In a job interview, employers don’t just want to know you can do the job; they want to know about your life and interests.
So they ask interview questions like, “Who inspires you in your life?” or “Who is your greatest inspiration?”
And if you struggle to answer or give a response they don’t like, it could cost you the job.
Keep reading for tips on how to answer, “Who inspires you?” with example responses, mistakes to avoid, and more.
First of all, this is an incredibly open-ended interview question.
And while there are no wrong responses… some answers are better than others.
You could answer that your mother or father is your greatest inspiration. And that would be an okay answer.
But I recommend you look beyond a personal or family connection when answering, and consider the specific job you’re interviewing for.
Because the next question you’ll be asked, assuming you don’t expand on it in the first place, is “why?”
What did your mother, father, college teacher, or other personal connection do that was so inspiring? Was it their work ethic? Leadership skills?
Again, any of those answers are correct, but your answer will stand out and resonate more with the interviewer if you go into detail and ideally, tailor your answer to the traits required in the position you’re discussing.
Imagine you’re looking for a career with a non-profit organization whose purpose is to provide aid to the homeless, the sick, and the poor.
Claiming Mother Teresa as your greatest inspiration would be a sensible answer to the question.
She devoted most of her life to charitable work, helping the homeless, sick, and poor.
Or, if you were interviewing for a leadership position, you could use someone past or present who showed exemplary leadership as your inspiration.
Just be sure to pick someone you really admire because there’s a good chance your body language will give you away if you’re lying.
And yes, don’t be surprised if the recruiter or manager has some skill at reading body language.
The point is, your answer not only provides some insight into the person you aspire to be, but also highlights the type of behavioral patterns and attitudes you admire and respect.
And that will translate into the type of person you would be on the job.
Imagine you’re interviewing for an accounting position. The soft skills you’ll need are:
You could use some famous accountants as your answer, perhaps someone like William Deloitte or William Cooper, the founders of Deloitte & Touche and Price Waterhouse Coopers respectively.
Or you could think outside the box and use as your inspiration someone who was or is well known for their critical thinking or problem-solving skills.
Of course, if you go this route, you need to clearly communicate your reasoning to your interviewer.
If you were to throw out Albert Einstein as your inspiration, that might not make sense to the person or people interviewing you because he’s a well-known physicist. But dig a little deeper and he’s also famous for being a problem solver and critical thinker, so you could talk about how he inspired you in those areas.
Throw an answer like that out and trust me, you’ll gain some serious credibility points.
As you can see, there’s no one “right” answer to this interview question. The key is to be able to explain why you choose the person and connect the dots between their story and your career and life goals.
Next, we’ll look at word-for-word who inspires you examples using people, past or present, who led a life that meshes with your career path and interests.
Someone who inspired me in my personal life and work is Mother Teresa. She dedicated her life to helping those less fortunate, and I’d like to achieve a similar story when I look back on my life. Also, I believe that her desire to help others made her a great leader, even though few would think of her that way. One of my favorite quotes by her is, “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
This sample answer would be excellent if interviewing for a position at a charitable organization or other socially conscious organization.
It’s also a good answer for any role utilizing soft skills like leadership, empathy, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and more.
No matter what your religious beliefs are (and I would recommend you don’t address them in the job interview), using this example answer with the reasons above would work in your favor and help you land any leadership role in an organization that values helping others.
Albert Einstein has inspired me in my career. His theories and vision enabled some of the technology we take for granted today, like GPS, lasers, atomic clocks, and much more. He also struggled with and had to overcome self-doubt, like so many people do. The fact that even he faced self-doubt is inspiring and reminds me to be persistent and believe in myself.
Albert Einstein would be a great choice for the “Who inspires you” interview question for anyone seeking a position in a company that requires creativity. For example:
I’ve been inspired by Michael Jordan. He was talented, but more importantly, he was willing to outwork the competition and focus intensely on his goals. He was relentless and never stopped pushing himself to improve. One excellent piece of advice he shared was to never forget the fundamentals. “The minute you get away from fundamentals, whether it’s proper technique, work ethic, or mental preparation, the bottom can fall out of your game, your schoolwork, your job, whatever you’re doing.”
This is an interview answer that you could use for virtually any type of job.
In the corporate world, there are fundamentals critical to your success. Each job position will have its own fundamentals, but Jordan’s advice is that whatever they are, keep at them.
He also didn’t let failure stop him, which you can also say was inspiring to you. Ironically, when he was in high school, he was disqualified from the varsity basketball team because he wasn’t tall enough or good enough.
What did he do? Well, he eventually grew but more importantly, he practiced until he was good enough.
All of the factors above make Michael Jordan an excellent choice for someone you find inspiring.
Note that you could also choose a more recent athlete such as Kobe Bryant if you prefer (who happened to have a similar mindset, competitiveness, and mental toughness to Michael Jordan).
Since becoming an accountant, I’ve been inspired by William Deloitte, one of the fathers of accounting. I’m inspired by his innovation, leadership, and interpersonal skills. These traits allowed him to make powerful connections and accomplish a tremendous amount in his career. He was ambitious and aimed high, too, which are values that are important to me. He started his career at 15 and opened his own practice at 25. He went on to found one of the largest accounting firms in the world, so his story is a reminder to stay ambitious and motivated in life.
This is a good answer to “Who inspires you?” if interviewing for any position in accounting or bookkeeping.
Remember, it’s always a good idea to consider the job you’re discussing when you answer this interview question.
My father is someone who inspired me throughout life and is the reason I got into the marketing industry. When he was 19, he started a small local marketing firm and grew it to the point of having 200 clients throughout the state. He recognized that building strong relationships is just as important as being competent in your work, and he became excellent at both through consistent effort. He was also an inspiration because nobody told him to go down the marketing route, and he didn’t study marketing in school. Instead, he read local newspapers, saw opportunities to help businesses market themselves better in the local community, and went door-to-door to get his first clients.
As you can see, it’s okay to say a personal connection or family member inspired you.
But if choosing friends, parents, or other relatives/personal connections, you need to be ready to show something exceptional they did and exactly how that was an inspiration in your life and career. Otherwise, choose someone else as your inspirational figure.
Now you have 5 examples to the question, “Who inspires you?”
I’ve mentioned a few times that there are no wrong answers to this interview question. But there are some mistakes you should avoid when giving your interview answer…
The #1 mistake to avoid when saying who inspires you in an interview:
If there’s anything we’ve learned in the last several years, it’s that there are some topics and people who are completely polarizing. Many people are one hundred percent for or against something or someone.
Why does that matter?
Because you have no idea where the person who’s interviewing you stands on the subject. And if you voice a strong like or dislike contrary to theirs, that could count against you.
So it’s best to stay away from anyone or anything highly controversial or polarizing, such as most political figures or issues.
Further mistakes to avoid:
To help you gather more ideas for potential answers to “Who inspired you in your life?” here are some general types of people you can mention as your inspiration.
If you follow the steps and sample answers above, you’ll be ready to answer “Who inspires you?” in your next interview.
If you can’t think of someone to name and the examples above don’t work for you, don’t panic.
Google is your friend for coming up with more answers and people you find inspiring.
If you’re not sure what soft skills and traits are most important for the position your interview is for, you can do a search on something like “soft skills needed for…” and just fill in either the field or role you’re hoping to get hired for.
Also, look at the job description before your interview. Notice which skills and traits are mentioned first and/or most often.
Then, you can try searching for someone motivational that matches the soft skills required for the job. Try something like a search for “examples of people with a good work ethic.”
This preparation will help you wow the interviewer so you can land the job.
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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