Missed the IEUK deadline? Apply to On Demand

Can’t attend IEUK’s live experience or missed the deadline? No worries! You can still participate with On Demand. Access recorded sessions and work samples in your chosen sector, and complete the experience at your own pace over two weeks. Apply by 26th June.

How to answer "What motivates you?"

Book open Reading time: 6 mins

One of the most common questions in an interview is "what motivates you?" While this might seem like a very simple question to answer, it's actually a lot more complex than you might think. This broad question is very open-ended, and it can be hard to think of a good answer on the spot. That's why it's best to prepare for this kind of question ahead of time. Here's our comprehensive guide on what this question actually means, as well as how to answer it.

Understanding the question “What motivates you?

The simple reason why interviewers ask this question is to know what drives you to succeed. This will help them figure out if you're the right fit for the job role and the company as a whole. There are plenty of different answers that interviewers will want to hear, and your answer says a lot about how you'll work as part of their current team. For example, if their team is very collaborative and works together well, they'll need to know if working as part of a tight-knit team helps to motivate you and keeps you working at your best.

Join the network that helps you ace your interviews

Ready to smash your interviews? Join the UK's number-one graduate careers network and get exclusive access to jobs, events, networking opportunities, advice and more.

How to prepare for the “What motivates you?” interview question

Just like with any other part of the interview process, the best way to prepare is to consider the questions ahead of time and do a lot of research. A good start is to look into the company and see if you can find out about the company culture they encourage. You should also read the job description thoroughly and try to tailor your answers to it. For example, if you are applying for a role that is primarily repetitive tasks, it won't help much to talk about how you are motivated by new challenges. Equally, if you are applying for a largely solitary role, it could be detrimental to start talking about how team working motivates you.

However, this doesn't mean you should only say what you think they want to hear. You should carefully consider what you find most exciting about your work days. Think about any jobs you've had in the past as well as your time studying, as it's all relevant experience to figure out what you like.

For example, you should ask yourself:

What do I enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis? Think about the bits of your day that you love, as well as the bits that are less exciting to you. Do you enjoy meeting with clients but dread paperwork? Focus on how you enjoy working with clients and working out specifications with people.

What were the best days of my work or studies? What made them great? Did you love a day when you finished a big project? Or are you motivated by the days when you get to learn a new skill?

What kind of environment makes me work best? Do you prefer to work in a quiet environment? Or do you feel more enthusiastic when you are in a busy office where you share ideas with your co-workers?

Best sample answers to the “What motivates you?” question

Still not sure what to say when you get asked what motivates you? Here are our top sample answers. Of course, you might not find that these fully describe what motivates you at work, so don't be afraid to phrase these differently or change them to better suit you. You'll also want to make sure they suit the job role you are applying for.

Sample answer 1 - Results

"One of the biggest motivators for me is results. I like to have a goal and then plan how to reach it. In my last job, I was always focused on improving my attainment statistics, and I planned how to improve these results between each quarterly review. I also like helping make sure that the team as a whole gets the results we want."

This works well because it's focused on improvement and attainment, and it shows that you want to be responsible for getting great results. It displays your initiative and ability to plan in both the short and long term for the health of the company.

Sample answer 2 - Customers and clients

"I always want to make sure that my company's clients and customers get the best service possible. I think it's very important for people to have a good experience in interactions and I want my actions to reflect well on the company as a whole. I have always had positive feedback from customers and my sales figures are high."

This is a great answer for any customer-facing role, as it helps you show that you have the right attitude for interacting with clients.

Sample answer 3 - Deadlines

"I am best motivated by reaching a deadline. Setting a deadline and reaching it makes me feel like I have really accomplished something. This means that I am always breaking tasks down and making timetables to ensure I reach my deadlines. This has been really useful in previous projects where I have set deadlines for individual steps and made sure that everything ran smoothly."

This answer works well, because you are taking responsibility for meeting deadlines yourself, and it shows some details about how you work to meet deadlines.

Sample answer 4 - Problem-solving

"I love having a problem that I have to solve. Getting the right solution for the project, my co-workers or customers makes me feel satisfied, especially for particularly tough problems."

This is a great one for roles where you might have to adapt and figure out problems.

Sample answer 5 - Teamwork

"I feel motivated by having great team meetings and figuring out how we will work together towards our goals. I love sharing ideas with my team."

This is ideal for roles where you will have to work in a team, as it shows a focus on working with others rather than alone.

Sample answer 6 - Learning new things

"I put my all into learning new skills, and I find it very motivating to have the chance to learn how to better help the team. I'm always on the lookout for new things to learn."

This shows how much you want to grow within your job role and company, which can be great for entry-level roles in larger firms.

Ace your interviews with Bright Network Academy

Ready to smash your interviews? Learn from top employers on how to stand out during the interview process. 

What not to answer

This is one of the questions that employers will use to decide if someone isn't right for their company, which means there are plenty of things not to say.

  • Don't talk about money - Everyone knows that one of the biggest motivators for working is money, but don't say that money is what is motivating you. If you do, the employer might think that money is your only motivator, and that you might leave as soon as you find a job with better pay.
  • Don't ramble - As you can see above, there are plenty of possible answers. Try to stay focused on the top one or two for you.
  • Stay positive - Focus on what makes you want to succeed and work hard. Don't talk about how you're motivated to avoid getting in trouble with your manager.
  • Don't mention perks - Like with money, don't say that the only thing motivating you is the benefits or perks of the job. Avoid mentioning this at all if possible.
  • Focus on the professional, not the social - A lot of people want to have a positive work environment, but you should focus on professional relationships at work and how this helps you do your job. Don't talk about how you're motivated by having friends in the workplace.

To Sum Up

Being asked to talk about what motivates you can be a difficult bit of an interview, but it's perfectly possible to prepare for this and other graduate interview questions ahead of time. The best way to prepare is to look at what you enjoy at work or in your studies. Remember to keep your answers relevant and positive. Avoid just talking about money or benefits.

Some of the other most common interview questions to prepare for in the same way include: