How To Answer How Would You Describe Yourself (Answers Included)

By Mike Simpson

Imagine this: you’re sitting in an interview for your dream job.

Everything seems to be going beautifully. You’re knocking every question out of the ballpark and the hiring manager is genuinely laughing at all your jokes. You’re confident you’ve got the job in the bag. You can tell the interview is wrapping up and you’re already figuring out what thoughtful bit of insight you’re going to include in your follow up thank you note that will make the hiring manager smile and bring you in for round two.

But then, they ask you one last question. “How would you describe yourself?”

Suddenly all that certainty dissolves in a puff of confusion and fear and the only words you can think of are “screwed” and “dazed,” with a dash of “perpetually unemployed” thrown in just to really mess with your psyche.

But wait!

Before you slink off defeated with your tail between your legs, ready for an endless cycle of help wanted ads and disappointment, we’re here to tell you that answering the question ‘describe yourself’ isn’t the end of the world. All it takes is a bit of prep work before you get to the interview.

Let’s start by first breaking down exactly why hiring managers ask this question.

Why Is This Question Asked?

In many ways, for the same reason they ask the question “Tell me about yourself.”

No, it’s not to make you uncomfortable, and it’s certainly not an opportunity for you to sit back and treat them like a therapy session and go into deep detail about how your early childhood turned you into the person you are today.

Interviewers ask this question because they are looking for two key pieces of information; they want to honestly know how you perceive yourself and exactly how well you’ll fit into the company if you’re hired.

How To Answer “How Would You Describe Yourself”

Going back to our earlier comparison to the question “Tell me about yourself,” it might feel as though you should be able to answer both questions with a somewhat similar answer, but be warned…that’s not really the case! While there is some overlap, they require you to focus on different things in your answers.

When you answer “Tell me about yourself,” you’re highlighting the key professional strengths and skills that you have that bring value to the company…what you can do. Those answers are typically longer and include concrete evidence and examples of you applying those skills to past experiences.

When you answer “How would you describe yourself,” you’re telling the hiring manager about your qualities (also called characteristics) and how they meshes with the skills you bring by using focused and tailored adjectiveswhy you do what you do. These are shorter answers that really don’t warrant additional follow up unless specifically requested by the hiring manager.

Confused?

Hmm, maybe a little word game will bring it all into focus and show you how to describe yourself.

Start by first really taking a good hard look at yourself and thinking of a list of adjectives or words you would use to describe yourself. Remember, we’re looking for qualities and characteristics. Keep it simple…really simple.

Can you describe yourself in three words? What are you?

  • I am reliable.
  • I am driven.
  • I am flexible.

Let’s get even more simple. Can you describe yourself in one word?

  • Passionate.
  • Curious.
  • Driven.

Now ask your friends and family the same question. Using just a few words, have them describe your best qualities and/or characteristics.

  • They see you as thorough.
  • They see you as organized.
  • They see you as reliable.
  • They see you as responsible.

Once you have those two lists, go back to the job you’re applying for and really read it again. Try to find two or three words that best describe that position.

What qualities or characteristics would an applicant need in order to be considered the Perfect Candidate?

Now go through and see how you can exemplify these qualities and characteristics.

Finally, determine exactly how all those things relate specifically to the position you’re applying to.

Once you have all that information, you should be able to answer the question easily. Start with your quality/characteristic from the list of words to describe yourself and then finish off with a specific, tailored example. Keep your answer short and sweet. (Again, this isn’t your life story.)

Now before we get into how to properly answer this confusing question, let’s hit on the ways NOT to answer it.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Answering This Interview Question

  1. While we do want a long list of adjectives that properly describe the qualities and characteristics you bring to the position, an interviewer doesn’t just want you to just fire off a random string of adjectives as though this were a grown-up version of “fill in the blanks” or “Hiring Manager Mad Libs.”

Make sure you list a quality or characteristic adjective, and then back it up with a tailored answer that exactly demonstrates how that adjective makes you invaluable to your potential employer.

  2. Speaking of adjectives, let’s not venture too far off the “I’d love to have a job when this interview is over” path and make sure your adjectives actually relate to the job you’re applying to. Save adjectives like “dashing,” “devastatingly handsome,” “hilarious” and “suave” for your online dating profile.

  3. You also want to make sure that the words you’re using are words you’d actually use about yourself. While it might sound good to use words like “intelligent,” “visionary” and “talented,” those are words that can rankle a recruiter because rather than being reflective, they can come off as cocky and sound as though you’re bragging.

  4. Keep in mind that other red flag words and adjectives to describe yourself that you want to avoid include “obsessive (scary)”, “goal-oriented (generic)” and “likeable (nobody is 100% likeable and the more you say that, the more people aren’t going to like you).

  5. Finally… back it up! You can’t simply list off a string of adjectives that describe yourself without having concrete examples of you demonstrating that quality. Use examples from your past that prove that you are that person (beyond a shadow of a doubt).

Describing Yourself: 4 Different Example Answers

Now let’s circle back to how you should answer this question, starting with a quick wham-bam walkthrough just to warm you up.

We’ll start by pretending you’re interviewing for a job as an assembly line worker for a candy company and that the job description states your responsibility will be to quickly fill different sized custom candy boxes with chocolates (sound familiar?).

By reading the job description, you know that the position is high-speed and that you’ll be required to quickly assess each candy box as it comes towards you to figure out exactly how to fill it. Odds are that company wants an employee who can adapt quickly to a wide variety of different scenarios.

Now let’s go through your list of qualities and characteristics and see if there’s one that would apply to this job description.

“I’m flexible.”

Very good. There’s your perfect quality/characteristic. Now let’s focus on your targeted example.

“I’m comfortable adjusting to any situation and don’t get flustered easily when faced with unexpected challenges. I proved this during my tenure at Hershey’s when we had a power outage on Christmas delivery day but every last bar of chocolate still left the factory.”

Boom. Mic drop. Walk away, you just won the day… With that single word and simple sentence, you let the hiring manager immediately know that you’re the right person for the job.

Fun, right? Let’s do a few more!

We’ll start with a brief job description, a quick analysis of the desired qualities/characteristics, and then our perfect tailored answer. And don’t be worried if you have more than one adjective that describes a desirable characteristic. Just don’t go overboard.

Ready? Let’s go.

Entry level – Machine Operator
Job description: Construction company looking to hire a machine operator. Must be willing to work long hours and have a good work ethic.
Analysis of desired qualities/characteristics: This company needs someone who is going to be reliable and can work hard for extended periods of time.
Tailored answer: “I’m dependable and detail-oriented. I take my job seriously and once assigned a task, will see it through to completion. At my last job we lost a worker to injury and did not have the budget to hire a replacement, so I volunteered to pick up the slack, often working long hours into the night. We didn't miss a beat.”

This person is perfect for the job! They’re as steady as a rock, dedicated to the task they’re assigned, and have just let the hiring manager know that they’re someone they can rely on.

Management level – Engineering Project Manager
Job description: Engineering firm seeking a highly qualified and motivated individual with a minimum of 5 years experience coordinating and leading large and diverse teams.
Analysis of desired qualities/characteristics: This company desperately needs someone who is ready to tackle a huge pile of responsibilities and wear multiple hats.
Tailored answer: “I’m organized. I really enjoy working with a wide variety of people to achieve a common goal efficiently and realistically. For the last five years, I managed a team of seven engineers as we worked on four projects simultaneously. Each project fulfilled its responsibilities ahead of schedule.”

Nicely said! You just let the hiring manger know that you’re not only comfortable working with groups of individuals, but that you know what it takes to bring those individuals together.

Executive Level – Medical Director
Job description: The Medical Director will provide a full scope of medical services to patients in support of the operations of the health organization.
Analysis of desired qualities/characteristics: This company needs someone with an extensive background in this industry and knowledge who is ready to hit the ground running.
Tailored answer: “I’m experienced and detail-oriented. I’ve spent the past 15 years learning the ins and outs of this industry and know exactly what I need to do to provide the highest level of medical supervision and overall coordination of all components required for the smooth operation of any medical facility.”

Can you say corner office, company car and annual bonus?!? Wow!

Putting It All Together

Now that we’ve covered some example answers, go ahead and play around with your own qualities and characteristics adjectives and see how well they relate to the job you’re interviewing for.

Remember, your goal for any interview is to demonstrate to the hiring manager that you’re the right person for the position. By doing a little homework before you get to the interview you’re also demonstrating that you’re motivated, prepared, and capable…all qualities any hiring manager would appreciate in a candidate.

In a word…you’re perfect!

Good luck!

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How To Answer How Would You Describe Yourself (Answers Included)
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