This one article was originally published on .cult by Michaela C. .sect is a Berlin-based community platform for developers. We write about all things career, make original documentaries and share tons of other untold developer stories from around the world.
Your professional experience is great. You solved the test problems. But half way through the interview they ask you, “What is your motivation for working here?” and you find yourself wandering, or stuttering, or staring at them blank-faced.
Motivation is such a complex and nuanced feeling for any person that it can be difficult to neatly summarize it in a job interview. Or maybe you have a very simple motivation: maybe it’s to “earn enough to provide for myself and my family” or “to continue adding to my beautiful vinyl collection.”
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“Because I need a job,” “because I don’t want to get fired,” and “because I need money” are all candid and honest reasons to apply for a position, but they probably won’t impress an interviewer.
First, your interviewer already knows this – unless we’re very lucky, we all have to work.
Second, these answers don’t imply longevity — maybe it’s just a matter of time before a better way to make money emerges and you head in that direction.
Finally, these answers are negative and do not make your interviewer feel that you are highly motivated for this job in particular.
Ultimately, all that matters to your job performance is how you do your job, not why you do it. But it can be difficult for interviewers to be sure you meet the criteria they’re looking for if they don’t get a good sense of your personality and what makes you tick.
Perhaps that vinyl collector is the hardest worker a company will ever see (she’s on the hunt for a rare Wu-Tang Clan LP). But it’s better to give your interviewer motivations they can understand, celebrate, and link directly to the boxes they want to check.
Here are some ways to find out what companies want to hear when they ask you about your motivation (or your passion, or why you want to go to work, or some other variation of this tricky question).
1. Make it personal
Companies don’t want to hear that you’re looking for a job. They want to hear that you are looking for their job. The good news is they’ve already given you a cheat sheet to tie motivations to a specific role: it’s in the job description. Take a close look at the required skills section and see how this translates into motivation that gets you excited at work.
For example, if they’re looking for someone to solve thorny coding problems, bring up your troubleshooter – something many developers have!
“I like the feeling of working through and solving a problem that is slowing down the whole company” is a great answer. Similarly: “I like a challenge, but what really gets me excited about seeing actionable results, so solving problems is a big motivation for me.”
On the other hand, if the job description involves a lot of teamwork or even a leadership role, you may want to emphasize the importance of relationship building to your personal happiness. “I really thrive on working with a close-knit team, and it’s just as important to me to help others succeed as it is to achieve my own goals,” is one way to emphasize this.
2. Do your research
Part of the interviewer’s own motivation in asking this question is to see how you would fit into the corporate culture as a whole. The good news here is that there is probably a lot of information already available for you to use on the company’s website. Two good places to start are the company’s mission and values.
If you can pick out a part of the company’s mission statement that is meaningful to you, it’s a great way to show them your motivation for the position. This piece can be big or small. Maybe the whole company is working towards an incredible cause that you really believe in, whether that’s saving the rainforests or giving everyone a great e-commerce product that makes it easy to buy rare vinyl online (finally your collection is relevant! ).
But if there’s only one small aspect of the company’s job that you really like – a coding strategy, another employee whose work in the field you respect, a project management framework that you’ve enjoyed in the past – feel free to as a distinctive part of the attractiveness of the job to you.
Company values are another useful place to look. They give you a good sense of a company’s culture and what they celebrate in their own employees. It’s also easier than you might think to translate their values into your motivations.
For example, if they emphasize “diversity,” you could say that you are energized by working with different people from whom you can learn. If they mark “courage,” you could say you like a well-calculated risk and the feeling of stepping into the unknown.
3. Think about your past
It’s no secret that interviewers love an example from your professional history. This goes for almost every question they ask, but when you’re talking about your motivation, it’s especially helpful because it brings detail and specificity to a somewhat vague concept. And if you’re not even sure what your motivation is, considering your professional history is a great way to flesh it out so you’re not airheaded when your interviewer pops the question.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself to find these examples:
- What was your best day ever at work?
- When did you feel happiest at work?
- When did you come home bursting with stories to tell, or roll out of bed excited to go to the office?
- If you have never enjoyed your job or if this is your first real job, do you have a dream job? What’s so dreamy about it?
Once you have some answers, try to identify the unifying threads behind each example. What happened at work that got you so excited? Why are you working on your dream job? Once you’ve done a little digging, you’re sure to discover your underlying motivations below.
4. Don’t forget about non-verbal communication
Talking about your passions in a monotonous voice is not very convincing. Telling your interviewer that you’re driven by working with an exciting team isn’t believable if you’re staring at the table and fidgeting.
Whether you’re on Zoom, at a casual coffee meeting, or facing a panel of interviewers, remember that your body does half the talking for you.
That’s why it’s important to stay enthusiastic, engaged and enthusiastic (without exaggerating). Run through a checklist in your head to make sure you smile, maintain eye contact, and lean forward in your chair.
If you often feel nervous during a job interview, you can practice in front of the mirror to make sure you come across as friendly and enthusiastic. This is never more important than when you answer questions about your motivations; your interviewer expects you to speak fluently and cheerfully about the aspects of your life that are close to your heart.
Remember, it’s totally okay to have a bad day at work if you’re feeling sick, discouraged, or just not in the mood to be super cheerful. But if you’re in a bad mood during a job interview, it has much more impact. How is your interviewer supposed to know if you woke up on the wrong side of the bed or if this is just your personality? So stay involved and show them the best of you.
5. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work
An interview is always out of your hands to some degree and you are never quite sure what motivation an employer is looking for.
For example, maybe you give a great answer about being motivated by working independently on a project that will improve the company’s bottom line, but the interviewer is looking for someone who is more team-oriented – or vice versa! Both motivations are strong and have their own advantages, and sometimes a company chooses a rival candidate who has a different set.
The motivation question is all about narrowing the pool of candidates, which means that sometimes you can answer it right… and still not be a good fit for the position.
This is a bummer, but not the end of the road. And that’s why it’s also important to stay honest – because if you lie about being motivated by teamwork and then end up in a role where you never get your precious independent projects, you’re not going to enjoy your job! So be prepared that if you tell companies what they want to hear, sometimes that means what you want too.
Even if that means you don’t get the part, if you do get one, chances are it’s the right one.