How to answer, “Tell me about a time when you had to motivate someone.”

And a sample story.

You might have had to motivate someone to do their work, whether it was a coworker or subordinate. They might have been the bottleneck that was holding up a major project. This is frustrating, especially if you like to finish projects before the deadline, nonetheless on time.

Motivation

Employers are also sensitive to this conundrum because projects finished late cost money

Further, someone who consistently fails to do their part of a project is a major problem who will most likely have to be let go; and this is a huge cost the employer must undertake. Estimates put the cost of a bad hire at 30 percent of the person’s first annual salary.

Therefore, you should expect to be asked this question during an interview: “Tell us about a time when you had to motivate someone.”  This is a common behavioral-based question.

Four thoughts to keep in mind when answering this question

Although this is a tough question to answer, there are four thoughts to keep in mind that will help you answer this question:

  1. Interviewers want to see how you’re going to respond to difficult questions.
  2. Understand why the interviewers are asking the question.
  3. Have your (short) story ready.

For details about how to successfully answer behavioral interview questions, read—Tell Me About a Time When You Failed and Smart Strategies to Answer Behavioral Interview Questions.

How to answer a behavioral-based question

The last thought–have your story ready–is what I’ll address in this article.

A vague answer is not going to impress interviewers. In fact, it might eliminate you from consideration. Remember, this is a problem employers struggle with, so interviewers want a specific answer.

What’s important in answering this question is to go into the interview with a specific situation in mind. This is the beginning of your story. The remaining parts of your story are: your task in the situation, the actions you took to solve the situation, and the result.

The acronym is STAR. Keep in mind to guide you through your answer. Let’s look at a STAR story to answer: “Tell me about a time when you had to motivate someone.”

Situation

Our company was going to participate in an annual trade show at the Javits Center in New York City. The date was approaching in two months.

Task

As the manager of marketing, it was my responsibility to coordinate the trade show. There were several details I had to handle, including making hotel arrangements for sales and the VP, coordinating transportation for our booth, writing content for social media and the website, and additional duties.

It was up to the sales manager to notify our partners, OEMs, and VARs that we were attending.

Actions

Three months before the show, I sent an email to the manager of the sales department asking him to begin the process of sending out the emails. I received no reply at that time.

A week later I called to remind him that the emails had to be sent out in order to give our partners enough time to schedule the event into their calendars. He said he would get on it immediately.

A week after that I ran into him in the lunch room, where I asked him how the emails were going. Sheepishly he told me he hadn’t gotten to sending them. This was making me nervous, and I think he realized it.

Later that day, I went to his office and told him that other trade shows were happening around that time and we had to get confirmation from our partners that they were going to attend ours. I hoped he would understand the gravity of the situation.

By Friday of that week, the emails still hadn’t been sent out, so I decided that he needed some motivation. It’s not like me to go over people’s heads when I can handle the situation myself.

On Monday I crafted an email to VP of sales and marketing telling her that all the task for the trade show were handled, save for the emails that our sales manager had to send out. Then I asked the sales manager to come to my office to review it. I told him that the email was going to be sent out by the end of the day.

Result

This was all the motivation he needed. By the end of the day, he sent out the emails to our OEMs, VARs, and partners. There were a handful of our partners who said they couldn’t make it because they weren’t given enough notice, but most of them were looking forward to it.

The sales manager came to me a week later to apologize for not sending out the emails in a timely manner and appreciated me not going to my VP about the matter. I told him I could help him with his time management skills, and he thanked me for the offer.

Bonus

What I Learned

I learned that I should have been more persuasive earlier in the process. I acted too slowly. I also learned that I can motivate my colleagues without having to get upper management involved.

Read One very important component of your behavioral-based interview answer.

The bottom line

Anticipate that you will be asked behavioral questions in interviews. As usual, the best defense is a good offense—have examples of how you have handled this situation, structured as STARs (plus Learning) so you can clearly present both the situation and the positive result from your action, demonstrating your ability to successfully motivate others to support your employer’s goals.

This article originally appeared on www.job-hunt.org.

Photo: Flickr, Jesper Sehested

 

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