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How to Answer Anything: What Motivates You? | Career Contessa

What gets you out of the bed every morning?

In a job interview, the hiring manager will ask you questions about your skills and your experience and what makes you uniquely you. The interview question “What motivates you?” is an example of the latter type of question. 

An interviewer or hiring manager is asking this question to determine what drives you—and how your particular drive fits into the company culture. For example, if the company at which you are interviewing has a “nose to the grindstone” culture, you might answer the question differently than an organization that puts work and life balance at the forefront of their culture. 

Welcome back to “How to Answer Anything,” our series that navigates how to answer the most common—but also the most challenging—common interview questions. By employing our three-step method, you’ll arrive at every interview with the most dazzling answers. Let’s dive in.

Now, let’s explore what motivates you to leave that pillow-top mattress every morning and hit the books! 

How to Answer “What Motivates You?”

Sometimes, what motivates you is the promise of a big bowl of ice cream after a long day. Sometimes, it’s the promise of a sunny Saturday spent in the company of some sand and waves. Yep, these are some pretty solid motivators. 
Professionally-speaking, your motivations are going to be a little different. At work, motivation comes from finishing great projects, receiving positive feedback, or learning (and mastering) a new skill. When determining what motivates you—or what could motivate you—we created this easy three-step process. 

Let’s motivate. 

Step 1: Pull some key phrases from the job description 

We can’t stress enough how much of a cheat sheet the job description is for every interview. When used correctly, the job post or job description *literally* has may of the answers to these questions, Your only job is to tailor these answers to yourself. For example, if the job description lists “strong collaborative teamwork” as a requisite, highlight that phrase. If you love working with a team, expand on that characteristic. 
Some other examples of key phrases you can pull from a job description are:
  • motivated self-starter
  • results-driven 
  • strong collaborator
  • strong project management skills

Step 2: Think of your best day ever (at work) 

We all have bad days at work, but let’s talk about those banner days you sometimes have. Close your eyes and think about that day. Perhaps you received amazing feedback from your boss or a stellar review from a client. Didn’t that feel pretty dang good? Did it motivate the heck out of you? 

Isolate those great days. Think about why they were great. Was it because you finally landed a huge client you had been wooing for the last few months? Is it because you were chosen for a leadership position? Did you create a killer presentation that impressed the C-level executives?

Gather the best days in your professional career and determine what made them so spectacular. 

Step 3: Tie steps one and two together (use your imagination) 

If you’ve completed the first two steps, you now know what skills the position requires, what the organization deems important, and where the fuel from your past successes has come from. Now, marry the two—and imagine what motivation could look like in this new role.

Example: In the context of my career, my motivation comes from successful teamwork, which is something that drew me to [ORGANIZATION]. The emphasis on teamwork and collaborative success at [ORGANIZATION] is attractive to me. My motivation comes from working collaboratively with a team—and really sharing our wins together. Specifically, I am extremely motivated when I am able to teach and to learn within a single team. 

Other Interview Questions Like “What Motivates You?”

Like many interview questions, the “What motivates you?” prompt might come in different variations. Here are a few common iterations of the same question (to which you can apply our same three-step method!) 

  • What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What might a coworker say is the best thing about you?
  • What is your favorite element of your job?
  • What does an ideal day look like to you?


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