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Motivational Interview Questions

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Counselors use motivational interviewing to allow clients to explore their motives and options in life and to resolve any indecision. This can help a client to change his behavior and to make significant life choices. A career counselor might use a motivational interview to get his client to stop resisting change in his work life or to help him find the motivation to make progress in his career. Types of motivational interview question in a career-counseling context include questions about barriers to the client’s goal, the client’s motives, his capabilities and his commitment to change.


As the aim of a motivational interview is to carve out a path that moves the interviewee's focus away from barriers and towards change, it makes sense to start the interview by looking at the barriers, as this is where the path starts. The counselor might decide to explore the client’s ambivalence towards a potential course of action or his resistance to change by asking the individual “What do you find scary about career change?” This allows the client to pinpoint exactly what is stopping him from committing to a career change. Once he knows what the barriers are, he can start developing a strategy to overcome them.


To further encourage the client to move towards change, the counselor will want to help him acknowledge that he does have motives for making a change. With this aim in mind, an example of a good question to ask is “On a scale of 1 to 5, how important is it to you to find a new job?” After the client replies, the counselor may follow up with a question such as “What would make you go from that number to the next number up?” This will elicit from the client an opinion on how he can increase his motivation.


A client may be resistant to a change in job or career because he believes he doesn’t have the capability to land or perform his ideal role. To help such an individual overcome this fear of failure, a career counselor might ask questions that make the potential job seeker assess his skills set. This may allow the interviewee to realize that he does, in fact, have the capability to do the job he wants to do. One exercise the counselor and client can do together is to look at an ad for a job the client wants, with the counselor asking the would-be job candidate to give examples of times he’s used the skills mentioned in the job description.


The counselor can close the interview by asking questions that have two purposes. The first purpose is to reaffirm in the client’s mind his commitment to making a change. The second is to give him an opportunity to articulate what actions he is going to take to achieve his career goal. A question such as “What can you do this afternoon to take a step towards where you want to be?” allows the client to think of something he can do in a very short time frame that will move him closer towards his goal.


Based in London, Autumn St. John has been writing career- and business-related articles since 2007. Her work has appeared in the "Guardian" and "Changing Careers" magazine. St. John holds a Master of Arts in Russian and East European literature and culture from University College London, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in modern history from the University of Oxford.

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