What Motivates You? – How to Answer Personal Motivation Questions in an Interview

Personal motivation type questions are the hardest of all to answer. Maybe you have already had a bad experience of being completely lost for words after having been asked a motivational-type question that seemed impossible to answer.

How to answer personal motivation questions in an interview

Let’s see if we can take the fear out of these questions and come up with some ideas for how you can generate a cracking answer. After all, forewarned is forearmed and, also, if you can keep your head above water while others are drowning, you’ll be the one left at the end of the game.

Personal motivation questions tend to come in one or both of the following:

  • What drives you?
  • What do you feel constitutes success?
  • What motivates you?

The intention is that these questions will catch you off-guard and unprepared but there is no reason why this should be. It’s like having the exam paper beforehand and then failing (I knew someone who actually managed that, by the way).

Neither question is as simple or as innocent as it might seem. They are specially designed by employment psychologists in order to extract personal information, prejudices, attitudes and details of your past experience from you.

Let’s look at them in more detail.

What drives you?

This may also be worded as: “What motivates you?”, “What inspires you?”, “What makes you want to go to work every day?”, “What motivates your career drive?” or even “What are you passionate about?”

If you want to shine, pick on things like:

  • The responsibilities of the job
  • Specific duties (but be careful not to make it too specific or it may seem like you only want to do one bit of your job)
  • Progress
  • Seeing things through
  • Implementing new ideas
  • The company itself
  • Challenge
  • An opportunity to shine
    … etc

Thus, a good interchange might be:

Interviewer: “How would you feel if the company asked you to adopt a new way of working?

Answer: “I love challenges and implementing new ideas. Such things allow me to stretch myself and demonstrate my true potential, especially where I am part of a team led by an inspirational manager.

Bad answers: “Would it pay more?”, “It would depend on what it was”, “I’d have to see” and “I believe how I work can’t be improved on”. All those will lose you the job on the spot.

Never use pay as a justification. While it is perfectly OK to discuss salary (you can be sure the interviewer isn’t sitting there out of the goodness of his or her heart), that should be done in the appropriate part of the interview. Motivation = Pay is not the message you want to be sending.

What do you feel constitutes success?

This may also be worded as, “Define ‘success’”, “Tell me about something you have succeeded at” or “Describe a target that you have met”.

In order to be the pick of the pack, you should mention things like:

  • Your ability and desire to learn
  • Your process of getting feedback and improving
  • Your aspiration to learn
  • Meeting deadlines or obligations and then endeavouring to improve upon them

… etc

Research has shown that the employees who do not perform well in-post can be picked up at interviews by demonstrating their high resistance to learning. Therefore you want to show clearly that you love learning and adapting. This will be even more effective if you can combine it with a knowledge of the company’s products, processes and services.

Good exchange with an interviewer might, therefore, be:

Interviewer: “What would you see as your primary personal objective in working for our company?

Answer: “My goal will be to meet the targets that are set for me and then constantly seek to improve upon them. I believe in a constant striving for personal excellence and I believe that this is done through a combination of responding to feedback, self-monitoring and learning. There is always something new to learn and some new way to improve.”

Note the question is ‘personal’ and it is not appropriate to give a speech (here) about how the company needs to make a profit.

Bad answers: “To earn as much as possible”, “To get to the top” (over-reaching without justification), “To sit where you’re sitting” (guaranteed to get you remembered by the interviewer even though you won’t get the job) and “It would depend on what job I was doing”.

Those responses are even worse than sitting with a blank look on your face.

Fortunately, there are as many good answers to these questions as there are questions themselves. Hopefully, this has got you thinking and, next time you’re asked a personal motivation question in an interview, you will impress the interviewer with your positive response.

Good luck.

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Jonathan Brookes
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