

Money: It certainly gets anyone up for work everyday. People always say that you should never talk about money in an interview. However, some exceptions do exist, like sales. In a sales position, your interviewer wants to know that numbers and making big money for the company motivates you. One way to emphasize this information in an interview includes saying that you hold high financial goals for yourself. Saying that you hold high financial goals for you and the company will show your interviewer that your personal goals align with the company’s, making you a good fit.

5. Autonomy

Do you consider yourself someone who doesn’t like to take direction from others? If you would rather spend the day working independently, incorporate this into your response to the question at hand. Jobs that involve a lot of independent work include writing and editing. If you apply for one of these jobs, saying that autonomy and working independently motivates you would work well as an answer. If the job description entails spending your time working alone, the person hiring you wants to know that solo work appeals to you. “The ability to have control of a situation and make my own decisions motivates me,” EPIC Research Managing Director Mike Brown said. “I’m motivated because my manager trusts me. Whether or not the project goes well, I carry the responsibility for that project.”

6. Helping others

When you see others succeed as part of your job, that tells your interviewer that their team will benefit from your joining. Karen Demmler, a career coach at Temple, sees her motivation rooted in students thriving. “For over fifteen years, I was a marketing professional who was consistently recognized as a top performer for companies ranging from Hallmark Cards Inc. to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,” Demmler said. “However, now, instead of achieving sales goals, I help students and alumni achieve career goals which to me is so much more rewarding.” If you plan on going into social work, teaching or nursing, helping others likely motivates you, and you can include this motivating factor into your interview.

7. Learning new things

In almost any job, employers will expect you to adapt and change with the company, and this likely includes feeling open to learning new things. You might not possess all the qualifications and experience for your dream job just yet. But, you can spin your inexperience in an interview by saying that you love learning new things, if curiosity and expanding your skill set motivates you. Employers want to hire people who will grow with the company and won’t stay set in their ways. Saying that learning new things motivates you will come across great in an interview. “Curiosity motivates me to try new things every day in my job,” Temple Professional Development Advisor Darvin Martin said. Jobs in journalism or career coaching will keep you on your toes every day, always learning new things.

8. Advancement

With some jobs, you might gain everything you can in the first few years. If you feel like you reached a plateau in your current position, advancement might be a motivating factor for your next job. Warren said that a good way to address this in an interview includes saying, “I am looking to gain new experiences. I feel like I have gained all of the experience that I can from my current company and in order to move up. I need to look at other companies.” She also said that you can continue to talk about the company that you’re interviewing with to show that you’ve done your research. You can consider saying something like this in your interview: “I am glad that I’ve learned “X” with my company, but I am really excited about the work you do here on “Y” and that is what interests me about your company.” Always check out the company’s website before an interview to see what they’re all about. Interviewers expect potential employees to know some information about the business during an interview.

9. Meeting deadlines

Work life (and life in general) revolves around deadlines. Dates and times swirl around in your head when dealing with school and work. However, deadlines also keep life running smoothly. If meeting deadlines drives your motivation, talk about that in an interview. Deadlines create structure, and companies love structure in the workplace. It keeps things smooth-sailing. If an interviewer can tell that you’ll contribute to the organized manner of the company by stressing that deadlines motivate you, you will surely stand out from the crowd. Some jobs that emphasize deadlines include finance, data engineering and human resource positions.

10. Challenges

Companies who pride themselves on their innovation look for employees who will take the leap with them into new waters. If you find yourself in an interview with an organization that wants to find solutions, you will stick out if you emphasize that challenges motivate you. “When we’re trying to launch a new product from scratch, it’s exciting and challenging that it’s never been done before,” Brown said. “It motivates me to solve problems and create solutions.” It can prove daunting to go into a new project and create it from square one, but after completion, the reward of conquering the challenge will feel amazing.

What NOT to say when asked this question

  • Steer clear of saying something that you won’t find at the place you apply. For example, don’t say that working independently motivates you if you’re applying for a nursing position.
  • Never say: “I don’t know.” Do some research on the company before going into the interview to brainstorm.
  • Don’t just say “money.” While money almost always motivates work, and it may stand as your only motivation for a specific job, your interviewer wants to learn more about you.

Other general tips from sources

  • Understand the definition of the job. Look at the industry and position and cater to that.
  • Look at the job posting as ask yourself, “Why do I want this job?
  • While money may motivate you, don’t mention it until the company gives you a job offer. Plus, you should already know the salary based on research.
  • Don’t think of interviews as just questions and answers. Interviewers want to get a sense of how you performed at previous jobs and how that will predict future behavior. Try to provide stories in your answers. Give the interviewer a visual of a situation at a past job.
  • Always radiate positivity in your answers. You’ll come off well if you keep a positive attitude throughout the entire interview.

Anastasia is a senior at Temple University with a major in English and minors in theater and communication studies. She loves writing, theater, dancing, laughing, traveling, and eating mac and cheese.

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