Motivational interview questions to assess candidates

Motivation questions interview

When assessing a candidate for a position, you need to know how motivated they are about the role and the company. Motivational interview questions are one important way to find out.

Asking the right questions will help you understand how inspired and enthusiastic the candidate is about the position they are applying for, which is important for gauging how motivated they will be once hired. Including these types of questions in addition to the questions about cultural fit and questions about teamwork, helps you hire the best fit for the position.

What is motivation?

Motivation can be described as the drive someone has towards a goal, the reason or reasons for a person to act and behave in a certain way. Motivation is crucial in determining an individual’s actions’ intensity, direction and persistence.

People are motivated by a number of factors: these can be personal goals, normal everyday needs or a desire for improvement. Motivation can influence how excited, enthusiastic and open-minded someone is about something that matters to them and tends to influence how much effort they will put towards achieving a specific goal.

Motivation can be applied to many situations throughout a person’s life, including the reason for basic survival, such as eating and drinking. In the job world, motivation is a key indicator of a person’s willingness to perform well in a position.

There are two main types of motivation: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

  • Extrinsic motivation can be described as the motivation someone gains from external factors, such as rewards, money, trophies or praise.
  • Intrinsic motivation comes from personal gratification, such as running a marathon or completing a tricky 1000-piece puzzle.

Interview questions motivation

Why is it important that your candidate is motivated by the position?

When it comes to recruitment, assessing motivation is an important part of the hiring process. Candidate motivation is as important as the skill requirements for the position to guarantee a successful hire. When candidates are motivated to apply for a position, they are more likely to remain productive and positive about the job and company, despite obstacles and challenges they might face during their employment. Motivated candidates are likely to become motivated employees with a higher job satisfaction rate, lower turnover rate and higher productivity rate.

The level of motivation and enthusiasm the candidate has for a position is a very good indicator of how much a candidate wants the role and therefore will do a good job once hired. For job seekers, it’s a great time to showcase their passion and drive for a particular position, (employer) brand or industry. A candidate’s motivation for a role can be the reason you pick one over another, so it’s an important part of the recruitment process.

How to assess your candidate’s motivations in an interview?

When assessing a candidate’s motivations for applying for a position, you will want to look for more intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic.

For example, everyone applies for a paid job role within an organisation to earn money (extrinsic). Doing so because they are passionate about the product, graphic design, or software development is a good sign that they understand the role and what is being asked of them.

In most modern recruitment processes, candidates will be asked to send a motivational or cover letter to the recruiter or hiring manager along with their CV. This will be the first indicator of how passionate and enthusiastic the candidate is and is a good jumping-off point to ask key motivational interview questions. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Ask open-ended questions: Never ask “yes” or “no” questions when establishing a candidate’s motivation for applying to a role. You want to open up the floor for them to answer questions about their career aspirations, goals. And what drives them professionally.
  • Explore values and interests: Enquire about their hobbies and goals outside of work. This can help you gauge whether your candidate aligns with the organisation’s culture and position.
  • Analyse their preparedness: How much does the candidate already know about the industry, company or position? If they can already demonstrate deep knowledge and genuine interest in the position, then you have a good idea of how passionate and motivated they will be once hired.
  • Pay attention to body language and non-verbal queues: Assess how comfortable and at ease the candidate is when talking about their motivations for applying to a role. A calm and confident demeanour is a good sign of genuine interest.

Motivation questions to ask interviews

5 great motivational interview questions to ask

Now we know why assessing a candidate’s motivation is so important. We can start to think about the best questions to ask during an interview.

1.) Why did you apply for this job?

This is a classic motivational interview question that ticks off many boxes. This asks the candidate to describe their reasons for applying to the position and why they want to work in an industry or for a specific company. This is also a good question to ask to find out why the candidate left their previous position.

2.) What motivates you to excel at work?

This question encourages candidates to elaborate more on their reasons for applying to a role beyond extrinsic financial benefit. This is a good question for hiring managers to assess whether the candidate is a team player, works well under pressure and is passionate about their career goals.

3.) Describe a situation where you overcame a challenge.

By discussing how a candidate successfully overcame obstacles, you can gain insights into their motivation and determination. You can also ask about instances where they exceeded expectations in their work life that are related to the role.

4.) What hobbies and interests do you have outside of work?

As previously mentioned, learning more about a candidate’s life outside of work can be a good way of assessing how they handle their work-life balance, relax off the clock and achieve personal goals. When a person has no hobbies outside of work, this is usually a red flag.

5.) What aspects of our company and culture appeals to you?

This question lets the recruiter or hiring manager know whether the candidate has done any research on the company they’re applying to be part of. If they can answer this question confidently and clearly, then you can ask them more about the job role and what motivates them to excel in a work environment. The candidate can also ask questions about the company and its culture, demonstrating interest in whether their perception matches the reality.

For highly competitive job roles, asking the right motivational interview questions can be what tips one candidate in favour over another. It indicates where the person finds fuel to achieve the goals and how they avoid burnout. Having a sustainably motivated employee is a great asset to the business.


Merilyn Uudmae


Content Marketing Manager

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