How to Answer “What Inspires You” in a Job Interview

How to Answer “What Inspires You” in a Job Interview

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The question “What inspires you?” in a job interview is nothing new. It’s one of those common questions that interviewers ask to get to know applicants beyond what they write on their resumes. Cliche as this question may be, answering it well can help give your interviewer a glimpse into the values and traits that make you the one for the job.

To answer the question “What inspires you?” in a job interview well, you need to understand the motivation behind the question, be honest about what inspires you and why, keep your response short but meaningful, and make sure that you stay relevant to the job you’re applying for. 

If you’re preparing for an interview and have no idea what to say, I got you. In this article, I’ll let you in on how you can ace this question every time, no matter what job you’re applying for.

Recommendation: Find Jobs on Salarship.

Why Do Employers Want to Know What Inspires Me?

The first key to answering this question well is knowing the motivation behind this question. It does sound cliche, which may make you feel like coming up with a cliche answer (that doesn’t actually resonate with you) will do just fine.

But trust me on this, your interviewer has probably talked to hundreds of other people and asked this question too many times. They most likely have heard all the “proper” responses you can ever imagine, so giving another one won’t make you stand out.

Employers Want to Understand Your Motivation for Applying

This question is often asked so that the interviewer may understand why you are interested in the job. Was it a job vacancy that you saw randomly on the Internet? Or did you search it out? Did you wait for an opening because you really want to be part of the organization? 

All of these things matter a huge deal because employers want to hire people who believe in their vision and who value the work that they do. They don’t want to hire the guy who doesn’t care about what they do or that didn’t make an effort to find out what they’re really about.

Employers Want to Know You Better

Another obvious reason why interviewers ask this question is so that they may know you a little better–beyond what you’re like on your resume. They want to know whether you’re a fresh graduate with no formal experience but with a track record of hard work and diligence. 

They want to know whether you’re inclined to jump from one company to the next, always searching for a “greener pasture” or whether you’re seeing this job as a mere jump-off point for where you actually want to be. 

Employers Want to Know Whether You’re a Good Fit

The question “What inspires you?” is a good opportunity with which to size up an applicant and determine whether they fit the company’s culture, standards, and needs. It’s also a way to determine whether your values align with theirs.

1st Tip: Be Honest About Your Answer

The advice “Be yourself” is actually helpful when answering this question. Sure, you may want (even need) to put your best foot forward, but it’s important to remain true to who you are instead of claiming to be something that you’re not. 

Why It’s Best to Give an Honest Answer

Give an answer that truly resonates with you, and you will find that it will benefit you even more than when you simply copy from someone else. Here are some reasons why.

Your Interview Will Probably Tell If You’re Being Phony

Believe it or not, people can tell when you’re being insincere. Your interviewer will want to get to know you, and they won’t achieve that when you give an answer that isn’t true to you or that sounds like something you just copied from the Internet.

Moreover, the best way to leave a lasting impression is when you allow yourself to shine–your personality, values, and experiences. Miss out on that, and you would be wasting a good opportunity to set yourself apart from other candidates vying for the same job.

And when your interviewer feels that they can’t take you at face value, it will be highly unlikely that they will go looking for your resume when the time comes that they need to finalize the selection.

You Can Be Most Eloquent When You’re Keeping It Real

When you’re digging deep within yourself for the answer, the better you will be able to elaborate when needed, and the more spontaneous you can be during the interview. You don’t have to worry about not memorizing your answer or not knowing well enough what to say.

2nd Tip: Keep Your Answer Short and Sweet

When answering this question, keep your response clear and complete yet concise. This will ensure that you don’t lose your interviewer’s interest and that you don’t swerve to details that are unnecessary or unhelpful. 

Moreover, making sure that you don’t take too long in your responses is one way to show respect for your interviewer’s time. They most likely have other things to do other than talk to you, and you don’t want to keep them longer than necessary. 

As a guide, it should take you no longer than two minutes to answer the question. To make sure you don’t go over, you can time yourself when rehearsing, making sure that you don’t include any fillers like “um…” or speak too fast.

How to Prepare a Short but On-Point Answer

Keeping your answer short but complete takes some practice. The trick is to keep your answer short but not too short so that your interviewer is left feeling like you’re uninterested or aloof, but at the same time not too long that you end up sharing your entire life story.

Here are some tips to help you do just that.

Write Your Thoughts down

You may be an excellent speaker or someone who just has the gift of the gab. But when it comes to an interviewer that matters to you, you can’t afford to wing it. If you want to ace the interview, you have to come prepared, and that preparation needs to be done days in advance.

What you can do is think about the question and come up with a draft of your answer. Let your ideas flow naturally, and refrain from editing the first time. Once you have a first draft, go over it again, this time to revise it. Polish your answer so that it flows, is succinct, and has a clear message.

Moreover, remember to write your response for speaking–in other words, write as you would speak. This will make it easier for you to practice later on.

Rehearse It

Now that you have a written guide, practice, practice, and practice. Practice not just the words, but the tone, the pauses, and the attitude that you wear when you give the answer. All of that plays into the interview. After all, the impression you leave behind won’t be just because of the words you say but how you say them.

Familiarize, but Don’t Memorize

You have to know your answer by heart, but don’t memorize it. You will risk sounding impersonal or like you’re reciting someone else’s thoughts. Worse, if your nerves get the best of you, you may even forget your answer entirely.

3rd Tip: Make Your Answer Relevant to the Role

Your answer may be wonderful, but if you’re not able to relate it to the job you’re applying for, it’s not as great as it can be. To truly ace the question “What inspires you?” you have to make it relevant. It has to make sense in the context of the role and the organization that you want to join.

Here are some ways to do that.

Find a Connection Between What Inspires You and Your Work Ethic

Does the thing that inspires you allow you to aspire to be a more hardworking person or to go above and beyond what is expected of you? Then don’t forget to mention that. This way, you are able to communicate what kind of employee you will be, and how valuable you will be to the organization.

Mention How It Affects Your Professional Goals

If you are inspired by people who made the lives of those around them better because of their passion for what they did, you can mention how that affects the career path that you want for yourself. You can say that you’re not looking to simply work and get paid, but to make a difference in your field.

It’s important to show how your inspiration drives you, and what that means in the context of you working with them. 

Sample Answers 

To help you plan an answer that your interviewer won’t forget, here are some sample answers that you can use as templates.

Sample #1

What inspires me are the strong women in conservation, like yourself, who are proving that environmental protection is not a man’s job–it is everyone’s job. Ever since I was young, I was surrounded by male conservationists, scientists, and experts, who made me feel like I was out of place, and that I couldn’t pursue the field simply because I was a woman. 

Strong women in conservation, like (name), have made an indelible mark on me and pushed me to work hard and persist even when I’m faced with lots of difficult hurdles. 

And I believe that my experience and knowledge, together with the lessons I learned from these women who mentored me will enable me to make a worthwhile contribution not just to your organization but to the field of environmental conservation.

Sample #2

My mother inspires me. My father passed away when I was very young, and so she took on the role of both mother and father to my siblings and me. I saw her push herself beyond what even she believed she was capable of, and she was able to give our family a good life. That was her dream, and she made it happen.

She taught me that nothing is impossible with hard work and determination, and I will bring that with me as I, hopefully, work in your law firm. 


I hope that these tips will enable you to dazzle your interviewer when the dreaded “What inspires you?” question comes. However, don’t forget that all you need to give an excellent answer to this question is already in you. You just have to dig it out.


About The Author

Nathan Brunner
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Nathan Brunner is a mathematician who cares about the job market.

He is the owner of Salarship, a job search engine where less-skilled candidates can find accessible employment opportunities.