Interview Question: "How Would a Professor Describe You?"

businessman and student

SolStock /E+ / Getty Images

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

 Get more information on why this is a common entry-level interview question, and the best way to respond, along with sample answers.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

During an interview, your interviewer is always trying to get a sense of what you'll be like as an employee — what's your work ethic? How do you deal with challenges? What kind of attitude and personality do you have at work?

For more experienced candidates, interviewers can ask about your previous roles. For entry-level candidates, this might not be an option. So instead, interviewers ask how your professor would describe you to get a sense of how others perceive you, as well as your self-awareness.

How to Answer the Question "How Would a Professor Describe You?"

Follow these steps to answer this question.

Make an Inventory of Your Assets. Reflect upon your past successes in academic projects, jobs, internships, and 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. You can also ask friends, coworkers, 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 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 into each strength to produce high-quality work.

Share Examples. 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, such as honors for academic achievement, awards for leadership, or performance bonuses, can be mentioned as evidence that particular qualities helped you excel in academic, cocurricular, or employment arenas.

Examples of the Best Answers

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

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.

Why It Works: This answer was provided by a candidate applying for a research assistant job, and it points to the particular skills needed in that job.

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.

Why It Works: This answer would seem out of left field for some candidates, but in this case, the candidate is applying for an event planning position. This answer shows how the qualities required to be successful in the role are baked into the candidate's personality.

My sociology professor and academic advisor recently nominated me to be the student representative to the sociology department. They cited my leadership ability and verbal skills as reasons for the nomination.

Why It Works: This answer nicely works in an honor awarded to the student while pinpointing some of the qualities the candidate admires. 

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

  • Show off your skills — This is your opportunity to share your best qualities and skills asan employee.
  • Reflect qualities needed in the role — Ideally, you'll want to match the positive qualities the professor would mention with the job requirements.
  • Give quotes — It's always nice if your answer can reflect something the professor said in an evaluation or recommendation, rather than just your best guess at what the professor would say.

What Not to Say

  • Nonrelevant skills/talents — Of course, you may mention some skills that aren't directly relevant to the position. But ideally, you'll keep the focus on skills and abilities that will be valuable in the role at hand.
  • Negative feedback — Do you have a professor who dislikes you or says negative things about you? This is not the moment to share! Keep it positive.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

Share your strengths. This question is an opportunity for you to highlight the characteristics that make you a good fit for the position. Reflect qualities that are mentioned in the job description.

Keep it positive. Don't mention any negative insights that a professor may share about you.

Ask beforehand. If you are applying for an entry-level position, there's a good chance you'll get this question. Ask friends, professors, and others in your circle how they'd describe you if you're feeling stumped about how to respond.