Motivational questions: succeed without sucking up

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Motivational interview questions: How to succeed without sucking up

We get asked a lot about the trick to answering motivational questions. Questions that aim to assess your motivation for a specific industry or organisation are common, as companies want to check your motivation before investing in you as a hire. Examples include “Why do you want to work for us?” or “What led you to choose a career in law/accounting/finance?” etc. 

We talked to career coach Hannah Salton about the best way to get across your motivation at an interview:

As with most things in recruitment, there are no set textbook answers for these types of questions. Because the aim is to assess your motivation and commitment, your answers can lose impact if you simply say what you think a bog-standard typical answer is.

While there are no right or wrong answers for these questions, there are ways of structuring your answer that give you the best chance to give a full and complete response.  Here is my take on how you can answer motivation questions well. 

How to answer motivational questions without sucking up.

Before you start structuring your answer, try and think of 2 or 3 truthful, fundamental and solid reasons to the hypothetical question being asked. For example, if you’re answering a question about why you want to work for a specific company, reflect and select 2 or 3 key reasons for it, rather than trying to fit a long list of 5 or 6 reasons into your answer.

For each of your 2-3 reasons, explain your motivation by using this 3-part structure. 

Step 1: Introduce the theme of your reason

Once you have your reasons, start by introducing the ‘theme’ of one of the reasons at a high level. For example, you could want to work at an organisation because of its culture, its international reach, its client base, or its technology. Remember this list isn’t exhaustive, and your reason may be completely different.

Step 2: Give a specific example for your reason 

After you’ve introduced your reason, go deeper and give a more specific example of what you mean by that. For example, if you’re talking about the culture, what in particular stands out? You may have had a chat with an employee who said it was non-hierarchical and had an open door policy. If you mention international reach, you may be particularly interested in their recent office opening up in Asia. If you mention technology, is there a specific product that stands out, or has caught your eye?

Step 3: Explain why this reason is important to you

You then need to explain why this reason is important to you. Why is culture important to you? Why is the new Hong Kong office interesting to you? What is it about the technology that you find interesting? You need to explain your ‘why?’ here. Ideally, you do this by linking it back to your personal experience. For example, maybe you did an internship that had an open culture and you thrived there. Maybe you’re interested in Hong Kong as you studied abroad there. Perhaps you really enjoyed a module you studied at university on innovation and technology.

Remember: there are no rules on how you link it back to yourself, it’s just important to explain the context, and why this is one of your motivators.

Things to remember

  • The level of detail you share will vary depending on in what context you are answering the motivational question. In application forms or video interviews, your answers may need to be more concise, whereas you might go into more detail in a face to face interview scenario.

  • Spend time researching the firm and industry-wide, and deeply reflect on what appeals about it to you. No one else can answer this for you!

  • Be enthusiastic, but don’t go over the top. It’s important to be authentic and feel like you’re being yourself

Practice your interview answers aloud to a friend, or record yourself on your phone. Have key words written down to prompt if you need to, but don’t script out your answers in full. You’ll sound rehearsed and robotic.

When applying for a job, you need to show exactly what your motivations are. With the 3-step structure, you can easily and clearly describe your reasons for wanting to work at a company. Try to reflect on your motivation when looking through jobs, as it will help you determine how excited you are to apply, and therefore how committed you are to working at that company. Find an overview of all jobs that match your profile on

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Hannah Salton worked in corporate HR & recruitment for 8 years, most recently looking after graduate recruitment for global law firm Allen & Overy. In 2017 she transitioned to become a career coach and consultant, delivering bespoke career coaching programmes for graduates looking to develop the skills and awareness needed to secure their dream job. For more information or to request a free 20-minute career consultation visit her website.