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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

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.

1. 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.

2. 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!

3. 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.

Putting It All Together — The Story Is the King

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!

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 24, 2020

How to Take Advantage of the 80 20 Rule to Succeed in Life

How to Take Advantage of the 80 20 Rule to Succeed in Life

The world of productivity has several hacks or tricks to help you manage your time: to-do lists, the Pomodoro Technique, Parkinson’s Law… All of these strategies are great strategies in their own way, but one strategy stands above all the others: the 80 20 rule.

This particular strategy has been used the most and is regarded as the most helpful in developing time management and other concepts in life.

But what’s so special about this rule? How does it give you success and how do you use it? Let’s explore the specifics.

What Is the 80 20 Rule?

Many people regard this rule as the 80 20 rule, but it has a proper name: the Pareto Principle[1]. The principle was named after its founder,  the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, in 1895. Pareto noticed that people in society were divided into two categories:

  • The “vital few,” which consisted of the top 20 percent with respect to money and influence.
  • The “trivial many,” otherwise known as the bottom 80 percent.

As he researched this further, he came to discover that this divide didn’t apply only to money and influence, but other areas, too. Virtually all economic activity was subject to his previous observation.

He observed that 80% of Italy’s wealth at the time was controlled by only 20% of the population.

Since the development of this rule, humankind has used this particular ratio in all kinds of situations. Even if the ratio isn’t always exact, we see this rule applied in many industries and in life. Examples are:

  • 20% of sales reps will generate 80% of your total sales.
  • 20% of customers account for 80% of total profits.
  • 80% of the revenue will stem from 20% of the workers.

Either way, I’m sure you can piece together why people call this rule the 80 20 rule over Pareto’s Principle[2].

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Make Your Life and Your Business More Efficient with the 80-20 Rule - Salesforce Canada Blog

    In terms of how this particular rule will be able to work for you, it’s a matter of applying this rule to how you spend your time. For us to see success, the goal is simple.

    We need to set it up in such a way that 20% of our input is responsible for 80% of our results.

    Another way to think about it is we use 20% of our time on activities that give us 80% of our results in a given area of life.

    How Does the 80 20 Rule Work?

    To best explain this, let’s visualize a bit.

    In an ideal world:

    • Every employee would contribute the same amount of effort to work.
    • Every feature that’s released for an app or product would be equally loved by users.
    • Each business idea you come up with would be a hit.

    In that scenario, planning would be a breeze. There wouldn’t be any need to analyze anything so long as you put in the effort.

    But that’s not reality.

    Yes, the effort is certainly an element, but what the 80 20 principle states is that everything is unequal. Invest in 10 start-up companies, and you’ll find only a few will pass year two and make it big. You’re in a team of five, and there’ll be one person doing more work than others.

    We wish our lives were always one-for-one in terms of input and output, but that’s simply not true. Understanding this is key to understanding how the 80 20 rule really works.

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    So how does it really work?

    It’s a matter of focusing on what’s giving you the most in your life for little of your time.

    Going back to the few examples I’ve presented above, consider this:

    • If two start-ups you invested in are making it big, focus on having a more direct hand, and see if you can help them prosper more.
    • If 20% of sales reps are giving you 80% of your sales, focus on rewarding those and keeping their spirits high and motivated.

    These scenarios can go on and on, but the idea is to place your efforts on the 20% that is actually making the difference in your life. Another term that’s good to know is the diminishing marginal utility[3].

    Pareto didn’t come up with this one, but the law goes as follows: each extra hour of effort or worker will add less “oomph” to your finished results.

    Eventually, you’ll hit a point where you will spend a lot of time on small and unimportant details, similar to perfectionism.

    So before hitting that point, you want to have a laser focus on the most important details, from family and relationships to your work or business. Prioritize the activities that are going to move you forward the most, and be wary of adding extra time, effort, or more hands into those particular tasks moving forward.

    How to Take Advantage of the 80 20 Rule

    So now that you have an understanding of the 80 20 rule and how it works, what is the best way to take advantage of it?

    Depending on where you are applying this rule, this can be used in all kinds of fashions.

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    For example, you can apply this rule to goal setting, as demonstrated by Brian Tracy in this video:

    Or you can apply it in terms of general productivity as explained in this article: What Is the 80 20 Rule (And How to Use It to Boost Productivity)

    The core of this rule is that it forces us to ask ourselves the questions we wouldn’t consider otherwise. It helps us to place our focus in the right places with regards to all things in life.

    In short, the 80 20 rule places us in charge of our lives and helps us set out on our goals and dreams. With this in mind, here are some things you can consider concerning this rule.

    1. Focus on Your Big Tasks First

    While this is the essence of the 80 20 rule, it’s still worth mentioning. Why? Because so many of us feel intimidated by the biggest task. We instinctively avoid it and opt for smaller tasks first.

    We think that if we complete enough small tasks that we will feel motivated to finish that really big one later. But that’s really false hope at work.

    Once we finish off a lot of small tasks, we either feel drained, or we tell ourselves we’ll do this the next day.

    Instead of doing all that, bite the bullet and tackle the largest task first.

    If you need help with prioritization, check out this article.

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    I argue this by challenging you to ask yourself this one question:

    “Is the task I’m about to do the top 20 percent of my activities or the bottom 80 percent?”

    I’m sure you’ve seen time and again you or other workers spending a lot of time on one task for most of the day. In those kinds of grinds, you’re barely getting ahead and have next to nothing to show for it. That’s because they’re putting all their attention on work that’s in the 80 percent.

    It’s normally the big tasks that are part of the 20 percent.

    Another way to think about this is that everything we do starts a habit. If every day we spend our energy on low-value tasks, we will always prioritize those.

    2. Stretch This Into Personal Life

    While I’ve been talking about business and setting goals, remember you can use this in other areas of your life, too.

    Take your personal life and ask yourself some of these questions:

    • How much TV do you watch on a regular basis? What sort of shows are you legitimately into? These questions can help you in recognizing what shows you are watching purely for consumption. By applying the 80 20 rule, you can cut back on Netflix, TV, or YouTube video consumption and prioritize other areas of your life.
    • What does your wardrobe look like in terms of colors? Are there specific colors that you like? Knowing what you wear most times will help you in sorting out your wardrobe significantly. It also saves you time to come up with what to wear every morning.
    • How many newsletters do you actually read? This question can help you in figuring out which newsletters to unsubscribe to and can clear up a lot of space in your inbox. It can also relieve pressure from having to check your emails constantly.
    • How much time do you spend on your phone every day? How much of that time is actually doing something meaningful? These questions can help you in clearing out various apps that aren’t helping you with your goals. In fact, this can curb the need to check your phone constantly.

    Final Thoughts

    The 80 20 rule is the productivity hack that many of us need, and for good reason. As you can tell, it’ll help you to focus and prioritize the more important aspects of your life.

    Not only that, but it’ll maximize those outputs at the same time and ensure you’re not spending too much time working on them. All you need to do is start asking questions and taking action.

    More Techniques to Help You Succeed in Life

    Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

    Reference

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