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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 November 11, 2019

How to Find Your Keystone Habits to Change Your Life

How to Find Your Keystone Habits to Change Your Life

When a young CEO stepped in at the helm of a dying giant, his first task was to figure out what needed to be done to save the company. After he spent some time researching the company and the market situation, he came up with a simple plan which he introduced to the shareholders in his first speech as the CEO.

He spoke just about one single thing–safety. Everyone in the room thought he was crazy and some people jumped the soon-to-be-dead ship.

15 years later, he not salvaged the giant, but made it one of the strongest steel and metal companies in the world and made a global name of himself.

The company is Alcoa and the guy was Paul O’Neill.

But the story matters to us for one thing only and that is the relentless focus he had on safety and security in his company. Paul O’Neill said that his employees deserve to leave work the same way they arrived at it–unharmed.

And it was this radical focus on a single habit in the company that made it great. A single focus on a single habit which had a massive ripple effect.

This is known as a keystone habit.

The Importance of a Keystone Habit

A keystone habit is a habit which has the biggest ripple effect in your life which means that by implementing it, you will radically change everything in your life.

It’s quite easy to spot the keystone habits which make your life miserable.

Take overeating as an example. If you weigh 400 pounds, you’re bedridden and your physical health massively declines. You can’t function individually so you need help to even do the basic things like going to the toilet or walking up the stairs. Since you can’t move, you can’t go to your job so you probably lose it. And since you can’t move, you can’t go out and meet someone so your dating and social life decline as well. And as a formerly overweight person, I know how this sucks.

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This is just one example of how a keystone habit creates a ripple effect which creates change in every sphere of our lives. So we better open our eyes and make sure that we use the power of the keystone habits for bettering our life.

Why Less Is More

A keystone habit is about one thing and, the one thing only which you do to radically improve your life. And a lot of people would, at this point, ask what are the best keystone habits to implement in their lives.

And here is the big truth: Nobody knows and nobody can tell you exactly.

Everyone is specific and has different things going on for them in their lives, so claiming something is always superior to something else would simply be irresponsible.

So even though I can’t tell you what to see, I can tell you where to look.

Every keystone habit can be situated into one of the following four quadrants:

It’s either a physical habit, intellectual habit, emotional habit or a spiritual habit.

Any keystone habit I ever encountered which changed the life of someone falls under these 4 categories.

And the trick is recognizing what kind of habit right would benefit your life the best at this moment. Asking what the best keystone habit has the same effect as asking what the best book in the world is– it depends on who you ask and what your current life situation is.

If you’re struggling with the meaning of life and want to find hope in this crazy world we live in, I would point you to a great book which recently came out called Everything is F*cked by Mark Mason. If you were a struggling parent of a 10-year old kid who just found out the perils of the internet, I would point you to a security app.

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You get the point…

But just because everything is relative, it doesn’t mean that some things aren’t better than other things. War and Peace will always be a great book no matter if it currently befits you to read it. And the same thing can be applied to keystone habits so let’s see what kind of keystone habits fall into the great category.

Great Keystone Habits

I have already mentioned how all keystone habits fall into one of the four categories: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. So the following keystone habits will fall into one (or more) of these buckets.

But before we proceed into the habits, know this.

What got you here, won’t get you there.

So if you already have a keystone habit which you implemented for quite a while now and you think it’s no longer working, you are probably right. We need certain things at certain times of development, but we need to let them go later on to grow to new levels. So use the habits to better your life, but don’t worship any one of them for your entire life.

Physical Domain

When it comes to great keystone habits in the physical domain, they all fall into two buckets:

  • Exercise
  • Food

These two are the pinnacle of the physical domain when it comes to keystone habits. I don’t even have to tell you all the ways exercise helps you in your life.

From better hormonal regulation, to energy levels, to looking better, to feeling more confident, to increasing your lifespan and the quality of your life, a keystone habit of exercising is one whose effects you will feel fast.

When it comes to food, it’s literally the building block of your life’s energy. If you eat garbage, you will feel like garbage–garbage in, garbage out. And your energy levels are one of the most important factors you need to regulate in your life if you want to achieve anything.

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None of your dreams will ever come true if you eat a massive bag of chips every single day, which makes you drowsy and lifeless no matter how much ambition you have.

But the physical domain is just one of the four domains so let’s jump to the next one.

Intellectual Domain

There are many great intellectual keystone habits we can pursue, but I will just name a couple of them which most of you who read the article will find relevant:

  • Reading Books
  • Writing (columns, articles, personal blog or diary)
  • Learning new languages
  • Learning a new skill set (copywriting, coaching, cooking…)
  • Teaching your skillset or your life experiences

All of these have their own benefits and can massively improve your life and the life of people around you. When you, for example, learn a new language, you don’t just learn a new language, you learn a completely new way of thinking and form unique connections in your mind.

But we don’t stop here, we have two more domains to cover.

Emotional Domain

This is a difficult one because, for one, it’s really hard to measure it in any quantitive way. You can’t just call your wife every single day and think that by doing just that, you are a good husband. It doesn’t work like that.

I wrote about the problems of measuring emotional habits before and I won’t go in-depth about it here, but I will just mention that measuring these kinds of habits requires your and yours only subjective analyses. It’s like giving yourself a daily score of 1-10 on the question of “Did I do my best to be a great husband today?”

The keystone habits of the emotional domain are one of the most complex and difficult ones to pull off because they require most people to change things they do in relation to other people.

If you want to be more sincere and honest in your emotional responses, that means that you will have to make some people angry by doing that. It can be a difficult conversation you need to have with your spouse or with your friends, maybe a disagreement with your peers and colleagues, or a deep look within yourself with an honest look about your actions and mistakes.

Emotional domain keystone habits improve your life in any stage, but since they make us do uncomfortable things, they are the last ones we pursue.

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Some of the examples would be:

  • Telling yourself that you are the only one who is responsible for your emotions and keeping that standard
  • Calling out passive-aggressive in people
  • Speaking your mind even though you know it will bring disagreement
  • Dealing with your own problems first before pointing fingers
  • Asking for feedback constantly, both positive and negative ones
  • Deciding to be vulnerable even though it means risking being hurt

The things I wrote above are probably the most difficult things you can ask someone to do, but they are also the most rewarding things you can do in your life. If you want to achieve greatness, you need to be willing to dare greatly.

And last, but not least, are the keystone habits of the spiritual domain.

Spiritual Domain

The keystone habits of the spiritual domain are our connection with things which in our lives that have a higher purpose than just ourselves. This is the place where feel the connection with our communities, with Higher Beings, with God or Emptiness or whatever you want to call it.

The spiritual domain is the strongest as a guiding force in life and some of the keystone habits of this domain include:

  • Finding your life’s purpose
  • Living your vision of life
  • Sacrificing yourself for the achievement of something bigger than you
  • Nurturing your inner voice and connection with the Spirit

To some readers, this might seem like woo-woo, but I can assure that it isn’t. This is about the spiritual dimension of every individual and if you disregard it, you will annulate a part of you which will become a problem.

The Western world currently faces a major spiritual crisis where people feel disconnected with anything in their lives which has a higher purpose than themselves. That’s why people are miserable even though they lead an “objectively” rich life where they appear to have everything but still feel like happiness is not in their lives.

If you read all the way up to here, you found at least one keystone habit which can help you right now in your life.

All that is left now is to implement it. As the famous adage goes:

“Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing.”

Now you know, it’s time to do.

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Featured photo credit: Bram Naus via unsplash.com

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