This is a common interview questions and another one of those that you will want to be prepared for. Naturally, the interviewer is trying to get a good sense for whether you will be a good fit for the company in terms of temperament and personality. To prepare for this question, one of the first places to start will be with the job description for the open role you are applying for. Within this description will be all types of information relating to the type of person they are seeking for the role. Review this information and leverage it to help craft your “What motivates you?” response.
When you, say, leverage information like “team player” and “self-starter” from the job description, you can then try to fold that into a solid response. Think about what that has looked like for you in the past and whether this really aligns and resonates with you as a person.
For example, if you were part of a team and asked to take the lead in a certain area of responsibility, did you enjoy being part of a team and having responsibility for leadership and driving results? If you did and felt the effort was successful, then fantastic: you now have a real-life example that you can provide to answer this question.
In this instance, you could say that you do genuinely enjoy working as part of a team (great because most corporate “office jobs” these days seem to involve teamwork to a high degree) and taking the initiative to drive results. If you do enjoy – at least to some extent- working with others and having responsibility for generating results, then you have a solid and truthful answer. On the other hand, if you do not really enjoy team-oriented work or having responsibility for driving results, then at least you now know that you should be applying for a different role.
You will also want to take some time to introspectively consider why work is important to you besides wanting a paycheck. In other words, if you had all the money in the world, you would still need to do something to occupy yourself between movies and naps. What would that ideally look like and how would that make you feel if all were as desired?
Finally, you will also want to be cognizant of how goals play into your response. This will be important for a few basic reasons:
1. Anyone who is genuinely successful in life usually engages in goal-directed behavior, irrespective of whether they work for a corporation.
2. Corporate environments particularly value goal-oriented behavior because it provides a means to value and measure success. You cannot work in a corporation without goals having some impact on your day-to-day existence. Think about how you will involve touching on goals in your response if you can as well. For example, “in my prior role as team lead for resolving IT tickets, our team increased our productivity in ticket resolution by 50% year over year in my 3 years in the role. I really enjoyed the collaboration and owning responsibility for driving effective ticket resolutions.”
In the end, everyone benefits from giving this question some genuine and honest consideration. If you cannot come up with an honest and satisfying answer that aligns to the role you are applying for and that you believe the hiring authorities will welcome, please consider another role. This may be a generic question, but it is a fair question and one that can provide value.