Experienced employers know that highly motivated employees are
invaluable. Motivated employees tend to learn things quickly,
complete their duties enthusiastically, care about the business and
often go beyond the call of duty. Contrast this with an unmotivated
employee. Even highly talented people who lack motivation can
border on the ineffectual. As one successful employer said to me:
Give me motivation over talent any day. Motivated people
develop talent by their drive and enthusiasm. They ask
questions, volunteer for jobs and overcome any shortcoming
they may have. They’re worth twice as much as talented
people who lack motivation. An unmotivated talented person
is an oxymoron.
Communicating your motivation levels
At interviews, the motivation levels of the candidate tend to be
inferred by the interviewers. In other words, the interviewer picks
up on signals given by the interviewee. These signals can be broken
down into three groups:
• what is said;
• how it is said;
• body language.
This chapter will focus on the first two groups—what is said and
how it is said. Chapter 9 will discuss body language. Suffice to say
that convincing employers you’re highly motivated rests on more
than just the words that come out of your mouth. Your body language
and the way you say things are both critical.
Despite the critical importance of motivation in the workplace,
motivation questions are not as common as they should be. One
reason for this is that there are many inexperienced interviewers
out there who are not sure how to construct a motivation question.
Questions such as, ‘How motivated are you?’ sound embarrassingly
amateurish and tend to attract answers such as, ‘I am very motivated.
If you give me this job I’ll work very hard.’
When direct motivation questions are asked, they usually begin
with the words ‘why’ and ‘what’. Here are some classic examples:
• Why do you want to work here?
• Why do you want to do this job?
• What interests you about this job?
• What are the things you like about working in this sort of envi-
• What do you love about this work?
• What are the sorts of things you enjoy doing at work?
A useful way to prepare for all of the above questions is to ask
yourself ‘What are the things that I like about this job?’ Or, to put
it another way, ‘Why do I like this sort of work?’
When thinking about what you like about a particular job, you
need to look at the duties of the job very carefully (see the section
on job advertisements in Chapter 3). Your next step is to make a list
of all the things that attract you to the job, being as specific as
possible. You need to be specific, otherwise your answers may sound
hollow. A broad-ranging statement such as ‘I love retail’, for example,
is not nearly as convincing as ‘I love interacting with people on a
daily basis’ or ‘I love the thrill of making a sale and watching a happy
customer leave the store’. That’s because the last two statements not
only tell the interviewer that you love retail, but also explain why.
Here are some examples of motivation statements that excite
employers (but make sure you’ve got the specific examples to back
up your statement):
• I love working with people.
• I very much enjoy challenges of the sort you mention.
• I really like working with numbers.
• Interacting with people is what gets me out of bed in the
• I really enjoy working on my own.
• I love learning new things.
• I love selling.
• Solving complex problems is what I love doing most.
• I get a deep sense of satisfaction when I make a customer happy.
• I’m very keen on solving technical issues.
• I love working on computers.
• I really go for working in this sort of environment.
• I can’t get enough of this kind of work.
Don’t hide your enthusiasm
You will have noticed that all of the above statements have one
very important quality in common: they’re all enthusiastically
expressed. Avoid timid or uncertain language because you will sound
unconvincing. Put yourself in the shoes of an employer and compare
the following two answers about customer service. Which of the
two would you rather hear at an interview?
Answer 1: On the whole I like dealing with customers even
though they can be really irritating and do ask stupid questions.
But I do realise that without customers I’d be out of a job so
I make a big effort to satisfy them.
Answer 2: I love dealing with customers. I really enjoy the
interaction with people, including answering all their
questions—no matter how trivial they may seem. I get a deep
sense of satisfaction when I can solve problems for customers
or help them out in some way.
Clearly, the second answer is the better one. It starts off with a
very enthusiastic statement and reinforces this with several more
affirmations. It is full of positive energy and gives the clear impression
that the person is highly motivated in terms of providing high
standards of customer service. Notice also that this answer makes a
value statement—that is, ‘I get a deep sense of satisfaction’. By doing
so, it gives us an insight into the beliefs or values of the speaker
and hence partly addresses the ‘Are you the sort of person we can
work with? question.
On the other hand, the first answer sounds as though the person
provides good customer service because they’re forced to. We all
know that customers sometimes ask stupid questions, but interviews
aren’t the place to articulate such views.
The information you’ve gathered using the four steps can also
be used to address motivation questions. The information under
step 2 can be a rich source of specific information when addressing
the motivation question. Let’s say, for example, that you’re applying
for a job in which you have to lead a team of people and you’re
asked one of the classic motivation questions. Here’s what the
exchange might sound like:
Question: What interests you about this job?
There are many things that really interest me about this job.
One of them is the opportunity to lead a team of hard-working
people. I love bringing out the best in people and watching
them get the most out of their work. I am able to do this by
applying sound principles of team leadership. For example,
when delegating work, I take into account people’s abilities
as well as workload. I give timely and consistent feedback
designed to improve people’s performance. I consult with
people, acknowledge good work and treat everyone equally.
Getting respect from your team is a highly motivating
The bold section of the above answer is taken directly from the
second column of Table 5.1. By stating specifically what you do to
successfully lead a team of people, you’re giving credibility to your
claim about enjoying ‘bringing out the best in people’.
The exciting thing about this answer is that it works on several
• It answers the question directly.
• It tells the interviewer that you’re probably a great team leader.
• It tells the interviewer that bringing out the best in people is
something that motivates you a great deal.
• It does all of the above without waffling.
A word of warning about motivators
When compiling your answers about the things that you like about
the job, there are some things that you need to be careful with.
• proximity to where you live;
• convenient hours;
• friends working there.
All of these can be important motivators for many people—and can,
of course, be mentioned during the course of the interview. However,
they should not be mentioned as primary motivators because none
of them has anything to do with you performing well in the job. Primary
motivators should be linked to the nature of the work itself, and
should demonstrate an ability to perform well in key areas of the
job. It is much more effective to say that you love working with
people rather than that you love the money or your travelling time
will be halved!
Suggested activity: Motivation
Make a list of all the things that attract you to your chosen job. If
you’re having problems coming up with answers, take a close look
at the main duties and ask yourself, ‘What is it about these duties
that I like?’ Remember to avoid broad statements. Be as specific as
you can. Once you’ve compiled your list, answer the following
questions. Keep on practising your answers until you’re happy with
Question 1: Why have you applied for this job?
Question 2: What are the sorts of things that motivate you?
Summary of key points
• Convincing interviewers that you’re highly motivated requires more
than saying the right things. Body language and how you say things
are just as important.
• When preparing your answers to motivation questions, one of the
helpful questions you can ask yourself is ‘Why do I like this kind of
work?’ Your specific responses to this question will constitute the
core of your motivation answers.
• Express yourself with enthusiasm. Interviewers expect to see keenness
in motivated candidates.
• Step 2 of the four steps is often a good source of information for
• Avoid mentioning motivators such as money and travel time—they
do not contribute to your ability to perform well in the job.