This question might seem a little unrelated to your direct experience and performance, but it actually says a lot about your overall approach. Like questions about past bosses and other mentors, it gives you a chance to explain your philosophy through the lens of someone else’s approach, which also highlights the aspects of a relationship you remember and the aspects of social interactions that you respond to most. Use this as a way to showcase the professional traits you value most and to give credit where it’s due to the people who helped shape them.
Points to Emphasize
Remember that this is about you, not just about the person you’re describing.
- Highlight the major ways that this person impacted your outlook and your approach in a multidimensional way.
- Give time to the skills they directly helped you develop and the ones you learned through observation.
- Discuss why this person stood out to you and what made you look to them as a model.
- Include any direct assistance or help that you can point to as a developmental step in your professional career.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
There are a few ways that answers can miss the point or get distracted. Make sure to steer around them.
- Don’t get drawn into long stories or reminiscing. You want to hit the highlights, and let the rest be a story you tell after you’ve gotten the job.
- Make sure that you don’t accidentally present your mentor as someone the prospective employer would not appreciate by knowing the culture and character of your audience.
- Remember that emotional moments can be hard to follow, and avoid complicated and subjective answers.
- It can be easy to focus on the person and neglect the impact they had, and you need to have language for both.
Here’s one example of how this can be set up for success.
The person who really put me on track in my career was my first editor, Elizabeth. She realized I had trouble starting projects and gave me more explicit assignments, and then she helped me see the angles where I could improvise. Over time, I was able to rely on her less and less, and she made sure to encourage that too, by adjusting my work to fit where I was at in my development. I think everyone needs a mentor or supervisor who can be responsive like that when they start out.
By bringing your take-away out and making it explicit, you’re also highlighting what you are likely to bring to the role you’re being hired for, even if it’s substantially different from the one you just occupied.