How to answer the interview question - What motivates you?

Tell us what motivates you, is a common interview question. How will you answer it? Where do you draw your inspiration? Find out the relevance of the question and how best to respond to it. Learn smart tips to ace this interview question.

Interviews can go the unexpected way, and they often do. You go in prepared to ace the interview, you have got it all - the qualification, the experience, the right skills and a personality and confidence to match. And just when you get comfortable, the panel throws an unexpected googly at you – tell us what motivates you?

It is easy to get stumped by the question, because most of us, frankly, do not give a thought to the subject. We do not know what motivates us. Each of us draws some inspiration from our environment. The question is, how do you translate something intangible into something relatable? How do you connect your experiences to add up to your motivational cup?

Relevance of the 'What motivates you?' question

When the interviewers ask 'what motivates you?' they are not interested in knowing random titbits of information about you. The motive is to determine how enterprising and dynamic you are and whether you can put your expertise to the practice and capitalise on the experiences gained.

Your response exhibits your potential; it helps the interviewers decide whether you will be an asset for the company. Hence, your response must be tailored to fit the bill. You must come across as someone who is inspired by his environment. Your answer should focus on three qualities, namely, involvement, efficiency and satisfaction. Anyone who possesses these three qualities can fit into any work environment and be productive. You must incorporate these elements into your answer, to come across as the right fit.

Let us introduce you to five steps which will help you answer the question like a pro.

Reflect on your experiences

Experiences are a significant part of your life and reflecting upon them can give you a blueprint for your answer. Examine your work life and think of things that made you enthusiastic. What gives you the most satisfaction in your work? Identify these things, and you have an answer to your inspiration.

Do a little exercise, before the interview. Mull over and jot down all your positive experiences. Aspects that bring out the best in you – what is it that drives you; what is it that ignites a fire and passion in you? There must be times when you felt your best; when you felt like contributing. It certainly helps to do some self-appraisal, so you can pinpoint the factors that motivate you. It need not be something significant. Your motivation can come from small, everyday happenings. Identify them.

Align inspiration with the role

Everyone goes through multiple experiences, but do not make every experience translate into motivation. Pick something that relates to the position that you will be filling. It has to be in context. For instance, if you are interviewing for a role in a startup, you can cite being inspired by new challenges and that it is what motivates you.

Frame your answer based on the job description. You know the post you are going to be interviewing for, so dig into your experiences and pick up examples that are the most applicable. Be explicit with your response and connect what motivates you to match the position that you have applied.

Be honest

Be genuine, do not make up stuff. Your response must come across as truthful, so play it in your head, be convinced that it sounds genuine, only then will you be able to sell yourself to the interviewer. There is always scope for the interviewer, questioning you further, based on the answer you give. You cannot foretell what can happen. However, if you start with an honest answer, you will be able to respond to any question.

Share facts

Narrate something that demonstrates the source of your motivation. Illustrate it with a narration, keep it short and to the point and also factual. This way, you will probably give the interviewers something more than other applicants. The key to an effective response is that you come across as someone forthright, sincere and hardworking, with an ability to pick up cues on the job and make them work in your favour.

You do not have to sound boastful, but remember stories make connections, they can be convincing and impressive. When you narrate a story, the interviewer sees a different side to you, instead of hearing words, they picture how you would be on the job. The story must highlight your potential to imbibe from your environment. Think of events and pick up instances where you experienced a surge of energy. Think of times when you were revving to go when you felt passionate about doing something, and narrate that incident.

Sum it up well

Always understand why the interviewers ask specific questions. Do not look at the questions on the face value; instead, understand the hidden agenda. No interview question is silly. The interviewers ask questions to gauge your concealed qualities. You cannot demonstrate what motivates you through your CV, resume or cover letter, but you can through a properly phrased response.

Answers to 'what motivates you'

I am providing four scenarios; you can use them as a template and tweak them to suit what motivates you. It will give you an idea on how to articulate and convert something intangible into something that can be perceived.

How to demonstrate what motivates you when applying for a sales position or customer service

You can begin by saying that you like speaking to customers, and find what they want. 'I find it incredibly gratifying to be able to resolve their issues. The confidence they show in me is what motivates me to do better. I remember an incidence where I helped a mother find the perfect dress for her daughter. I lost track of time I spent with that particular customer, listening to what she wanted, showing her around and helping her pick a dress.

She later left a wonderful review on the company's website, with a special mention of me. She praised and thanked me and that felt good. It is incidents such as this that motivate me and bring out the best in me'.

Answering what motivates you when applying for a managerial opening

'I have a natural hunger to acquire knowledge and learn new things. It does not matter whether the learnings are big or small; everything contributes to my growth. This trait helps me take on responsibilities and handle them better. I do not shy from asking questions if it results in me acquiring knowledge. The experiences I gain help me immensely, and that is what enthuses a passion for work in me. I like connecting with people and work and function better when dealing with them directly'.

What motivates you answered when interviewed for an executive post

'I go by the belief that details matter; they bring perfection. It does not matter whether the detail is small or big; even the minutest detail can be a game changer. I am conscientious about reviewing my work and check and confirm that everything is perfect, so there are no slips. I always feel comfortable, confident and empowered because of this one habit. It is what keeps me going and keeps me ahead of the pack'.

Competition motivates me

Sum up what motivates you by speaking of competition; do not forget to mention 'friendly competition'. Stress on how you blossom when you have to meet targets. Speak of your love to exceed targets. Speak of loving challenges, speak of them as something that drives you. Mention how you always aim to be on the top of the leader board, how you push yourself and not resting until you have met the goals. End it by saying that challenges and competition give you an extra burst of energy, and it is what motivates you. Tell the interviewers that you perform consistently well because you are always motivated.

Every example traces back to experiences. Let your answer come from your personal experiences. If you were attending an interview, how would you answer the same question?

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