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6/28/15 - What to say when the hiring manager asks, 'What motivates you?'


We recently solicited readers to submit their most pressing career-related questions.

With help from Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job," we've answered the following: "What should I say when a job interviewer asks what motivates me?"

"This is a common interview inquiry that can easily catch you off guard," Taylor says. "Why? Because it's so broad that the way in which you respond speaks volumes about you on so many levels — including your personality, ambitions, skills, enthusiasm, expectations, and how you generally think, just to name just a few."

Knowing in advance what drives you and how to articulate it will not only enhance your performance in the next interview, but it will also force you to better refine your search and discern whether a job truly aligns with your passions and goals.

"If you don't have a plan, you might inadvertently offer a vague answer — making you appear unmotivated or disinterested, or you'll simply look like a deer in the headlights," she says.

Consider these tips when developing your response:


"Commit to writing what gets you up in the morning when you think about work," Taylor suggests. "What types of projects have given you the greatest job satisfaction, and why? When in social situations, what do you talk about when you're inspired about your job?" Analyze what aspects make it so rewarding. Your interviewer wants to evaluate your level of self-awareness, so give this ample thought.

Avoid generalized responses.

A sweeping statement can seem like a nonanswer: "I love people, and really enjoy making the job fun for everyone." While that's noble, hiring managers want to delve further, she explains. "They want to see a convincing case that you'll be excited about their requisite tasks, so try something like, 'I love building a sales team: sharing the vision, establishing goals, training the team, and watching the results.'" Relate your motivational drivers to the job; this is your opportunity to connect the proverbial dots for the interviewer.

Be true to yourself.

You will be best served in the short and long term if you present your genuine "self" and interests in the interview, Taylor says. "Savvy interviewers can detect your level of sincerity through your body language, tone, and inflection. Landing the job, but ultimately disliking the nature of your work or lacking the necessary mindset is very unmotivational." If you're happiest behind a computer and love being analytical, but the requisite PowerPoint presentations are keeping you awake at night, don't sweep that under the rug.

Have concise message points.

This is one of the broadest questions you could be asked, so know your top motivators and prioritize them. "There might be a bunch of things that make you tick. But how you answer illustrates your ability to focus, organize thoughts, and offer concise support statements," she says. So be concise.

Be upbeat.

If there’s ever a time to respond with enthusiasm, this is it. "Employers want you to display high energy and a positive approach, so be sure to show a little excitement," Taylor suggests. "You don't have to be giddy, but it's hard buy into your passions if you say in monotone, 'I really, really like working with a team,' but look like the sky is falling."

Tie in your successes.

As you talk about what incentivizes you at work, you have a great opportunity to also tout your accomplishments. "It's assumed that you enjoy what you excel at — who doesn't like something to show for what they love doing?" she says. "Just keep this part brief." For example: "I love building brand strategies because I like to see a company maximize its marketing dollars. It's been exciting to increase revenues with a powerful brand architecture. Last year, we were able to generate a 20% increase in our XYZ product line as a result."

Whatever you do, don't say it's money.

"One surefire way to abort an otherwise flowing conversation is to say something like, 'Frankly, the big motivator for me is money,'" says Taylor. "Compensation is important to everyone, but making it your number one focus will turn off employers." Address the bigger picture of your career fulfillment. Even if your career is in sales, you're better off discussing the appeal of building business.

Still not sure what exactly to say? Here are some motivators that might resonate with you. "Just remember to give examples," Taylor says.

Building success with a great team
Coaching others and watching them succeed
Meeting or exceeding project goals
Meeting deadlines through organizational abilities
Securing or building business
Handling challenging projects where I can apply my XYZ skills
Offering excellent customer service and commitment
Developing innovative ideas that come to fruition
Streamlining projects
Saving the company money