“How would you describe yourself?” is a common interview question that trips up many applicants. It seems simple at first, but it requires a lot of self-reflection to answer effectively!
This guide will teach you how to describe yourself during an interview in a way that improves your chance of getting the job.
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Why Interviewers Ask “How Would You Describe Yourself”
There are many questions you expect to hear during an interview. However, “How would you describe yourself” is one of the most common interview questions out there! It’s a favorite for hiring managers and interviewers, regardless of the position. From interviews for back-of-house workers at a fast food place to intense meetings for managerial office jobs, it’s one of the most common questions out there.
But why do interviewers ask it?
Ultimately, the goal of asking you to describe yourself is to determine if you have the qualities, characteristics, and skills to do the job. The interviewer has a good idea of what it takes to succeed in this role. This question is a way to ensure that what you have to offer aligns with what they believe is required for success.
It sounds simple enough. But this question isn’t as cut-and-dry as it seems. It’s a multi-faceted inquiry that paints a detailed picture of who you are.
Like many other personality questions, your answer to “How would you describe yourself” sheds some light on what you have to bring to the table. It can show that you’re the right fit for the company culture and have what it takes to genuinely excel in this position.
How you answer is important. Say the wrong thing, and you could be leaving something on the table in your interview.
Many job-seekers don’t take personality questions like this seriously, but your answer is a great opportunity to improve your chances of getting a job offer.
How to Answer This Interview Question
Answering “How would you describe yourself?” requires some self-reflection. It’s always best to prepare early and have some answers ready.
But despite how tricky it can seem to describe yourself in an interview, it’s not as difficult to answer as many assume. It’s all about understanding what the interviewer wants and knowing how to dig deep and find your qualities that closely align with what the company and role need.
Here are some tips to help you describe yourself.
1. Understand the Company
If you haven’t researched the company, that’s the first step! Research is a fundamental part of the job-seeking process. You need to know what you’re getting into and what type of business you’ll work for.
We’re not talking about only surface-level details here. Your research should include lesser-known things that you don’t see in a standard job description. It’s about understanding the company’s goals, its operation, and the work culture.
Ideally, you should spend a reasonable amount of time learning as much as you can about the company before your interview. Read through the corporate website and mentions in the news. You can also turn to social media to look at how they engage with other accounts and what people are saying about them.
Look at the company’s LinkedIn profiles, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, and other platforms. Don’t stop there. You can also look into current employees, CEOs and the people who work in your desired department.
Your goal is to get a better understanding of the company. It’s a chance to put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and figure out precisely what they’re looking for when they ask you to describe yourself.
Say, for example, that the job description requests someone with an entrepreneurial spirit. Your research reveals that many of the organization’s leaders come from startups. Next, think about the qualities and traits of entrepreneurs and people who work in startups. Even if you have never worked at a startup, you still have traits that would be desirable.
Once you get a better sense of the company, you can figure out ways to highlight your skills and capabilities to look attractive to the interviewer. It’s not about making things up or fudging the truth. Instead, it’s learning how to answer “How would you describe yourself?” in a way that shows you would add value to the company and helps you progress through the hiring process.
2. Be Positive
One of the most important things when describing yourself in an interview is to remain positive. This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning.
Avoid anything that sounds remotely negative. Steer clear of those descriptors that make you sound like you wouldn’t be a good fit. For example, mentioning that you’re shy, anxious, or unconfident isn’t a good idea.
You want to impress the interviewer! Stick to positive traits that make you an attractive applicant.
Having self-awareness is essential. But this question is asking you to highlight your positive characteristics.
Remember: The goal is to answer in a way that appeals to the interviewer and company. Think long and hard about your answers and how they might come off for this particular work environment. What seems like a super positive trait for you might not be the same for this interviewer.
For example, being an introvert who loves to sit quietly and work might sound like paradise from your perspective. But if the company thrives on frequent team meetings and ongoing collaboration, it might come off as you being a subpar fit for the position! Always be aware of what the company is looking for when answering this question.
3. Give an Example
The best way to stand out and leave a lasting impression when describing yourself in an interview is to provide a real-world example. Think about instances that highlight the skills and characteristics you mention. Then, talk about them and bring it all full circle!
Providing examples is a fantastic way to give a memorable answer. Everyone can say that they’re detail-oriented or good at solving problems. But those are relatively generic answers that tons of other applicants have likely mentioned.
The way you stick out in the interviewer’s mind is by telling a story that illustrates those traits in action.
Let’s look at being detail-oriented. After mentioning that personality trait, you could talk about how that helped you in your current or previous job. Maybe you found an error in your old company’s software code that no one else spotted. Thanks to your eagle eye, clients experienced fewer issues.
Stories like that make all the difference. It shows that you indeed have those traits. But more importantly, examples demonstrate how they benefit you at work and what they do to make you an ideal candidate.
Don’t be too general. The key is to think about your past experiences and find the connections to the job you are interviewing for.
4. Tie It In With the Role You Want
Finally, find ways to tie your answer into the job at hand. Once again, doing your research, understanding the company, and knowing what the role entails is critical. Do all the necessary research before you come up with answers so that you’re well-equipped to respond with something relevant and impressive.
A handy tip is to refer back to the job listing. There’s a good chance that the job posting included some keywords that give you some insight into what the company wants out of a new hire. The posting may even list some useful words to describe yourself (more on that later).
Of course, you don’t want to recite those words verbatim. However, they can guide you in the right direction and help you create those all-important connections to your own experiences and characteristics.
Think about what the job entails and find traits that match. For example, say that the listing says the job is fast-paced and complex. You could describe yourself as highly organized and capable of working under pressure.
You’re not outright saying that you do well working in fast-paced jobs. But, the descriptors you do use point in that direction!
Words to Describe Yourself In An Interview
“How would you describe yourself? is an interview question where the words you choose matter. There are several descriptors that paint a vivid image of who you are. These words pack a powerful punch and leave a lasting impression on the hiring manager.
You might see some of these words in the job description. They can sometimes come off cliche, so it’s essential to use them wisely.
The best approach is to sprinkle them into your answer and use them as a jumping-off point to provide examples.
Words to Describe How You Work
This list is all about describing how you work. The power words are adaptable, and you can use them to talk about everything from teamwork and collaboration to how you approach challenges.
Power Descriptors to Talk About Your Personality
This list of questions can also describe how you work. However, they’re more focused on your personality. The words have broad definitions, making it easy to incorporate them into your answer while connecting them to the job you are interviewing for.
These words are powerful descriptors, but they are fairly general by nature. When using them, make sure to draw that connection and provide clear examples of how they translate well to your work and the position.
What to Avoid When Answering
If you’re describing yourself in a job interview, there are a number of things you should avoid saying as well! Use these recommendations to help you structure your answer when you’re practicing.
Don’t Be Long-Winded
We’ve all been there. You hear a question you aren’t prepared for, so you end up rambling until you find something that sticks. It’s a job seeker’s worst fear for interviews, but it’s an everyday reality.
Don’t let yourself ramble on for too long when describing yourself. The ideal response length is around 60 to 90 seconds. All you have to do is mention a few traits, provide examples, and tie them back to the job.
Here’s where preparing early comes in handy. Have a few responses ready so that you’re concise and read to respond.
If you ramble, you’re doing more harm than good. Incoherent answers show that you’re easily side-tracked, which is never good. Keep your response clear and to the point.
Don’t Be Too Brief
While rambling is terrible, so is providing simple one-word answers. Please don’t respond with a list of traits and leave it at that. Your interviewer expects more, and cutting the answer short will leave them staring back at you blank and bewildered!
Expand on your answers. Remember that providing a real-world example makes a significant difference. Use a specific story to back up those descriptors you provide.
Don’t try to pretend you are someone you’re not or to fit the role. Lying is the worst thing you can do! That doesn’t just apply to this question. Lying at any point in your interview isn’t a good idea.
Hiring managers will do their due diligence. They’ll call previous employers and references. If you provide this grand story about how you’re an amazing problem-solver when the truth is the opposite, they’ll find out.
Plus, once you get into the role, you want to be successful. Not being truthful about who you are can set you up for an uncomfortable situation in your new job. It’s best to be truthful for a win-win.
Don’t Dominate the Conversation
It’s easy to monopolize a conversation when answering questions like “How would you describe yourself?” But remember, you’re doing a job interview, and there’s supposed to be some back-and-forth.
Interviewers often have follow-up questions they want you to answer. Steamrolling your response as if you’ve rehearsed it a million times doesn’t leave room for the interviewer to ask additional questions.
Let your answer breathe and provide plenty of opportunities for that critical back-and-forth experience.
Your answer to this question will depend on your personality and work experience. There’s no right or wrong answer, but you can approach your answer in a suboptimal way!
To help guide you in the right direction, we have a few examples of high-quality answers to “How to describe yourself?” that are sure to impress.
In this first example, the trait the applicant is highlighting is customer service. Good customer service is critical to many jobs. Instead of outright saying that they excel at customer service, this example applicant focuses on the fact that they are a “people person.”
“Most would describe me as a people-person. I enjoy meeting others and have no problem forming connections. Learning about someone’s background and finding common ground is something I do well.
This trait is useful when working with clients and starting new projects. At my previous job, my client customer satisfaction scores were roughly 20 percent higher than the company average. I did all I could to make new clients feel comfortable through regular communication.”
In this next example, leadership is the skill that the applicant wants to highlight when describing themselves. Once again, leadership is one of those universal traits that most employers love to see. However, it can be tricky to talk about without sounding cliche. Here’s an example of how to talk about it the correct way.
“My previous work colleagues would call me a leader. I slip into leadership roles naturally in a group setting. For many of the collaborative projects I completed at my former job, I took the helm and became the go-to person for questions and concerns. That eventually led to a promotion into a leadership role less than a year after joining the company.
I enjoy those responsibilities and believe that my communication skills play a big part in how I guide my teams in the right direction. I enjoy lifting my colleagues and finding ways to encourage them to harness their skills for every project.”
This final example is all about showing one’s creative and innovative thinking. The applicant talks about how they think outside of the box, providing examples that are sure to excite an interviewer.
“The thing that I pride myself on most is my creativity. I like to think outside the box and find unique solutions to workplace challenges. I firmly believe that going against the norm can lead to amazing results.
In my previous jobs, I often took a more unorthodox approach than most would expect. For example, I worked with a client to do a risky social media campaign different from their standard marketing techniques. The risk paid off, and the campaign led to a significant boost in profits for that particular product launch.”
Being able to answer “How would you describe yourself?” during a job interview requires a mix of preparation and self-reflection. While it might seem challenging at first, it won’t take long before you get the hang of it!
Follow our recommendations above, practice a few times, and you’ll shine during the interview.
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.