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Published on August 13, 2019

How to Answer the Interview Question “What Motivates You?”

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.

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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.

Don’t Leave a Sound-Good Answer for the Lazy

When “What motivates you?” question comes up, the easiest way out is to default to some sound-good answer, which depicts you as a person of good morals and firm values. “I like to help people and see them improve” sounds legitimate and extremely proper. Yet, there is a hidden danger in framing your answer this way. Defaulting to such response, you are going to sound exactly like everybody else. Because guess what, they also want to present themselves in a good light (and help people and see them improve)!

If your reply sounds like something a Joe with a perfect tie and polished shoes would also say, it is not going to work. Why? Because, as good as it sounds, it is general and does not let your personality shine even for a bit.

You might really mean what you were going to answer, but a lot of other candidates also think they have these virtues. So give this answer to your interviewers, and all they are going to hear is noise. They’ve already heard a version of this from five other candidates today! Chances are that they remember what you’ve said are nil. Bottom line, no defaulting to a sound-good standard answer.

Don’t Aim for the Low Hanging Fruit of the Company’s Values

One thing that every interviewer appreciates is the candidate’s understanding of the company’s values. Preparedness and prior research definitely earn you a couple of points in your column.

However, regurgitating the company’s values as your answer to “What motivates you?” question, is not the best strategy. It may bring your interviewers out of the stream of their own thoughts, as they hear something familiar, which is definitely a good thing. Yet, a company values-based answer is a bare-bone minimum and a low hanging fruit that everyone can grab.

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“Integrity, excellence, and teamwork” may sound like something you subscribe to, at least in general. The company’s marketing department probably spent a few weeks and a bit of budget, writing the values out. So they do sound convincing. Yet, you, simply repeating them, can come across as people-pleasing and unauthentic.

Without your own interpretation of what those values mean to you, they are just like any other sound-good answer – see point above for that!

Keep Radical Authenticity for Your Self-Development

If grabbing the answers straight from a company’s website smells like a lack of authenticity, stating things the way they are should be a way to go. Right? Wrong!

If you blurt out “Money” to what motivates you, the interviewers will likely remember the raw straightforwardness but as an eyebrow raise factor, rather than a thoughtful answer. And it’s not the content – your honest answer – that is a problem.

In fact, it should be the only way for you to approach any question, or else you risk making claims you cannot sustain. The problem is context – your story – without which any direct answer may sound bizarre.

There is a way to state that financial betterment is your only driver to come to work. There is a way to say this job is a stepping stone to something bigger if that’s what it really is. If you can tell a story that weaves the context of your (honest) motivation, you do not need to sacrifice authenticity to be still received well. And that story is the main piece of answering “What motivates you?”

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How you tell this story is something that sets you apart from the rest.

The Story Is the King

Let’s put it all together! An authentic answer based on a story that reflects your true motivation and illustrates your values, which also align with the company’s values, is the best way to answer “What motivates you?” question.

Now let’s slice it into pieces. The story format is how we receive information best. For example, you are unlikely to know how many calls firefighters attend each day in your city but the story about one of them rescuing a kitty out of a burning house surely has touched your heart!

So, when you tell a narrative to “What motivates you?” question, you tune your interviewer’s cognitive ability to process information in the most optimal way. It will beat carefully picked words and clever statistics any day – because your listener will remember it!

Not every story is a good one to bring to your interview. But that does not mean you should make it up! Inauthenticity radar of modern people is quite fine-tuned. So spare your potential employers of a concealed eye roll, and tell them a real story!

It is not surprising that you might be more inclined to “invent” something than to share a real episode out of your life. Unsure what to make of unique experiences we’ve had, we prefer hiding them instead of using them to bring us forward.[1] But think of an extraordinary person. None of such people got to where they are by doing what everyone else was doing. So firmly standing behind a true story from your past uniquely positions you to win, both in general and in this interview specifically. In that story, what drove you to the outcome that made you stronger?

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Explaining your drivers in any transformative moments from your past is what amplifies the impact. Here’s the demonstration of your good merits, mentioned in the beginning. But now, you talk about them in your own words. Here are your values, allowing people to understand if they want you on their team. Here’s the moment for you to show how the company’s mission aligns with that of own.

Now every bit of additional research you’ve made on the company, from a people-pleasing move, turns into arguments to strengthen your candidacy. You are remaining true to yourself, and you are getting what you want!

So What’s Next?

Telling your own story is the most authentic and powerful way to answer interview questions. “What motivates you?” is just one example. And while we are often good at intellectualizing this idea, when the time comes, we have troubles putting it to practice.

“Oh but this job is so conservative! Who cares about my selling newspapers in the outdoor market as a kid?” Or “This is a creative job I am applying to! They will not appreciate my anecdotes about my working in the restaurant kitchen.”

Every time these thoughts come in to block your true self and give way to some polished professional, you are trying to portray just to impress your future employers, stop it! And remind yourself that, with every interview, you are choosing them as much as they are choosing you.

If you think your story is not something they will appreciate, firstly, do not make that decision for them. Secondly, perhaps these are not the people you even want to work with.

So when asked the question “What motivates you?”, tell your story, beautifully and sincerely. Show up as your best. Let this being-your-best become the unchangeable principle, whether you are making choices about people or people are making choices about you.

More About Motivation

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Know Your Fear: Fear of being unique

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Oxana Kunets

Explorer of all things meaningful living, confidence, and courage

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Last Updated on September 10, 2019

How Continuous Improvement Can Enhance Your Personal Life

How Continuous Improvement Can Enhance Your Personal Life

Kaizen is the Japanese philosophy and practice of continuous improvement. This concept of continuous improvement was first conceived in the USA during WW2.

To maintain the production levels and meet demand, the industry had to come up with a system that would allow for incremental progress in production rather than no progress at all – which was very much the reality the industry was facing.

This concept of consistent incremental improvement proved to be a huge success and saved the US manufacturing industry from a rapid decline.

After WW2, as part of the rebuild programme for Japan, the Japanese were invited to visit manufacturing plants through out the USA. The Japanese took this successful concept of continuous improvement and adapted into Kaizen.

This philosophy formed the base from which the Japanese have built a manufacturing industry that dominates the world today.

In this article, I’ll look into what continuous improvement is and how you can make use of this concept to enhance your life.

What does Kaizen (continuous improvement) have to do with you?

So what does Kaizen have to do with us? How can it help us enhance our personal lives?

“Persistence, perseverance, and continuous improvement are the ingredients for forming a successful person.” — Debasish Mridha

While Kaizen was originally developed to help businesses improve and thrive, it’s just as applicable to our personal lives.

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The Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement I believe is a failure proof system that enables us to achieve and sustain our personal goals and dreams in life.

The concept of continuous improvement offers us a way where we can live our lives to the fullest by continuously learning, growing and thriving.

We live in a world of never ending disruption and change. By adopting the philosophy of Kaizen, we become more adaptable, flexible and resilient to dealing with the constant demands and disruptions we face in our lives.

What continuous improvement is exactly

The philosophy of Kaizen is based on the concept that instead of making big changes at once, the continuous improvement approach focuses on making small improvement over time.

Kaizen is often referred to as the “strategy for 1% gains”. It is these 1% gains that athletes focus on to improve their performance. The 1% gains are incremental and if you keep building on the 1% gains the rewards are phenomenal.

Continuous improvement is perpetual and so to maintain gains and improvement, you need to work on them continuously.

Your personal improvement journey is never finished! What this means is, if you are truly committed to philosophy of continuous improvement, you are less likely to quit because you are always in search of the next goal.

How continuous improvement empowers you

How many New Year resolutions have you made and never achieved over the years?

Unless you are one of the small minority who are goal orientated high achievers, maintaining motivation and the commitment to achieving your goals is hard work and dare I say it – with not much success – one big FAILURE after another.

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Hence, these are the reasons why New Years’ resolutions are never achieved.

Continuous improvement can help you to achieve any goals you set. If you commit to the practice of continuous improvement, your motivation to achieve your goals and aspirations in life will never die.

“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” — Benjamin Franklin

You will never have to struggle with the dilemma of giving up or giving in because it all became too hard.

Your achievements and success in life will be as a result of you taking continuous incremental steps toward your goals.

Continuous improvement is not about reaching the big goals in life but about taking small steps and improving and refining along the way.

How to commit to continuous improvement

If you truly desire a successful life where you are thriving, the first thing you must do is embrace and accept that your journey of self improvement and growth will never end. It is a lifelong journey of learning.

Once you have accepted that your journey to improving your life is life long, you then follow these steps:

1. Set your goals based on the philosophy of 1% incremental achievements

Remember that setting the goal is the easy bit. Keeping motivated, focused and on track to achieving any goal is the hardest part.

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The concept of continuous improvement provides you with a system or a process that if you commit to following will enable you to confidently achieve any goal you set- you are guaranteed to win.

“Instead of trying to make radical changes in a short amount of time, just make small improvements every day that will gradually lead to the change you want. Each day, just focus on getting 1% better in whatever it is you’re trying to improve. That’s it. Just 1%.” — Brett and Kate McKay of The Art of Manliness

It might not seem like much but continuous 1% improvement/achievements every day will gradually add up to 100% and the goal is achieved!

In their book The Art Of Manliness, Brett and Kate McKay talk about how the journey of self improvement and personal growth is a lot like a rollercoaster ride – scary, exciting and with lots of ups and downs.

They believe that by following the concept of Kaizen (the 1% improvement) every day enables you to get off the roller coaster ride of feeling like a failure and being angry with yourself because you keep giving up.

2. Break down the system into small actions

Continuous improvement is a journey of personal growth where you are making long-term steady progress. It is not about random bursts of improvement with fits and starts of activity. This approach to self-improvement will not give you the sustainable long-term changes you seek to improve your life or achieve your goals.

For example, if you have huge debt and you want to pay it back but it is all too much, so you hide away from taking any action. To put the concept of continuous improvement into action, the first thing you need to do is not focus on how much you owe, instead focus on creating a system or process that enables you to pay back an incremental amount each week.

Once you have created the system, you must break down the system into small actions or behaviours with the least resistance and effort. Commit to these actions on a daily basis until your original system is habit.

Commit to paying back a realistic amount each week and then increase the amount you pay back by 1% plus every week after that. Keep going until the debt is paid off.

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3. Keep track of your 1% success

The other important factor about incremental achievement is that you must measure and keep track of your 1% successes.

Evaluating and measuring your improvements are important for your own motivation and commitment to the journey. If you are not measuring your progress, your subconscious brain will kick in and sabotage your progress by convincing you that it is all too hard and you are not making any progress at all.

Your subconsious brain only believes what you tell it. Unfortunately you have told your brain a lot of untruthful things over a long period of time about how you are a failure, not motivated and never really achieved anything in life. Your subconscious brain as a result believes all these “facts” that you have told it to be true.

Measuring and evaluating your 1% successes is key to you retraining your subconscious to believe that Yes – you can achieve your goals and succeed in life!

Focus on the progress, always

Continuous Improvement does not focus on making huge gains or big improvements all at once. Instead it focuses on long-term steady progress.

When you follow the philosophy of Continuous Improvement, you won’t radically change your life but over time with consistent and constant improvement and change, you will find that you are living your life to the fullest – empowered, resilient and thriving.

Why would you not want to embrace this philosophy of incremental improvement and growth into your personal life?

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will be a stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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