Interview Question: How Would a Professor Describe You?

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When you are applying for an entry-level position, a typical job interview question is "How do you think a friend or professor who knows you well would describe you?"   

A first step in preparing to answer this type of question is to analyze the requirements of the job for which you are interviewing. Review the employer's job advertisement and descriptions of similar offerings from other employers. List the personal qualities and skills that the employers seek the most.

Make an Inventory of Your Assets

Reflect upon your past successes in academic projects, jobs, internships, volunteer and campus activities. Identify personal attributes that enabled you to achieve success in those roles.  

Seek Input from Others

Ask professors to write recommendations for you, so you can gain an understanding of how they have viewed your academic work.  You can use this documentation to go beyond speculation about what professors would say about you when answering this type of question.

Ask friends, co-workers, and bosses how they would describe you.

Compare Your List of Qualities to the Job Requirements

Look for overlap between your personal strengths and the key qualifications for your target job.  Make a list of six assets that would help you to make a solid contribution if hired.

Prepare Evidence to Prove Your Personal Strengths 

Your initial response to how a friend or professor would describe you will probably be a simple listing of qualities.  However, employers will often follow up with a question like "Give me an example of how you applied the penchant for organizing that you mentioned?"  Prepare an anecdote, story or example describing how you tapped each strength to produce high-quality work.

Another tactic to support your assertions about your strengths is to reference what professors, advisors or employers have actually said about your performance.  Other forms of recognition like honors for academic achievement, awards for leadership or performance bonuses can be mentioned as evidence that particular qualities helped you to excel in the academic, co-curricular or employment arenas.

Examples of Interview Responses

Here are sample interview answers that you can edit to fit your personal experiences and background:

For a Research Assistant Job: I recently asked my psych professor to write a recommendation, and she mentioned my writing skills, intellectual curiosity and research abilities as keys to my success in her classes.

For an Event Planning Position: My friends always tease me about being the one who will organize all our outings.  They think I'm a bit obsessive about nailing down the arrangements, a stickler for details.

Follow-up answer to an employer request for an example of organizational skills: I am the fundraising chair for our sorority, and I helped to orchestrate our campaign to raise money for a local children's shelter.  I recruited volunteers and organized a fashion show that raised over $1000 in donations.

For an Admissions Job: My friends would definitely say I am an extrovert and have the gift of gab. They tease me about starting conversations with everyone around me. 

For a Management Training Job: My sociology professor and academic advisor recently nominated me to be the student representative to the sociology department.  She cited my leadership ability and verbal skills as reasons for her nomination.

For a Consulting Position: I think my friends would say that I am a good listener and problem solver.  I am the one that they seem to come to for advice when they have a personal or academic problem.

Follow up answer to an employer request for an example of problem-solving skills applied to school or work: I was selected as President of the community service club and confronted with the problem of dwindling membership. I devised a strategy whereby each current member recruited one friend to join the organization and started writing a monthly article for the student newspaper about our projects that attracted several new members. We were able to expand membership from 32 to 46 students.

For a Sales Job: Well my friends would definitely say I'm competitive.  I mean they wouldn't say I was obnoxious about it, but they would say I went after things with gusto whether it was ping pong or raising money for the fraternity.

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