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How to Answer the Interview Question “What Motivates You?

Your suit is fresh from the dry cleaners. You’ve printed your resume on thick paper and practiced the technical questions in front of the mirror. Your interview is tomorrow, and one simple question you’ve left to the end of your prep: “What motivates you?” Though a self-aware and a driven person, you ponder the answer.

What actually does motivate you, and is naming it point-blank a good way to reply? This is a moment for you to shine, and losing the opportunity might cost you a dream job.

To understand how to answer the question about motivation, or any interview question for that matter, it is helpful to recognize the question’s purpose. What they are really trying to learn here is whether you are a good fit for the company. In other words, would they be okay tolerating you for eight hours a day? Will they get through a flight across the ocean sitting next to you? Will you be a good company for a morning coffee run?

What your personal motivation has to do with it? Nothing and everything at the same time. Nothing because your answer itself is not going to make or break the deal. Everything because how you answer this question will determine whether you share the same values with your potential employer. And if you do – your chances to also share the same office with them in the future increases disproportionately!

“What motivates you?” has a few twin questions. Among them are “What wakes you up in the morning?” and “What keeps you up at night?” And, as many different positions and people are out there, there is no single proper answer that would guarantee success. With no wrong answer either, there is definitely a way to answer it wrong. Recognizing that difference is the key.

A young professional with ambition for career growth, you can have a wide range of things that keep you going. Prescribing something specific to talk about on your interview would be an equivalent of trying to fit your unique personality into a standard box.

We are all different, and your answer to “What motivates you?” should be different too. So the only way to really provide any helpful guidance for the best ways to answer this question is to outline how NOT to answer it. With an understanding of that, you are well equipped to nail your response.

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