Any time you interview for a leadership position, you could be asked “How do you motivate others?”
Even if you’re not interviewing for a team leader role, you could still be asked about how you motivate those around you.
And giving the wrong answer could cost you the job.
Beyond this, the hiring manager may ask for a specific example of a time you motivated someone.
Don’t worry, coming up, I’ll share how to answer this interview question with real-world sample answers and mistakes to avoid.
A good leader doesn’t just tell team members what to do; they also motivate their team. But what’s the best way to show this in the job interview?
Well, when you’re asked a job interview question like, “How do you motivate others?” it’s best to sound like you have a proven process in place and are confident in your ability to motivate, based on past successes.
Whether you’ve held a management position in the past or simply led projects/meetings, etc., think about a time you were a positive influence and motivated those around you.
Be ready to share how you successfully motivated those around you, so that you can convince the hiring manager that you’d do the same on their team.
Don’t just talk about hypotheticals. Talk about what you’ve done and what you’ve seen works.
Point to any real-world experience you have.
Also, in your answer, you can share a specific example of a situation you encountered and how you handled challenges related to that.
You could say:
“I’ve found a couple of great ways to motivate team members. One of my favorites is empowering them to make more decisions and helping them grow their skills each day on my team. For example, in my last role, I had a team member who was struggling with….”
I’ll share more real-life examples soon, so make sure you read until the end.
The last step in preparing to answer “What motivates you?” is brushing up on your recent work. This should always be a part of your interview preparation.
What did you accomplish in your one or two most recent jobs, especially in terms of leading and motivating?
Did you train new team members? Lead tasks? Help others? Were you a team manager already?
Be ready to speak confidently about all leadership work you’ve done in the past few years, or you’ll risk the hiring manager choosing someone else.
It’s always smart to review your past work before any job interviews.
It might have been months since you wrote your resume, so reviewing your resume can help you gain insight into what the hiring manager is looking at and what they may have liked about your background.
(After all, if the employer invited you to the interview, they saw something that looked interesting on your resume/CV.)
As a recent graduate, I haven’t had the chance to motivate others in the workplace yet. However, I was captain of my university’s track team, and in that role, I was responsible for motivating our team, which was full of different personalities.
I used positive encouragement and also tried to lead by example in my work ethic, habits, and performance. And also in my resiliency after a setback or defeat.
No one wants to follow a leader who says one thing yet does another, or who panics and exhibits negative emotions or body language.
So one of the key ways I kept the team interested and motivated was to always bring my full effort, prepare myself before a race, and conduct myself in a way that inspired others.
I’ve built a couple of useful habits for motivating my teams. First, I provide positive feedback often. I also use failures as teaching opportunities, to show team members how they can avoid a difficult situation in the future or overcome it in a better way.
I show my team that I’m working on their side and that I’m here to help them develop and grow, which I believe is a big part of a manager’s job. This approach to leadership helps my employees stay motivated and engaged and handle challenges better.
One of my favorite ways to keep employees motivated as a project manager is to break projects into small, achievable milestones and provide positive feedback to team members as we reach those milestones.
This helps with motivation and keeps projects from seeming too large or intimidating.
In my last job, I typically managed three to four projects at a time, with 10-20 total team members, and I’ve found this to be one of the best ways to keep others, and myself, motivated.
As a supervisor, I think it’s important to share why we’re performing each task and project.
I’ve found that it greatly helps with motivation if I explain to a team member why their work is important to the customer/client, and how other employees or teams are counting on them.
I remember early in my career, I had a job where I’d be given tasks with little to no explanation of why it was necessary to do this work, and it did the opposite of motivating me. It led to me feeling unimportant, disrespected, and not cared about.
I didn’t work well or hard in that situation, and I ended up quitting soon after, so I always remember that lesson as a good example of what not to do as a leader.
Interviewers may also ask you a behavioral interview question like “Tell me a time you had to motivate someone,” or, “Give me an example of a time you had to motivate others.”
In this case, when answering, you can skip the general explanation of your approach to motivating those around you, and begin your answer by sharing a specific situation you encountered.
The STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is a great way to keep your answer organized and impress employers when describing specific situations or past scenarios.
With the STAR Method, you’ll break your answer down into four parts:
Imagine the interviewer asks, “Tell me a time you had to motivate other team members. How did you do approach this?”
You could respond by saying the following (note that this answer is broken down into four paragraphs to help illustrate the STAR structure):
In my last job, I was working as an associate project manager and was new in the role. (situation)
After being promoted, I was given responsibility for a design project involving two teams from different departments. (task)
To keep the team on track and help us identify and reach our common goals, I set up daily morning meetings to share milestones and also address any setbacks and concerns. I found this helped keep the team motivated and also ensured that nobody was operating with unanswered questions or concerns. Sometimes, a team member would ask a question and then someone else mentioned that they had a similar question, so bringing the team together for a virtual meeting not only boosted motivation but also saved time and eliminated mistakes in our work. (action)
We delivered the project on time and successfully. I was new to project leadership at this point in my career, and the experience helped me learn the importance of communication in the success of a business. (result)
When using the STAR method to answer behavioral interview questions, always share a story with a positive outcome.
Beyond that, talk about a task/challenge that required similar skills to the work you’ll be doing in this next position.
Are you going to be interacting heavily with customers/clients? If so, try to think of an example where you motivated colleagues in a customer-oriented work environment.
Are you applying for a more technical role where you won’t talk to customers? Then think of an example where you worked internally to reach common goals and motivated your direct team.
Interviewers are always looking for proof that you can step into their job and succeed, based on past career experience.
So you’re missing a great opportunity to get more job offers if you describe a random situation without first thinking about whether the hiring manager will see how your skills are relevant to the work you’d be doing for them.
Of course, you won’t have the perfect example to share in every interview situation…
For example, if you’re changing careers, you may have never done the specific work that this new interviewer is discussing with you. But do your best and pick a story that you feel is as relevant as possible.
If you read the tips above, you now know how to answer common job interview questions like “How do you motivate others?” and related behavioral questions like “Tell me about a time you had to motivate people around you.”
Study the example answers above and practice until you’re confident that you can give a clear, concise answer (60 seconds or less) that shows you’re able to lead and motivate others.
For best results, also pick a story or example that’s relevant to the work you’ll be performing if hired for this employer’s job.
You never know when an interviewer will ask questions about how you motivate or lead. It’s not uncommon for a company to ask about this topic even if you’re a non-management candidate.
Whether you’re a former manager or not, you can use the tips and sample answers above to impress the interviewer.
Related interview questions:
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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