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How to Answer ‘What Motivates
You at Work?’

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: September 01, 2020

An old standby in the job interviewer’s question arsenal is “what motivates you at work ?” How a potential employee answers this question, or one like it, can tell a hiring manager a lot about their personality, work ethic and character. Along with “tell me about yourself ?” this is a question that requires some soul searching preparation to provide a good answer. We spoke to some experts to get their advice on what makes a good answer to the question of what drives or motivates you at work.

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What Employers Want to Hear


"If you are looking to nail a job interview, you have to show that you are passionate about the business’ mission and how you can be a part of it," says Andrew R. Wetmore, Career Services Officer at Ridley-Lowell Business & Technical Institute.
Showing that the mission of the company matches your personal values will indicate that you have the drive to work your best and hardest.
Good answer: I feel strongly that the work of this company is in line with my values and personality, and that connection will drive me to help take the company to the next level.

Specific Examples

Rather than just stating what motivates you in general, give a solid example. Islin Munisteri, author of You Are Enough: A Manifesto for the Overworked and Overwhelmed, suggests using the SAR method to answer this question – Situation, Action, Response. Think of a specific instance that illustrates your work ethic and motivations and tell that story.
Good Answer: In my previous position, my role of team-lead motivated me to ensure that the work my team produced was exceptional. If I did not give it my all, every day, the project would have suffered. The responsibility of leading others drove me to really invest in my work.

What You Bring to the Table

In an interview, hiring managers are looking to hear “how the company will be better if you’re part of it,” says Josh Doody, author of Fearless Salary Negotiation. He suggests researching the company’s goals before heading into the interview, and identifying how you can help accomplish those goals. Then, work that information into an answer that is “company-focused, not client focused.”
Good answer: I like to solve hard problems. For example, I know your company is looking to move into a new market, and that can be challenging. That type of challenge is what motivates me. I have a lot of experience breaking into new markets, which would help with that transition.

What Employers Don’t Want to Hear

All About You

Even though the question of what motivates you at work is asking about you, a good answer is one that refers to the company or team as a whole.
“Employers want to hear that the opportunity to positively and directly impact the success of their company motivates you to work harder,” says Shelley Coombs, Senior Director at HireStrategy. “You may also want to mention that being a part of an engaging and collaborative team motivates you and gets you excited to come to work every day.”
Bad answer: “I like a job that allows me to have fun at work and learn new things, and that has good co-workers and a fun atmosphere.”

Money and Benefits

Obviously compensation is important to everyone, but never answer that the paycheck is what drives you. “Try to stay away from answers that have little or nothing to do with the job responsibilities and will not let the employers gain insight into who you are as a prospective employee,” advises Coombs.
Bad answer: “I am motivated by the opportunity to advance my career and make more money.”

Vague Answers and Clichés

Whatever you do, avoid giving a vague and cliché answer that tells the interviewer nothing genuine about you. Instead, “the best candidate will connect their response to the individual achievement expected, accomplishment of team goals and the overarching company purpose,” says Mark Babbitt, Founder and CEO of YouTern. Use your answer as an opportunity to tell the interviewer something unique and authentic about yourself.

Bad answer: “I’m looking for a company that will allow me to excel with my current skills while giving me the opportunity to grow professionally”

When an interviewer asks about your professional motivations, they really want to hear what makes you tick and how you will fit in with the company. A solid answer will highlight characteristics that make you the best fit the role – and the best fit for the company – and will use examples from your own personal experience to demonstrate those traits.