How to answer the interview question, What Motivates You?

By Carole Martin, Monster Contributing Writer

“What motivates you?” is another one of those soul-searching interview questions where your answer will depend on your background and experiences. It can catch you off guard unless you’ve thought about it before the interview. Contemplating when you have been most satisfied in your career will not only help you answer this question, but it will also help you focus on what you want in your next job.

Two candidates answer the motivation question, reflecting their values and what is important to them. The first says, “In my previous job, I worked directly with customers and their problems. What I liked was solving problems and helping people. Sometimes it took a lot of effort on my part, but it was gratifying when the customer appreciated the service.”

This answer reflects the candidate’s interest in helping people and the satisfaction he gets in finding solutions.

The second candidate says, “Two years ago, I was excited to be involved in a particular project. The team I was working with had to develop innovative ways to market a product that was not received well by consumers. It took lots of effort and long meetings, but we met our deadline and launched a terrific marketing campaign. It was a motivating experience.”

This candidate likes thinking outside the box and being part of a team. He loves a challenge and works well with pressure and deadlines.

Prepare Your Script
Writing out your thoughts will help you think about times when you felt energized by your work, times when you looked forward to going to work. For a source of ideas, refer to your resume. Which tasks did you list? Were they the tasks you enjoyed most and felt most motivated doing?
A statement on your resume might be:

  • Project leader: Led a team in coordinating and monitoring the progress of projects to assure the flow and completion of work on schedule.

What was it that was motivating about this experience? Being in charge, being the source of information, or controlling the flow of work? Making sure the standards were in line with your work values?

By making a list of motivating experiences from your last two or three jobs, you will begin to see patterns of projects and tasks that stand out. Analyze what you did before. Do you want more of this type of responsibility in your next job? The answers to these questions will give you insight into what stimulates you and the possibilities for fulfillment in future jobs with similar responsibilities.

Additionally, by focusing on times when your work energized you, you may become more enthusiastic about the job you are seeking.

There is no such thing as the perfect answer to the motivation question. Your answer will be based on your own experiences and analysis. Ultimately, this exercise will help you reveal to the interviewer what turns you on in your work. Even if you are not asked this question, your pre-interview thinking, analysis, and scripting will help you be more focused and control what you want in your next job.

Arnie Sherr adds: The above writing is an exciting exposé about the obvious, but a most often overlooked or misunderstood method for answering interview questions. It is overlooked because most have not the where-with-all to think-on-their-feet. Moreover, the two responses above are great examples of providing the messages interviewers seek to hear. Although their answers are truthful, the respondents were careful to word them in ways that placated the questioner’s probes. In other words, they answered the questions as they would want to hear them were they the interviewer or the employer’s first line of screening.

Most don’t understand; the role the first interviewer is, most times, to identify whether or not those attending first interviewers meet the CEO’s employee profile. It is generally the practice of CEO’s to determine a company’s employee profile and then direct that only those who meet this profile and who qualify otherwise shall advance to the next step or second interview.

When I coach my clients on this subject many cannot distinguish between tailoring their answers to meet interviewer expectations and lying. I would never suggest any candidate lie; in fact, I am vehemently against doing do, but thinking about how and wording truthful answers in ways that give the asker sought for information and perceptions has proven to be effective and impressive to those listening.

For many, this meets with “I can’t do that” or “I’m not that creative.” This is why I role play over and over with my clients during coaching sessions. You may practice looking into a mirror; ask and answer your own questions. Be both the applicant and the interviewer; after a while, you’ll get the drift. It is just a concept; once you comprehend the concept, answering whatever questions are asked will come naturally and easily.

Best of luck!

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