“Who inspires you?” is a fairly broad interview question that gives you a lot of wiggle room with your answer. There are so many fascinating and inspirational people out there, so who do you choose?
This resource will help you come up with a great answer when picking your biggest inspiration, so you can use this question as an opportunity to impress.
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Why Interviewers Ask “Who Inspires You?
Contrary to what some people think, job interviews aren’t always tough conversations that exclusively focus on the job at hand. While every question is relevant, they don’t always appear to be at face value. “Who inspires you?” is an example of this. It’s an open-ended question that cleverly provides more insight into who you are as a person.
The main reason why interviewers ask this question is that it sheds light on your motivations. Hiring managers want to know why you pursued this opportunity and whether or not it’s something you’ll continue to be inspired by moving forward. Money is always a significant factor in your job search, but companies want people who are there for more than just monetary gains. They want people who are naturally motivated to succeed and boost the organization’s bottom line.
When you talk about who inspires you, you’re indirectly telling the interviewer what paths you respect and values you hold. Most people gain inspiration from the people they respect most. It’s who you aspire to be like one day.
Your response is an excellent opportunity to show the interviewer who you are in a more creative way than your typical job interview answers. How you answer this question says a lot about you and could help your chances of getting hired.
“Who inspires you?” is a question that also provides more practical insight. In addition to telling them more about your values, it shows off your personality and provides a glimpse of how you can connect and communicate with others. It may even lead to a conversation about soft skills that are relevant to the job. Ultimately, this question tells the interview important personality details that no resume could convey.
How to Answer This Question
“Who inspires you and why?” is a question that requires some thought to answer effectively, but it’s not as challenging as you think. Everyone’s response is different, and you should focus on talking about people who truly matter to you.
However, you can use a few tricks to ensure that you’re providing an effective answer that will leave a great impression.
1. Pick Someone with a Personal Connection
The first tip is to choose someone you have a genuine personal connection with. You don’t have to be super close or even know them personally. But it pays to talk about someone who truly inspires you and your professional career.
Avoid picking people you think the interviewer wants you to talk about in your answer. For example, avoid the obvious attempt at flattery, such as choosing the company’s CEO. Unless they genuinely inspire you, avoid those cliches.
It’s easier to talk about someone that actually means something to you. There’s a good chance that you have strong feelings about what that person has accomplished. You’ll sound more genuine if you have a solid connection to them.
There are many types of people you can talk about with this response. It could be a family member or close friend. Alternatively, you can choose historical figures, industry leaders, authors, or fictional characters. The sky’s the limit here, so think about the biggest inspirations in your professional career.
2. Keep Your Answer Relevant
“Who inspires you?” is a question that is best answered by choosing someone relevant to the job. Sure, you can select a person that has nothing to do with your industry. But that may not provide the insight that the interviewer is looking to get.
The best thing you can do is choose someone related to your field. They should have some connection to your industry, the company you’re applying for, or the position you’re trying to land. Any thread of similarity is something you can lean on when formulating your response.
For example, you can talk about an industry leader. Influencers or thought leaders in your industry are well-known and likely have exciting backstories to draw inspiration. The same goes for innovators within your field.
You can also look towards historical figures that played a part in your industry becoming what it is today. Anyone with relevance to your industry is a great way to go.
3. Dig Deeper
When you’re explaining who inspires you and why, try not to lean heavily on the obvious traits of the person you’re discussing. For example, saying that the thing that inspires you most about an inventor is that they created a product isn’t exactly groundbreaking.
Think about what makes this person so inspiring and what you connect with personally. Think about what this individual has done for you, your industry, and society as a whole.
One great technique is to explain what signature behaviors or traits about that person you want to emulate. Talk about the characteristics that inspire you and how you want to apply them in your professional career.
Put thought into this response and avoid the obvious cliches. This will help you create a captivating answer that the interviewer hasn’t already heard many times before.
4. Keep It Brief
At most, your response should be around a minute to a minute and a half.
“Who inspires you?” is an interview question that has the potential to draw out long, rambling answers. You probably have many strong feelings about the person you’re talking about, but that doesn’t mean you should talk about them non-stop. Keep your answer relatively concise.
Hit all your main points – state who inspires you, explain why, and move on. Long answers can seem disjointed. Not only that, they’re difficult for you to remember.
A short answer that’s well-thought-out is more likely to leave an impact.
Our last tip is to practice as much as you can.
That doesn’t mean you should type out a scripted response and memorize it verbatim. That would have the opposite effect you want. Over-rehearsed answers come off as inauthentic.
Instead, decide why the person you’re highlighting inspires you, jot down a few key points, and know the basic structure of your answer. Practice responding in many different ways. The goal is to be confident in your words, not recite a scripted answer.
What You Shouldn’t Say in Your Answer
While you have a lot of freedom to answer this question how you want, there are a few things you want to avoid. The following mistakes could hurt your chances, so keep them in mind when crafting your response.
Typical Family Answers
Most people have nothing but loving things to say about their parents or close family members. But unless you have a compelling or unique reason to talk about them, it’s best to avoid typical responses regarding your family.
Interviewers are more interested in hearing about individuals who inspire your professional pursuits. You can talk about family if their story is relevant to your field. But talking about how much you love someone in your family or how their support made a difference doesn’t provide the insight interviewers are looking for.
Political or Religious Figureheads
Most workplaces have unspoken rules about discussing politics, religion, and other controversial topics. Your interview should be no different.
While hiring managers can’t discriminate against you, subconscious biases can come into play. The last thing you want to do is talk about a controversial figure that the interviewer doesn’t like. It automatically puts a negative cloud over the interview experience and creates biases that are difficult to shake.
It’s better to steer clear of anyone divisive or remotely controversial when talking about who inspires you.
This mistake happens more frequently than it should! You might have people in mind who inspire you, but unless you can talk about why they inspire you, the answer is incomplete!
Here’s where adequate preparation comes in handy. Think about why those individuals inspire you and what traits you want to emulate in the workplace. “Who inspires you?” is an interview question that should always warrant an example during your answer.
Talking About Multiple People
You probably have many people you admire or view as a source of inspiration, but try limiting your response to just one.
Talking about several individuals can make your answer seem disorganized. Covering multiple people will likely make your response a bit too lengthy.
Finally, please don’t go with the “I inspire myself” response. That might sound groundbreaking to you, but it’s nothing but self-centered and a bit awkward to everyone else.
It can paint you negatively, making the interviewer think you’re arrogant or not a team player. You’ll have other opportunities to talk about how great you are, but this question is not it.
Best Example Answers
“Who inspires you?” is a question that offers plenty of room for creative thinking. Give it ample thought and use our tips above to mold a perfectly crafted response. To give you some inspiration about talking about who inspires you, here are a few stellar examples.
The first example is for a job-seeker looking to get into the accounting field. The person they choose to talk about is a well-known figure in the accounting world. He’s the namesake for a large, multinational accounting firm.
But more importantly, the inspirational figurehead is someone who exemplifies the necessary skills and character traits to succeed in accounting. It’s a fine example of an applicant knowing their stuff and doing their research.
“One of my biggest inspirations is William Deloitte, who is often considered the grandfather of accounting.’ There are many things about Deloitte’s life that inspire me. He started his career at 15, opened his own accounting practice at 25, and eventually founded one of the largest firms in the world that continues to operate today!
He was incredibly motivated and continually aimed high. He never let obstacles get in his way, a trait I aspire to have. Deloitte also had impressive interpersonal skills, a natural inclination for leadership, and an eye for innovation.
All those characteristics made him one of the most prominent names in accounting. His story constantly reminds me to be ambitious and strive for excellence in this field.”
In our second example, the applicant isn’t talking about a well-known figure. Instead, they’re choosing to highlight a teacher who significantly impacted their life. They’re interviewing for a journalist position, and this teacher helped hone their skills while cementing unteachable traits.
This response works well because the applicant has a genuine connection to the individual. They discuss how that person made a difference and connect it all back to the position they’re trying to get.
“There are many people who inspire me in my career, but I believe that my senior-year English teacher, Mr. Smith, is the greatest inspiration in my life. Before Mr. Smith’s class, I was relatively indifferent to journalism. But after only a few weeks in his class, I discovered the power of words.
He pushed me outside my comfort zone, encouraging me to write about life experiences. Mr. Smith inspired us to write about challenging topics, teaching us to stand behind our words while using them to connect with readers.
Mr. Smith came in every day with an evident passion for writing. He did more than have us complete simple worksheets or fluff essays. His assignments were impactful, and I continue to use his lessons to ensure that every piece I write is authentic.
I admire his dedication to the craft, and I hope my words can inspire others as much as he inspired me.”
Our last example is about a difficult subject to create an answer for: A family member. Earlier, we mentioned that providing simple responses about a family member is not wise. But here’s an example of when you can talk about someone close to you while still keeping it relevant and thoughtful.
The applicant is trying to get a sales job and decides to talk about their father. While their father works in a slightly different field, they bring up relevant traits that matter to the position they’re trying to get.
“My biggest inspiration is my father. Not only has he inspired me throughout my life, but there are so many details about his career that I find aspirational.
He started in marketing at the age of 19. In just a few short years, he established a small, local firm. It continued to grow until he had a client portfolio that was 250-strong throughout the state.
My father taught me that building solid relationships with clients was paramount. He always stressed that communication and maintaining a professional relationship with clients were just as important as competence in your work.
For years, I watched him speak to clients as if they were old pals, and they had great respect for him. I hope to take that same dedication to customer satisfaction in my career, building a loyal customer list that sticks around for years to come.”
“Who inspires you?” is an interview question that you should prepare for like any other. It doesn’t matter if it seems less serious than others, because interviewers will pay close attention to your answer.
Pick someone relevant, find a unique angle and practice. If you follow these steps, your answer will be just what the interviewer was looking for!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.