“What motivates you?” is an interview question where the answer depends on your experiences and determination. This is a soul-searching question that can really catch you off-guard unless you had thought of it prior to that interview. Reflect on when you have ever been most satisfied in your career will help you answer that question correctly. It will also help you focus on the things you expect from your next job.

Part 1: Why Do Interviewers Ask This Question?

The current trend in the world of graduate recruitment for interviews are strength-based—mostly focus on the thing you are good at and things you enjoy doing, which means that there is a high likelihood that you will come across this age-old interview question. This is a question that despite being around for long, always throws candidates off. The reason for this is that it is a question that is not only broad but easily misinterpreted.

Information Not Welcomed

When you are asked “What motivates you”, you are not being asked:

-What motivated you to apply for that job?

-What your aspirations and career goals are?

At the least, this question is not asking you about those two things directly. However, you can always touch on them when giving the answer. What this question is asking you is what motivates you in general? What makes you want to wake up in the morning other than your alarm clock and cup of coffee?

Information Expected

The best way to answer this question is honestly. Your answer also needs to connect with the job position you are interviewing for. The answer needs to strongly show that you are motivated and fit for that specific position. This question enables recruiters to find out more information about you. Your answer will give them insight on:

-What do you value and what do you enjoy doing?

-What gets you angry?

-Whether you are fit for that job role?

-How you would fit in the team?

Part 2: Key Factors to Include in Your Answer

Key factors

There are many things that can motivate you. It is up to you to pick the factors carefully:

-That do not negatively reflect on you as a person.

-That are consistent with the job position you are applying for.

-That will equally benefit your potential employer.

-That will not impose a burden to your prospective employer.

The truth of the matter is that money is always a big motivator. It is the major reason as to why most people get up to work on a daily basis. However, unless you are applying for a sales or a largely-commissioned and money driven position, avoid mentioning money as the motivating factor. That is an answer that is selfish and is only in your interest not that of your prospective employer.

It is advisable that depending on the job position, you cite and elaborate factors like recognition, results and challenges on the same, so that you will demonstrate how they will benefit the employer.

Specific Points

When you know what motivates you in work, you will be able to match that with the jobs available. Most people have different motivators at different points in their careers. Some people, having established themselves by the age of 30, look towards more independence. On the other hand, those in their 20’s are mostly motivated by opportunities to develop and learn through work.

Take a look at some motivators and take some time to ponder on how important each motivator is to you. Consider what you would like but not what you would get from your current position, moreso if you are currently feeling demotivated.

  • Change and newness: Do you prefer being in when things are starting or do you lose interest when things bed down?

  • Balance of work life: At this particular life stage you are in, is working in an environment that allows you to work at your agreed hours (giving you plenty of time for your personal life) important to you?

  • Independence: Minimal interference while you work. Do you prefer being the decision maker and control how your time is spent?

  • Making a difference: Doing something that requires you to make a contribution. Do you get motivated by the thought of contributing in one way or the other?

  • Security: The organization you work for is stable and risk of joblessness is minimal. Is it what you would want or do you find risk appealing?

  • Responsibility: Being the one who is responsible for a team’s performance or delivering projects or even both. How much are you willing to take the credit for when things are done well or do not go well?

  • Recognition: Hearing other people congratulating you on a job well done. Would you like to be recognized by others for your own work or do you just recognize yourself?

  • Team membership: The opportunity to work with others closely and receive and give help as well as feedback. How important is team work to you?

  • Competitiveness: Do you find it thrilling when you are given a chance to compete with others?

  • Development: The chance to learn more and gain new skills. Do you care for development or are you content with the skills you have and the environment you are in?

Part 3: Sample Answers


In truth, I find routine to be more suitable than creativity. Once I have the skills needed to do my part, I perform well and get a great feeling from the job. Jobs that require you to learn new things on a daily basis are not appealing to me. Once I have learned to do my task, I enjoy doing it and can do it perfectly each day, without the risk of drop in motivation.


It has always been my wish to ensure that the clients of the company I work for get the best customer service from me. I have always felt that it is vital to both me and the company along with its clients to give a positive customer experience.


I was responsible for various projects where I implemented repeatable processes and directed development teams. The teams I directed achieved 100% on-time delivery of the software products. What motivated me was the challenge of seeing those projects to completion ahead of schedule and also being the one who managed the teams that would achieve the set goal.


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