'What motivates you?' Tricky graduate interview question (2024)

How to approach the graduate interview question ‘what motivates you?’

When preparing to answer this question, you should think about:

  • What do you enjoy doing? Think about your course and your wider interests. What do they have in common?
  • What have you enjoyed while working at your part-time jobs or internships? What did you look forward to? When you came home feeling that you'd had a good day, what kind of tasks or projects had you tackled?
  • What sort of tasks are you best at? In what sort of environments (busy, deadline driven, loud, quiet etc) do you work the best?

For example, are you well suited to working as part of a team? Do you work at your best when you have an imminent deadline or do you crumble?

Then think about the skills sought by the employer and the nature of the job you will be doing.

This question is not asking ‘What motivates you to apply for this role?’

A different job interview question you are likely to be asked, which we cover in a separate article, is ‘What motivated you to apply for this role?’ . Questions about your motivations for applying for the job or graduate scheme are inviting you to match your motivations in a specific way to the employer, the industry and the role.

Similarly, you are not being asked ‘What are your career goals and aspirations?’ although you could touch on these in your answer.

By contrast, ‘What motivates you?’ is asking: what motivates you in life in general? What (apart from a loud alarm clock and a mug of industrial-strength tea) gets you out of bed in the morning?

Why are recruiters asking you about what motivates you?

This question helps recruiters to find out more about you as a person. Your answer can give them some insight into:

  • what makes you tick
  • what you enjoy doing and what you value
  • whether you would do well in the job role
  • how you would fit into their team.

Motivation questions in strengths-based interviews

Questions about motivation are commonly used in strengths-based interviews, which focus on what you enjoy doing and what you do well. Other ways of asking about motivation include 'What motivates you in life?' and 'What are you passionate about?'

Many graduate employers now use strengths-based assessments as part of the recruitment process. Back in 2019, a survey of members of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) found that 50% of employers now use some form of strengths-based approach as part of the recruitment process. It's wise to be prepared for both strengths-based and competency-based questions, as you may well be asked a mixture of the two, whether you're facing a phone interview, a video interview or meeting the recruiter face-to-face.

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'What motivates you?' Tricky graduate interview question (2024)
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