How to Answer the
What Motivates You
Interview Question

 The What Motivates You interview question is a popular but broad job interview question that can be tricky to answer without some preparation. Your answer to questions about what motivates you at work should be honest and personal but also relevant to the job opportunity, reinforcing your suitability for the position.

Illustration of notebook with writing "What Motivates You" on blue background with green coffee cup

What the interviewer is looking for in your answer to "Tell me what motivates you"

The interviewer is evaluating the following by asking this interview question:

  • your self-awareness
  • your authenticity
  • the alignment between your motivations and the tasks, responsibilities and outcomes of the job
  • the cultural match between your motivations and the company ethos
  • if the work environment suits you
  • your suitability for the role
  • your ability to fit in with the team

The "why" of you career choices is usually not evident from your resume, the "What motivates you" interview question is designed to provide the employer with insight into what drives you.

How to answer "What motivates you at work?"

This requires some self reflection. To understand what motivates you at work, ask yourself the following questions:

  • what do I enjoy doing at work?
  • when do I feel completely engaged with my work?
  • what sort of assignments and tasks do I excel at?
  • when do I feel proud of my work?
  • what happened during my best days at work?
  • what did I look forward to at work?
  • what plays to my strengths?
  • what are my most significant personal achievements?
  • what sort of environments do I thrive in?
  • What attracted me about the job opportunity that I am interviewing for?

In order to make your answer to the "What motivates you?" interview question relevant to the job opportunity and supportive of your job application consider the following:

  • the job responsibilities and duties
  • the skills, abilities and behaviors required for the job
  • the potential opportunities provided by the job and the organization
  • the working environment
  • the company culture and values

Job Descriptions

Try to find a match between the job requirements and what motivates you and highlight this in your interview answer. For example, a manager or supervisor will usually be required to coach and develop employees while building effective relationships with them. These motivators will likely be more applicable to the job opportunity than learning new skills.

In your interview answer to "Tell me what motivates you" select one or two specific job-relevant motivations that reinforce your suitability for the role. Support your answer with examples drawn from your work experience. 

Examples of what motivates you

Most people are motivated by a number of factors. Typical motivations at work include:

  • meeting and exceeding targets and goals
  • mentoring, coaching and developing others
  • developing effective relationships
  • learning and self-development
  • innovating for improvement
  • problem-solving
  • creating and implementing new ideas
  • data analysis and management to resolve issues and improve efficiency
  • working and succeeding as part of a team
  • completing complex projects and assignments
  • improving systems and processes
  • overcoming challenges and obstacles
  • providing excellent customer service
  • helping others in need
  • helping others succeed

Consider which of these apply to you and support your answer to the "What motivates you?" interview question with concrete examples.

"What motivates you?" answer examples


What motivates you sample answer when you are motivated by working as part of a team to achieve an outcome and the role you are interviewing for involves teamwork.

Text sample interview answer to What Motivates You, describing teamwork as your motivation

Achieving measurable results or tangible goals

When you are driven by tangible or measurable results. Most jobs involve an element of goal attainment or achieving results, so this is a good general motivation to highlight in your interview answer.

Text sample interview answer to What Motivates You, describing goal attainment as your motivation

Developing, mentoring or coaching others

When developing and empowering others motivates you and you will be required to do this as part of the job. 

Text sample interview answer to What Motivates You, describing developing others as your motivation

Learning new skills and self-development

Learning and self-development are important motivations in the workplace. Consider if the role you are interviewing for provides learning opportunities before highlighting this in your answer to the "What motivates you?" interview question.

Text sample interview answer to What Motivates You, describing self development as your motivation

Data analysis and problem-solving

If evaluating data is part of the job description, this is a good motivation to highlight in your "What motivates you at work" interview answer.

Text sample interview answer to What Motivates You, describing data analysis as your motivation

Meeting a challenge or overcoming an obstacle

This motivation is applicable to most jobs and is a good interview answer to the What motivates you interview question for entry level job candidates and those with little work experience. Examples of typical challenges employees face in the workplace include:

  • dealing with difficult customers resulting in a positive outcome
  • convincing, persuading or influencing a customer, colleague, employee or manager to your point of view or to adopt a project or product
  • solving a problem
  • implementing improvements
  • adapting to change
  • meeting deadlines
  • working within a budget       
  • achieving a demanding goal

Helping others

Helping others and making a difference can be a strong motivation. This is particularly applicable to jobs in the medical industry, social work environment, social responsibility roles and education where the motivation to be of service to others is both necessary and valuable. A sense of purpose is  commonly derived from working in these fields and is a driving force in selecting these careers. 

Tell me what sort of work environment motivates you

This is an important interview question as it helps the company evaluate whether the type of work environment on offer is a good match for the job candidate. In preparing for this question it is essential you do your research beforehand to fully understand the type of work environment and the company culture.

Examples of different work environments include:

  • deadline-driven
  • fast-paced and energetic
  • collaborative
  • learning-oriented
  • team-based or individual-focused
  • formal and conventional or informal and relaxed
  • highly structured or flexible
  • small or large company

In your answer to this interview question, highlight the particular type of work environment you enjoy and why that workplace style or culture suits you. It is important to be honest, if this is the wrong work environment for you then it is unlikely to be a good job fit for you or the company. However if you are flexible, you can emphasize that you are able to adapt to different work environments in your interview answer.

How to answer What motivates you interview question for entry level candidates

There are a number of motivation examples from your education or extra curricular activities that are applicable to the workplace. These include:

  • overcoming challenges and obstacles to achieve a goal
  • learning new skills
  • mentoring others
  • coming up with new ideas and implementing them
  • working as part of a team to achieve an objective
  • data collection and analysis (research)
  • achieving top results

Sample answers to entry level interview questions

What to avoid in your "What motivates you?" interview answer

  • Avoid focusing on salary and perks. Employers know that a salary is a primary motivator for work, they are looking beyond a paycheck in your interview answer.
  • Avoid vague or generic statements, be specific and back it up with work examples
  • Avoid long-winded answers

Job interview questions and answers


Why should we hire you?


Can you tell me about yourself?


Why do you want to work here?

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