Motivation matters more than knowledge and experience. Because when your subordinates do not want to try hard in work, when they are just hanging around and wasting their time checking social media feeds, it doesn’t matter how skilled or experienced they are, whether they had the same job for ten years before…

This question makes a perfect sense in any interview for a managerial or supervisory role, and you will often face it. The key is to show the hiring managers that you understand the importance of motivation, and that your ways of motivating people aren’t limited to offering them a raise.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting question. Do not forget to check also my notes below the answers. They will help you to choose the right one for your job interview.


7 sample answers to “How do you motivate others?” interview question

  1. First and foremost, I try to lead by an example. I honestly think that a construction supervisor should not walk around the building ground with a shirt and tie. They should supervise people, but they should also participate on the construction work, so the employees see that they are not afraid to take on manual labor. And of course, it’s better to be present, to not sit in a comfy office, because manual laborers have a tendency to lose their motivation easily. If they see that you aren’t around, they won’t work as hard. They will take a cigarette break, discuss news, and so on.
  2. In my opinion, the most important thing is to help the employees see the connection of their personal goals with the goals we try to achieve in the company. Of course, most workers do not care about out profit and loss, whether we are doing well or struggling. Everyone minds their own business. But once they see that meeting deadlines, completing projects, and basically trying hard will allow them to earn better, to perhaps apply for a promotion, and to buy the things they want to buy outside of work, they will try harder. For this reason it is important to have a clear system of rewards and penalties in place, and to communicate it properly to your employees. They should know what will happen if they over-deliver, and what will happen if they fail to meet their targets.
  3. More than anything else, programmers need to be intellectually challenged. They won’t be motivated if we let them work on the same tasks day after day, month after month. That’s why I prefer to rotate people between teams, to assign a variety of tasks to each developer, and to have a regular one of one with them, ensuring that they find their job challenging enough, and are learning new things along the way. That’s the way to keep their spirits high in a long run.
  4. What works in this type of business, at least in my opinion, is strengthening the team spirit. Because employees share close quarters together, and if one lacks motivation it impacts the work of an entire team. On the other hand, if people like to be together, and feel responsibility for one another, they won’t let their colleagues down. They will try hard to achieve the best possible results as a team. For this reason, it is crucial to hire the right people at the first place, people who can get along with each other, people who embrace diversity. Then it’s all about communication, and perhaps a team building event here and there, to help strengthen the team spirit in the workplace.
  5. In my humble opinion, motivation from outside never really works. We should hire only people who are motivated to work hard, for whatever reason. Someone may struggle with bills, other may enjoy the job a lot, and a third one can see it as a gateway to more interesting job opportunities, trying hard to earn a good reference from then employer. Of course, I can help as a manager, for example praising people for their work, recognizing them for their achievements. Because it is important for them to see that someone notices their good work. But if I have in my team someone who hates the job, and doesn’t face any external pressure to keep it, it will be hard to perform any miracles with such a subordinate.
  6. Let’s see things realistically. This is a hard work, and not many people will enjoy doing it. That’s why money is their main driving force. Hence, in my opinion, the best way to motivate people in this field is paying them according to the amount of work they manage to do each day, and not the amount of hours they spend working. I know that this is tricky, and we must set the compensation model carefully and tweak it over time, with right KPIs and metrics, but once the system is set properly and working, it will motivate the employees to try their best. Because they will earn more that way.
  7. I prefer to address each issue of motivation individually. Let me explain. I set goals and milestones for each employee, and have a one on one with them regularly, to see how they progress. If they are behind with their work, or if I sense that they lack motivation, I will discuss it with them, trying to find the reason why they struggle. This can be a lot of things. Perhaps they do not feel properly rewarded for their work, or they are bored from the routine, or they experience some health issues or problems in their personal life… There are many possible reasons why one may not perform up to the expectations. It is my goal as a manager to identify the reason, and to address it accordingly. Sometimes a friendly talk is enough, offering a helping hand. Other times we have to think about the compensation model, and in some extreme cases I may even have to relocate them or terminate their contract. But as I said, I try to address each problem of motivation individually, since I believe there’s no one-fit-all way of motivating people in work.


Adjust your answer to your place of work, and people you will manage or supervise

It would not make much sense to say that you want to motivate construction workers by challenging them intellectually. That’s the last thing a typical construction workers looks for…

The same is true about saying that if your engineers aren’t motivated, you will terminate their contract. Well, good luck with finding replacement for them on our saturated employment market :).

What I try to convey here is that you should be realistic with your answer. Think about the people you will manage, their preferences, goals, things they enjoy doing, and what may or not work on them as a form of motivation…

* Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!

Focus on hiring the right people

If you hire a wrong person for the job, someone lazy who isn’t interested in doing anything extra in work, who actually tries to do as little as possible, or someone who spends half of the shift checking their Instagram feed, you won’t do any miracles with them as a motivator.

What’s more, such a staff member can spoil the morale in the workplace. When other employees see that the workers in question is doing nothing, they can also lose their motivation. I saw that happen on several occasions.

That’s why you can focus on hiring the right people–motivated workers, who see meaningful purpose in the job, or at least have some goals outside of work that will motivate them to work hard, day after day. See sample answer no. 5 as a good illustration of this attitude.


Individual approach is the key

Another option is emphasizing individual approach to each employee, to each problem of motivation. Ensure the hiring managers that you want to know your people, to have a regular one on one with them, to discuss how they feel in work.

And if they are not feeling good, or if they under-perform, you will talk to them, trying to understand their reasons. Then you will try your best, within the limitations of your position and options, to address the issue of motivation. See sample answer no. 7 as a good illustration of this approach.


Conclusion, answers to other tricky interview questions

You will get at least one question about motivating employees in each and every interview for a managerial job. Think carefully about the people you will manage, and the options you will have as their manager, and suggest a good way of motivating them.

Ensure the hiring managers that you understand the importance of motivation in the workplace, and will try your best to get the most out of your people (in good means, of course)…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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