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How to Answer the Interview Question: "Describe a Situation in Which You Influenced or Motivated People"

How to Answer the Interview Question: "Describe a Situation in Which You Influenced or Motivated People"

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What Is Motivation, and How Is It Relevant to the Workplace?

Simply put, motivation is a positive contributor to significant work outcomes such as performance and achievement, leading to greater productivity and wellbeing.

Motivation involves an individual’s ability to keep their tasks focused towards the long and short-term goals, even when other emotions or distractions arise.

Motivated individuals and those who can motivate others are pivotal members of any workforce; when motivation is present, it creates an environment that is focused and positive.

Why Do Employers Ask This Question?

This question is very commonly asked at job interviews as a situational question, so it is wise to be prepared to answer this with some real-life examples that will help to show you in your best light.

Asking this question makes logical sense if you are applying for a role within a supervisory or managerial capacity.

However, this question is also often asked for other roles, as a way to gauge how you interact with different personalities and how you operate as a positive, valued member of a team.

Sticking together as part of a team, no matter what, requires a decent pinch of drive and strength, but it also necessitates interpersonal abilities.

You may have the skill and drive to motivate yourself, but what if a member of your team is struggling? Are you capable of picking your colleagues up when they fall?

Without motivation, you have no productivity; without productivity, work doesn’t happen.

You may think that experience, knowledge or other skills may outweigh motivation. Yet, you could be the most accredited, educated and experienced employee in your company but without motivation to complete work, you would not be of much use.

Motivation makes the world – or in this case a workplace – go round.

What Employers Are Looking for in Your Answer

This question gives you a great opportunity to sell yourself based on concrete real-life experiences where you specifically have shone.

From the recruitment professional’s perspective, this is a behavioral question loosely designed to gauge your problem-solving ability and personality.

An Understanding of Your Leadership and Motivation Style

This is particular to roles where you have responsibility for other employees, perhaps in a team.

If you have applied for a higher-level position like that, it will be important to understand what kind of leader you will be.

It will also be equally important for the recruiter to discover whether your leadership style will fit into the company dynamic and overall business approach.

How You Work With Different Types of People

Depending on your answer, this is going to show your communication skills and levels of emotional intelligence through your ability to adapt and react to different personality types.

These collaboration skills are important, whether you are in a managerial or team position.

If employees feel understood by their managers and other members of their workplace team, they are more likely to be content in their employment, producing better work results, and therefore overall representing the company in its best light.

That You Can Handle Challenges and Effectively Problem Solve

Problems and difficulties can arise in any business, and recruiters will be looking to see how you will be able to manage demanding situations with a degree of steadiness and without becoming overwhelmed or indifferent, which can lead to a lack of motivation.

If this question is given within the context of a senior-level employee position, your interviewer may be looking for you to demonstrate the necessary social skills and charisma to diffuse conflict between different personalities, to keep motivation and therefore productivity levels stabilized.

Depending on the way this question is worded, you may need to think quickly on your feet in order to come up with an answer for an imaginary scenario given by your interviewer.

How Else Might This Question Be Asked?

  • "Give an example of a time you have motivated others"
  • "Give an example of a time that you have motivated yourself"
  • "Give an example of a time you have motivated your team"
  • "Give an example of a time you have helped a colleague who was struggling to stay motivated"
  • "How do you keep yourself motivated on a day-to-day basis?"
  • "How would you keep yourself motivated when carrying out a task that you didn’t enjoy?"

How to Answer the Interview Question

Choosing the Right Situation to Talk About

In order to pick the right example for the interview, make sure to thoroughly research the company’s values and consider how your answer chimes with these.

The way the company presents itself via its user interface, social media, website and other promotional materials will give you a lot of insight as to their corporate culture is.

Researching present employees on LinkedIn is also a great way to gain insight into the team dynamic and what sort of employees the company already retains within its workforce.

Structure Your Response Using the STAR Method

Using the STAR method will ensure that your answer remains concise and on-track to help you eliminate the possibility of rambling or going off-topic.

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result and is explained in more depth in our dedicated article.

Include What You Learned From the Situation

Adding what you have learnt from the situation will add credence to your actions.

It will also give you a chance to explain further why you feel your response to a situation was a positive, impactful one.

This can be particularly relevant when talking about how you stayed motivated after failing.

You will also be additionally demonstrating your knowledge of motivational techniques.

Example Answers

When answering this question, consider carefully how to tailor your answer to the job position (whether senior or entry-level), and to have several rehearsed examples to mind so that you can pull the most relevant one to explain to your interviewer.

1. Management Position: Art Director

This example shows a strong level of leadership and a forward-thinking approach.

This type of management would suit a company with a more relaxed office culture, due to the reward system mentioned.

In linking the reward system to the employee’s personal life, the manager here is making a smart move to ensure that the employee feels she works in an environment that will give her the opportunities she genuinely enjoys outside of work.

I was working with an employee that had recently been moved to my department, whose working methods were not familiar to me as a result.

I met with her personally to discuss the project, and during the discourse checked in with her regarding what she feels motivates her, and how she likes to be rewarded if she completes a job especially well.

She answered that she finds she enjoys working as autonomously as possible (she is a trusted senior-level employee), but also likes to receive words of support and affirmation, and would prefer to be rewarded in a way where she can spend a little quality time away from her desk.

Now that I am aware of how to reward her, and how she deals well with motivating herself with words of encouragement, we have a great working relationship. She really appreciates a reward system that works for her and taps into the value she places on her work-life balance.

How to Answer the Interview Question: Describe a Situation in Which You Influenced or Motivated People
How to Answer the Interview Question: Describe a Situation in Which You Influenced or Motivated People

2. Entry Level Position: Junior Travel Consultant

If you are joining a company at the start of your career, having solid work examples to hand may be challenging.

However, with some consideration, you should be able to use work experience, placements, volunteering or an internship to your advantage.

This example shows a candidate that has a strong sense of teamwork and a drive to succeed.

It also gives the example within an interesting context that gives the impression of a candidate that is motivated to help and is interested in other cultures.

This answer could easily suit a formal and informal office culture.

During my gap year work experience, I was working with a team of other colleagues from different cultures and backgrounds, building a village school in Thailand. We didn’t know each other well, but we were all working towards a specific deadline where our building project would need to be finished.

Although I couldn’t yet sense a lack of motivation, I felt it would be good to have something to bond us together. Food is something that is a great social bonder and motivator, irrespective of background, so after having a meeting with the rest of the team, we decided to end the project on a high and cook a big group dinner together once the project had been completed.

By suggesting the initial team meeting, we all felt much more comfortable communicating with each other which kept our spirits buoyant, and by having something fun to look forward to, we finished our project on a high.

3. Senior Level/Management Position: Digital Marketing Account Manager

This example shows that the candidate in question has a good level of intuition and emotional intelligence, sensitively dealing with an employee instead of jumping to a conclusion.

If the manager had initially berated them, it would have had far-reaching consequences for the well-being and motivation of the employee, and therefore the overall work output in the long and the short term.

This answer would suit a company with a more formal business culture – details regarding goal setting and the wording here would match such an atmosphere.

I was working with a member of my team on a project which I knew that she would ordinarily not only enjoy but usually complete ahead of the schedule.

However, she missed several early deadlines, which was unusual and also a cause for concern.

As we were working remotely, I hadn't had a chance to witness her mood or catch up with her properly, so I arranged a meeting with her out of the office face-to-face for an informal coffee so that she could air any problems or concerns in a comfortable neutral location.

As it turned out, she was finding the project more difficult than expected, and due to her previous record of completing projects early, was struggling with her own levels of perfectionism and expectation.

We were able to have a frank discussion about deadlines being there to be realistic, and not necessarily to be beaten, and I was also able to put in some coping strategies in place for her which helped in the short and long term.

This worked well and definitely strengthened my work relationship with my team overall. It also gave me an insight into the pressure employees can put themselves under and how to manage expectations.

4. Graduate/Entry Level Position: Junior Copywriter

This answer shows a candidate who is brave enough to state that there have been past projects that haven’t been as enjoyable – this is realistic and shows integrity and honesty.

There is also a strong sense of self-awareness; not only does the candidate in question attack the project in a practical way (managing their time effectively by breaking the task up into chunks), but they also know themselves well enough to support their unique personality in the best way possible.

This shows the recruiter that this candidate can be trusted to self-manage on occasion, and will also be self-motivated enough to be able to keep on task without becoming distracted.

I was struggling to feel motivated on a project that I just wasn’t enjoying at work.

It was a project that required me to work alone, and my line manager was also away from work at the time, so it was down to me to construct a realistic schedule with arbitrary deadlines to work towards. To keep myself motivated, I took the time to scale the work into bite-sized chunks.

I also made sure that I kept connected with work colleagues in other ways so that I didn’t feel too isolated – I know that I am a naturally extroverted person whose comfort zone isn’t naturally weighted towards lone working.

I also made sure that I checked in with the client on a regular basis so that I could draw some motivation from positive interaction with them.

The project went well, and when my manager returned to the office, they were pleased that I had managed the project alone without having to call in for extra help.

What to Avoid

Generic Answers

Keep your answers as specific as possible.

Take time to research the company’s corporate culture and match your answer accordingly.

Irrelevant Information

Be aware of only including relevant information.

Pay attention to the key terms used within the question and do not deviate, as you will risk losing your recruiter’s attention.

Giving clear and succinct answers will also show your skills as a communicator.

Using an Unsuitable Example

You may have a wonderful motivational story from your last job, but before you use it for your current interview, make sure that it fits well.

For example, if this is an illustration of how you motivated a colleague within a sales role, and you are now applying for an internal role in a different department, consider an example from a different place of work that is a more relevant match.

Overlooking Your Conclusion

Make sure that you include a solid close to your example. Don't tail off; give a good, positive spin to your answer.

The more you practice your answers, the better chance you will have at giving a specific, definite conclusion confidently.

Not Practicing

If possible, try to practice your answers with the help of a friend or trusted family member so that you are prepared and will have a selection of answers to pick from, rather than leaving things to chance on the day of the interview.

Equally, do not fall into the trap of over-rehearsing; this can give a note of dishonesty. Strike a balance so that your answers appear confident and not learned by rote.

Final Thoughts

This question is likely to appear at many job interviews. It is a way for the candidate to reveal their personality and to give a natural insight into their interpersonal skills, levels of emotional intelligence and likelihood of fitting into a team dynamic.

Because of this, preparing your answers and considering your approach, using feedback from friends and family members is a smart move that will help to make a positive overall impression at your interview.

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Or explore the Interview Advice / Interview Questions sections.