Motivational questions at interview: How to succeed without sucking up

I get asked a lot about the trick to answering motivational questions. Questions like “Why do you want to work here?” and “Why do you want to become a lawyer/accountant/ballet dancer?” are very common questions in recruitment processes (if you’re applying for a job as a lawyer/accountant/ballet dancer, that is).

As with most things in recruitment, there are no set text book 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 this question, there are ways of structuring your answer that give you the best chance to give a full response to the question. I have outlined one way you can do this below, however there are of course other structures that still allow great responses to questions like this.

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.

Once you have your reasons, my advice for structuring those answers is as follows: Firstly, introduce 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.

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?

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 through 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.

So to summarise, here is my suggestion to give a full response to questions such as “Why you are pursuing a career in X? or “Why do you want to work at firm X?”

Pick just 2 or 3 key reasons:

a) State the first reason

b) Explain what you mean by that – give a specific example

c) Explain why that’s a motivator – make it personal and link it back to you

d) State the next reason

e) Explain what you mean by that – give a specific example

f) Explain why that’s a motivator – make it personal and link it back to you

…and repeat if you are sharing a third reason.

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, where as you might go into more detail in a face to face interview scenario
  • Spend time researching the firm and industry widely, 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 at interview.
  • 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.

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