It almost goes without saying that one person could be motivated by many things, depending on the context. This isn’t the time to expound on your deep love of ice cream and dogs and wax poetic about how you’d cross oceans and climb mountains to eat a cone or pet a pup—unless of course the job is ice cream taster or dog walker.
When you’re answering the interview question pick one career-focused idea that’s relevant to the role and company you’re applying for. “If it’s a small startup and growing company and you are motivated by learning new things and being challenged, that’s a great answer because that’s going to be the environment you’re in,” Goodfellow says.
On the other hand, “if you’re going to be doing accounting analysis all day and state that you thrive by wearing many hats throughout the day and learning new things, then as an interviewer, I’d want to explore that further because it’s not necessarily going to be the case.” In short, it all depends on the context.
Sukola says you can use the job description itself to help you prepare an answer. “Make a list of things before the interview of what you would be doing for this job and what’s gratifying for you out of those,” she says. Pick out the aspects of the job that make your eyes open wide and get you excited just thinking about the possibility of landing the role. “Then you can tie it back to what motivates you.”
For example, suppose you’re looking at a job description for a business intelligence analyst role. You don’t mind pulling data and crunching numbers, but what really catches your eye is that a major part of the job would require talking to colleagues across the company to understand their needs and help them translate those into data requests and then working collaboratively and creatively to present what they’re looking for in a format they can comprehend.
When you’re constructing your answer, you can connect your motivation explicitly to the role you’re interviewing for, saying something like, “And that’s one of the things that excites me about this job, where I could channel that motivation to play a part in cross-functional collaboration that will make everyone feel they can understand and make use of the data we’re collecting without being daunted by it.”