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Candidate Help & Advice

Interview: What Inspires You?

Who Are You photo from ShutterstockMost recruiters want to know the single most important thing about you, which is: do you know yourself? You may not hear the literal question, “what inspires you?” during a job interview. However, your being able to articulate what inspires you, may be the linchpin to scoring the job you want.

Inspiration is that thing that keeps you going: the North Star of your career.

In a media interview last week, I was asked, “What has been the single greatest driver behind your career?” What the interviewer was really asking is, “What explains the choices you made?

Does this sound like something you have to answer?

You may need to answer, “what inspires you?” even when that’s not exactly the question on the table. In fact, you may need to address the nature of your inspiration in your cover letter or email, just so you can get a meeting with the recruiter or hiring manager.

Is this you?

Perhaps your resume leaves you open to an accusation of job-hopping. Or, you were fired or laid off, your job was eliminated, or you quit without much notice. Perhaps your work experience is varied. Perhaps you’ve moved from one industry to another. Perhaps your education doesn’t match your current aspirations.

For example, I have a coaching client who studied to be a mechanical engineer, and did a stint in a manufacturing plant where she measured job performance on a production line. Every hour she sat watching employees and charting their widget production on a spreadsheet. She thought she would lose her mind. Turns out she isn’t suited to do the job she is educated to do. After taking one extension class in strategic marketing, Daria wants to transform herself. She wants to transition to marketing, without going back for an MBA.

Of course she can. She simply needs to explain the source of her inspiration – NOT what is inspiring her change of mind. She needs to explain that the same thing that inspired her to study mechanical engineering is the very thing that inspires her choice to move into marketing.

Here’s what I recommended she say:

Of course it seems unusual to first ‘know’ that mechanical engineering was the best choice, and now know with equal certainty that marketing is where I belong. So, I want to explain the source of inspiration for my career choices. I love measuring processes and progress. I love finding the way to optimize, replicate and continuously improve what is successful in business.

I found out that a marketing department needs this approach. The inspiration for my career is to be logical and systematic, in my thinking and contribution. Because marketing is creative and experimental in its approach to generating responses to advertising and other messaging, I can add value with a systems approach to assess what marketing programs are working.

Do you have an unusual or problematic work history? Could you benefit from a story that explains what happened, and why you are a great hire? I will help you for free. Just tell me your problem. Email me at [email protected]. Subject line: Inspire.