How to Answer “Who Impacted You Most in Your Career?”

A tricky question that deserves a thoughtful answer.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Who impacted you most in your career?

Consider the following statement: “Companies value personality just as much as skills.” To what extent do you believe this to be true?

The answer is that personality is, in fact, up there right next to skill set and experience, with the most desirable traits including confidence, honesty and authenticity. While confidence is a trait that interviewers can observe in candidates’ posture and word choice, other attributes may be trickier to gauge.

That’s where interview questions, such as “Who has made the biggest impact on your career?” come into play. They allow interviewers a glimpse into your inner world which they wouldn’t otherwise get!

In this article, we’ll discuss this very question, as well as ways to structure your answer.

Why hiring managers ask this question

This interview question can reveal a lot about a candidate’s work ethic, interpersonal skills, and priorities.

If you choose to speak about someone who’s inspired you to lead with empathy, for example, you might come across as being quite different to a candidate who talks about someone who helped them earn tons of money. The story you choose to share will allow the interviewer to assess whether your values and aspirations align with those of the company.

In addition, as this isn’t one of the most common interview questions out there, your interviewer may want to see how well you think on your feet and respond to unanticipated challenges. Good thing is, in this case, you’ll be prepared!

How to craft a response

Over the course of your life, it’s likely that you’ve been impacted by various people for different reasons. This can make it hard to form an answer! So, here are our tips for doing so:

Step 1: Pick a person who’s influenced you

Though you could probably speak about the people you admire for a while, it’s best to keep your interview answers brief. So, the first thing to do is to think of one person who stands out in your memory. This could be a school counselor who helped you decide on a career path, a parent whose self-sacrifice inspired you to work harder, or an old boss who consistently showed faith in you.

Step 2: Consider why they stood out to you

Once you’ve picked one person to talk about, the next step is to consider which of their qualities you admire most and why. Did they pass down valuable hard skills to you? Did they give you a chance when everyone else turned you down? Did they motivate you at a time when you’d lost hope for the future?

Step 3: Describe the “before”

Usually, when another person makes a big impact on us, it’s because their approach to doing things differs to ours. In other words, they cause us to have an “aha!” moment.

So, think back to what your life looked like prior to this “aha!” moment. Talk about where you were at before this person’s behavior or contributions led to a positive change in your mindset or presented you with new opportunities.

Step 4: Talk about what changed

Once you’ve talked about the situation you were in (whether that’s lacking a sense of direction, struggling financially or something else), share with your interviewer how this person brought about change for you. “Thanks to them, I went from being a completely shy person with no self-esteem to actively challenging my negative self-talk,” for example.

Step 5: Describe where you ended up

Finally, talk about how far you’ve managed to come thanks to the support or guidance you received from this person. Regardless what this person gave to you, whether in the material or metaphorical sense, close off your answer by emphasizing the contrast between the “before” and “after”.

Example answers

Now that you know how to effectively respond to this question and why it’s important to get it right, it’s time to look at some sample answers that can help you craft your response.

Family members impacting your career

The person who has made the biggest impact on my career is my father. As a single parent of two, he worked hard and with discipline, and sacrificed a lot to provide a good education to me and my sibling. He’s a man of strong morals and always strives to treat people fairly, which is why most people he’s worked with absolutely love him. His commitment to us, his work ethic, and the way he treats others have always been my guiding light in both my personal and professional life.

Ex-employers impacting your career

The boss I had at my very first job, Ms Maria Eisenman, has made the biggest impact on my career. When I first started working with her, I didn’t have a lot of confidence. Though this is normal for a recent graduate with no experience, Ms Eisenman was such an amazing leader that she took it upon herself to become a kind of mentor to me. The way she dealt with stress and mistakes in the workplace, by responding instead of reacting and viewing failure as a healthy part of the process, encouraged me to develop a growth mindset. This has led me to pursue opportunities I otherwise wouldn’t have — at least, not so early on!

Professors impacting your career

Back in high school, I had no clear vision of what I’d like to do with my future. I enjoyed many different subjects and knew I liked helping people but had no concept of how to make a career out of that. Sensing my being lost, my social science teacher at the time, Mr Aaron Walters, asked me to stay behind one day for a chat. That was one of the most wonderful conversations I’ve ever had! He, of course, suggested that I pursue a career in social work — which I did — as it combined many of the subjects that interested me and would allow me to make a real difference in the world.

What not to say

So far, we’ve looked at all the things you should mention in your response. But what about the things you’re better off leaving out? Here’s what not to do:

  • Sharing something negative: “My old boss inspired me to become nothing like him” isn’t the way to answer this question. Try to mention positive influences rather than speak ill of somebody.
  • Downplaying your achievements: Saying something like “I’d never have gotten anywhere if it weren’t for my old manager” will convey a lack of faith in your own ability — which you don’t want!
  • Not answering the question: As we’ve seen, there’s a good reason you’re being asked this question. Avoid responding with something like “I haven’t been impacted by anyone yet.”

Key takeaways

Unexpected interview questions are designed to make you think on the spot and show the interviewer the “real” you. So, don’t hesitate to get personal; just make sure you keep it professional and don’t overdo it with details!


  • When answering interview questions, try to keep your responses to the point. Though it’s easy to get carried away when talking about people you’re fond of, keep things short and sweet!
  • Make sure you go over the following points in your answer: who impacted you, as well as how, why and when they did.
  • Avoid talking about your role model in a way that diminishes your own accomplishments. You got as far as you did thanks to you, too!
  • Pick a real person to mention if you can. Although there’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from celebrities and entrepreneurs, adding a personal element to your answer can highlight your interpersonal aptitude, too.

Who’s one person who has influenced you professionally? Leave a comment and let us know!

Originally published on June 18, 2014.