5 motivation questions you should be asking in a job interview

Last updated: May 20, 2024
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Kai Dickerson
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5 motivation questions you should be asking in a job interview
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If you are a hiring manager, you may already be using a range of strategies to find the best employees for your company. But are you asking the right interview questions?

When you understand what motivates and drives your employees, it can save you time and money in both the short and long term.

The good news is, you don’t have to wait until after you hire someone to understand how they work best. There are motivational questions you can ask job candidates during the interview process.

In this article, we’ll explain the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and share the top 5 job interview questions you should be asking:

What is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

Motivation can be intrinsic or extrinsic.

Intrinsic motivation comes from within. People who are intrinsically motivated do things because they are fun or fulfilling. They often enjoy the process and feel personal satisfaction when they complete the task.

Extrinsic motivation comes from external factors. People who are extrinsically motivated do things because there could be a reward, such as power, money, or fame. They may also do things to avoid negative feedback.

Why does it matter?

Knowing what makes your employees tick can help you get the most from them.

An intrinsically motivated person may be proactive and will usually work well independently or as part of a team.

An extrinsically motivated person may be competitive and work well in an environment with KPIs and sales goals.

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5 motivational questions and example answers

When interviewing potential employees, you can include self-motivation interview questions. This will ensure the candidate will bring value and enthusiasm to the workplace.

The following questions will help you understand what motivates them:

What motivates you?

Sometimes simple, open-ended, self-motivation interview questions are the most effective. This question is direct and gives you an overview of what matters most to the candidate.

What a good answer looks like:

Most people are both extrinsically and intrinsically motivated. While you already know they’ll be extrinsically motivated to get an income, monetary rewards shouldn’t be their only motivator.

You’ll want to hear some facet of intrinsic motivation. They might enjoy solving problems, learning new skills, or helping others. A self-starter might mention they feel good after completing a day’s work, or that they’re genuinely passionate about the role.

If you need clarification, you can ask for specific examples.

What type of work environment brings out the best in you?

Your company culture matters more to employee motivation than you may think. A workplace that’s highly structured, with very little room for intrinsic motivation can leave some employees feeling replaceable.

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A work environment with trust and ownership promotes empowerment and motivation for employees to do their best work.

What a good answer looks like:

Answering this question will require an applicant to have some level of self-awareness. Look for clues as to whether the candidate understands how they performed in a previous position.

Sample responses for a role that requires teamwork:

GOOD - “I work well in a team environment”

BETTER - “I work well in a team environment because I’m a good collaborator. I find that I can solve problems faster when working with others.

**BEST **- “I work well in a team environment because I’m a good collaborator. I find that I can solve problems faster when working with others. As an example, in my last job I was part of a marketing team. We met once a week to showcase our work and brainstorm ideas for our clients.”

Share a time when you exceeded your manager’s expectations.

When you ask this question, you are looking to see whether the candidate will be motivated to go the extra mile. This will help you determine whether you can expect the same results if you do decide to hire them.

What a good answer looks like:

Going above and beyond in a role shows self-motivation. The more specific answers they have here, the better.

Sometimes it’s the little things that count. For example, they may have finished their work and supported their manager or teammate with another project. Or they may have wiped down the counters and washed the dishes during downtime.

How do you like to be managed?

A recent study found that 80% of respondents rated leadership as the top priority for their organizations.

While “how do you like to be managed” can be a tricky question to answer, it can give you insight into whether your leadership style would be a good match:

Dominant (D) leaders are commanding. They’re confident with a direct leadership style.

Influential (I) leaders are collaborative. They’re positive with a flexible leadership style.

Steady (S) leaders are patient. They’re good listeners with a diplomatic leadership style.

Compliant (C) leaders are analytical. They’re independent, with a methodical leadership style.

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What a good answer looks like:

Look for a positive answer that explains what they like in a manager rather than what they don’t. Complaining about previous employers is a red flag.

Maybe they loved the freedom to get work done at their own pace, but appreciated the fact that their manager was always available when they had questions.

Or maybe they loved how transparent their manager was and how they constantly checked on them to make sure they had everything they needed to be successful.

Do their interview answers match your current leadership style?

What does a good day at work look like?

The answer to this question can reveal a lot about the candidate’s character and what truly matters most to them.

What a good answer looks like:

Once again, this answer will help you understand what motivates the candidate.

If they respond with “my birthday because I get cake,” then you’ll know they are extrinsically motivated. Remember, this is a serious question and the answer should reflect this.

However, if they respond with “a good day at work is when I’ve completed all my tasks early. It gives me extra time to support my co-workers with other projects,” then it shows they are passionate, collaborative, and will strive for success.

The interview motivation questions you should be asking

We are all intrinsically (internally) or extrinsically (externally) motivated.

Before hiring your next employee, take the time to discover their motivation style.

Find their motivators and match them to your leadership style by asking:

  • What motivates you?

  • What type of work environment brings out the best in you?

  • Share a time when you exceeded your manager's expectations?

  • How do you like to be managed?

  • What does a good day look like?

At your next interview, why not ask these motivational interview questions? It could be the key to finding your next star team member.

Do you want to find highly qualified and highly motivated candidates? Then look no further than the Jobcase community. Post your job listing today.

1 Comment


Bullet point
Interior Designer at Haverty Furniture Company

this is great advice