Interview Question: How To Answer “Who Inspires You?”(+ Example Answers)

By Mike Simpson

Who inspires you? It’s an interview question that feels out of place. After all, why would the hiring manager care? It has nothing to do with your ability to do the job, right?

Well, the hiring manager does have a reason for asking the “Who inspired you?” interview question. If you’re wondering what that is and how you can craft a stellar answer, here’s what you need to know.

What Is Inspiration?

First, let’s take a second to talk about what inspiration is in the first place. Typically, you can’t properly discuss who inspired you if you don’t know what it entails.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, inspiration – in this context – is “someone or something that gives you ideas for doing something.” In the end, that’s a pretty accurate synopsis.

Inspiration of this type involves getting a strong sense of direction or desire to take action based on the efforts, perspectives, or positions of another. Essentially, you’re motivated to excel or take a particular path because of something another person stands for or achieved.

Some inspiration is incidental in that the person you admire wasn’t aiming to give you a particular idea about the direction of your life. However, some is intentional. For example, parents strive to inspire their children to succeed. Teachers want to inspire students, and mentors feel the same about mentees.

Being able to discuss your sources of inspiration openly works in your favor. It helps you showcase your intrinsic motivations for excelling, allowing you to highlight why you find a particular career path meaningful. It can also highlight what may keep you pressing forward during challenging times, as your motivation comes from deep within.

So, is there a right kind of people to look up to if you want to answer this question successfully? Well, yes and no. Technically anyone could do the trick if you can demonstrate how they’re inspiring you can benefit the hiring manager. However, some people are easier to sell in that context than others.

Generally, it’s better to stick with broadly respected or clearly respectable figures. Anyone controversial may work against you, even if your reasons are valid and don’t have anything to do with the potentially divisive points.

MIKE'S TIP: You may be wondering, “Is it okay to use one of my parents to answer this question?” Generally, it’s an okay choice. However, only go down this road if you can provide specific examples about why your parent is an inspiration that most people would agree with. For example, saying that your parent is an inspiration because of how they navigated their battle with cancer – outlining an anecdote or two to demonstrate your point – and his journey is what inspired you to study oncology, that’s potentially legitimate. If all you can say is that your parents were “hardworking” or something similarly generic, you’re better off going in another direction.

Why Does the Hiring Manager Ask This Question?

Generally speaking, hiring managers ask the “Who inspires you?” interview question to learn more about your motivations for pursuing various paths. It can also give them clues regarding why you have specific traits, depending on the situation and how you present it.

In many cases, when you choose people to look up to, that also speaks a bit about your values. Often, we admire those who walk paths we respect, so who you discuss can give the hiring manager some surprising insights about what you view as important.

Finally, the person you select can give the hiring manager ideas about your overall personality. Research shows that people are drawn to individuals they feel are similar to themselves. Since that’s the case, the hiring manager may assume you have a similar personality to the person.

Common Mistakes When Answering This Question

While you might assume that there isn’t a wrong way to answer this question, that isn’t technically true. One of the biggest mistakes is choosing a controversial or divisive figure. While you might admire them, the hiring manager may feel incredibly differently.

Generally speaking, it’s best to stay away from current political figures, religious icons, and many entertainers. People often have strong, gut reactions to people in those arenas, which may not work in your favor. However, political, religious, or entertainment-oriented jobs can be an exception.

Another big misstep is not having examples to highlight why the person inspires you. Simply listing off traits isn’t going to make a strong answer. Instead, you need to describe a moment where what the person brings to the table is demonstrated, making it easier to see why the impact was so great.

You also want to avoid talking about multiple people. Regardless of whether they’re inspiring, your answer becomes unfocused. As a result, it’s better to concentrate on one person instead of several.

Finally, never say you inspire yourself. Even if you’ve had an incredibly challenging journey, it makes you seem self-centered, and that’s never good.

Tips for Answering This Question

Creating a great answer to the “Who inspired you?” interview question might seem tricky, but you can do it if you use the right approach. If you have no idea where to start, these three tips can help.

1. Start with Some Reflection

Usually, you need to look inward if you’re going to pick someone who inspires you. Consider the various people you’ve encountered in your life, particularly those that you respect and admire. As you come up with options, see if you can identify moments that capture why they had an impact.

If you’re having trouble finding one that affected your life in a way you want to discuss during a job interview, turn your attention to a new direction. Think about noteworthy or historical public figures that may fit the bill.

With the latter approach, you do want to be wary of clichés. While some figures are undoubtedly inspiring, they may be part of answers the hiring manager has heard before. Since you want your answer to stand out, consider figures who aren’t likely go-to options for people.

2. Come Up with a Specific Example

As mentioned above, simply listing positive traits people possess and saying that’s why you find them inspiring isn’t going to work. Instead, you need to make the answer a quality story by discussing an example that highlights why you find them inspirational.

Choose a moment you were either involved in or directly observed for people you know personally. For public figures where there wasn’t any interaction, focus on moments where they overcame relevant challenges on a path toward success.

3. Keep the Answer Brief

When you admire someone, you might feel you could happily talk about them for hours. The problem is, you need to keep your interview moving forward.

Since that’s the case, keep your answer reasonably short. Ideally, you should be able to wrap up your response in less than two minutes. In some cases, even a minute is fine, depending on the story you choose to showcase why you find them inspiring.

If you’re concerned about the length, practice will help you keep it under control. Decide what you want to cover, and then time yourself. If you’re in the right zone, repeat the process until you’ve got the content and timing down. If you’re not, think about what you can remove to get it under the two-minute threshold.

How to Answer the Interview Question “Who Inspired You?”

Now comes the moment you’ve been waiting for: how to answer the “Who inspires you?” interview question.

So, how do you get on the right track, not just with crafting your response but picking a great person to discuss? Well, you’ll want to start with the Tailoring Method.

The Tailoring Method teaches you to focus on relevancy. It’s a strategy based on addressing the hiring manager’s needs, ensuring your answer relates to their priorities and impresses.

After that, it’s mainly about refinement. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to help you out, followed by some example answers:

Step-by-Step Guide

Making sure your answer is on-point isn’t overly challenging. Mainly, you want to touch on critical details using a strategic approach. Here’s how to do it.

1. Choose the Example

When you begin your answer, the first sentence should always include the person’s name and the assertion that you find them inspiring. After that, it’s time to talk about why.

Ideally, you want an anecdote that showcases the skills and traits you want to emulate. That will make your connection to them clearer and ensures your answer is engaging.

2. Outline the Story

Once you know which example you want to share, break it down into four major components by answering specific questions. First, what prompted the moment to occur? Second, what happened in that moment? Third, why was that moment meaningful to you? Fourth, how did that put you on the path you’re walking now or the one you’d like to walk?

If you cover those bases, you’re providing enough information. Ideally, you want to limit yourself to just a couple of sentences for each point. That way, your answer is thorough but concise

3. Practice (and Cut) for Time

As mentioned above, keep your answer under two minutes whenever possible. With your story outline created, craft a response that follows the narrative path. If you want, record your response. That way, you have the length of the answer and a recording you can review if you need to continue practicing or cut content.

Continue rehearsing and refining until the timing is right. Then, practice that answer until it sticks.

Who Inspires You? Example Answers

Now that you know how to answer the “Who inspired you?” interview question, it’s time for some examples. Here is a look at how you can approach the question, using different types of people for each sample.

1. Family Member

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

My older sister is easily my biggest inspiration. When she was a high school student, she was in an accident that left her severely injured, with years of recovery ahead of her. While many people would let that get them down or use it as an excuse to not move their life forward, she didn’t.

She was diligent about her physical therapy and returned to her studies as soon as she was cleared. In the end, she didn’t just manage to recover from her injury; she graduated from high school with honors and landed an academic scholarship for her top-choice college. That level of commitment continues to inspire me to this day.

2. Historical Figure

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

One person I greatly admire is Charles Darwin. His contributions to modern biology are, of course, inspiring. However, he also endured harsh conditions during his five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle. Additionally, while we acknowledge the validity of his initial steps into evolution theory, he was considered a heretic during his day.

Ultimately, his bravery, dedication, and conviction are all admirable in my book. Couple that with his assertion that evidence – not blind belief – should be a guiding force, I’m left nothing short of inspired.

3. Mentor

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

My greatest inspiration is Ms. Jane Doe, a former colleague who ultimately showed me that my career could be far more than I initially expected. While I was originally hired into an administrative role in a tech department, Ms. Doe quickly became my advocate. She requested I assist on projects involving more technical work, something my manager supported.

Ms. Doe continued to expand my skill set, because she felt I had potential. As time passed, I developed a passion for the work, particularly handling site installations. My experience led me to return to college and get my degree, allowing me to officially enter the field that Ms. Doe propelled me toward.

Putting It All Together

At this point, you should have a solid idea of how to answer the “Who inspires you?” interview question. Use the tips above to your advantage, ensuring you can craft an outstanding answer whenever the need arises.

About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.