Interview Question: What Inspires You?

Starting this December, I am going to pose one great interview question every month. I will break down what a successful answer to that question might include and also what to avoid in your response. Hopefully, this will be a useful tool for hiring managers and job seekers alike.

“What or who inspires you and how do you inspire others?”

This is one of my favorite questions as it sheds light on what drives someone, how they got to where they are and how they function on a team. It is a common interview question and shows up in other forms such as “Who is your hero and why?” Give some thought to your response ahead of time and this should be an easy opportunity to build a fuller, better picture of who you are.

Identify
Be sure to name a real person or team of people. (See here for more on the importance of specificity in an interview.) Avoid answering with a generalization or stereotype of a person like “the kind of leader who..” or “the underdog.” There are a variety of opinions regarding what kind of person is an appropriate answer to this question. Some believe you should stay away from parents, partners and pastors and keep it to professional influences. I think it is prudent to stay away from most celebrities and certainly any controversial public figures. You will likely exude greater enthusiasm about someone you know personally. It is most important that whoever you name has inspired something about you that is relevant to your work.

Analyze
Have a couple of examples on hand that detail why this person is a positive influence and go one step further to articulate the impact they’ve had on you. What qualities did they possess and how are you working to cultivate those same abilities? If you are naming someone who inspired you to overcome an obstacle in your previous role, this may be an opportunity to sneak in your own success story. If you admire someone for their leadership, what was it specifically about their management style or intepersonal skills that has influenced the way you manage a team? The hiring manager or recruiter wants to learn about you by learning who you are striving to be like. And this is an opportunity for them to find out how they can maximize your success on the job, as they consider whether you will find this sort of inspiration at their company.

Promote
For many, the hardest part of interviewing is tooting your own horn. We might fear coming across as egotistical and end up being self-deprecating or falsely modest. But if you’re going to convince the person across the table that you can inspire your colleagues, you’ll show some enthusiasm. It is easier to start with a professional example than to offer general statements about your personality. Have you ever volunteered to take on a task no one else wanted? How did you gather support from stakeholders? Have you ever successfully built consensus among different departments or diverging opinions? A good answer to this question will demonstrate that you are well-respected in your working environment.

Being prepared will help you to keep your answer brief but articulate. This question affords you an opportunity to let them see the human heart behind the resume, to showcase your personality and to open up about why you do what you do. Allow your excitement to come through and you will prove your ability to inspire in the way you answer the question.