Job Interview Question: How Do You Define Success?

Tips for Handling Interview Questions About Sucess

Interviewing for a new employee
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During a job interview, your interviewer might ask a question like, "How do you evaluate success?" or "How do you define success?" A question like this gives your potential employer a sense of your work ethic, your goals, and your overall personality. It thus provides a super opportunity for you to demonstrate, through your answers and body language, the qualities that most employers are looking for—determination, motivation, drive, enthusiasm, and a shared collaborative vision. 

Focus on the Job and the Company

In your answer, you should be cognizant of the type of job you're applying for. Whereas a large corporation might place all their emphasis on the bottom line, a non-profit would measure success not in money but in social impact. A technology company might place a strong emphasis on innovation in product development; an online media company emphasizes page views and SEO statistics.

Do your research before the interview: browse the company's website, research their presence in the news and media, and see if you can find any information about their mission statement. Pay particular attention to corporate web pages with titles like “Our Mission” or “About Us.” This is the easiest and quickest way of learning how they themselves evaluate success; your goal should be to mirror their definition of success with your own statement. Here's how to research a company.

Of course, you'll also want to include aspects of your own personality in your answers.

If there's an area where your values overlap with the company's, then make sure to emphasize that in the interview.

But, you also want to make sure you give a balanced answer, illustrating a dynamic focus on improving your own performance, furthering your company's mission, and making a positive impact overall. Ideally, you will be able to show the hiring committee that you share their vision and will be a powerful contributor towards its cultivation and fruition.

How to Share Examples of Your Successes

The best approach to answering this question is to prepare specific examples of your successes and to reference how you assessed the factors contributing to your achievements. Then share how you applied this knowledge to continue your professional development and to generate positive results.

You could reference a time when you led a team that was able to deliver a product ahead of schedule, along with the steps the individuals took to ensure that high quality was maintained despite the accelerated schedule.

You could then share how you recognized each effort, and how you and your staff were able to implement the technique on future deliverables. For example, you might say

"I like to maintain a consistent level of productivity and take both my successes and failures in stride. I try to learn from both and apply that knowledge to future situations.  

For example, last August my sales team landed P&Z as a client. We were all elated, and I took my staff out for a celebratory dinner. I thought up a series of awards to recognize the role that individual staff had played in the process, and saluted members of the team.

I called a meeting for the next Tuesday to break down the process and identified several strategies that contributed to our success. We discussed new targets, and six months later landed another top consumer products client using some of the same tactics."

What Not to Say

Try not to make your response all about you. Especially if you're being hired for a job where you are part of a team or in a management role, it's a good idea to give credit to the people who were instrumental in helping you succeed. Sharing the credit for your successes will show the interviewer how you will be able to fit in when you are in a job that involves working well with others.

Examples of the Best Answers

Here are some sample answers:

  • I define success in different ways. At work, it is meeting the goals set by my supervisors and my fellow workers. It is my understanding, from talking to other employees, that the GGR company is recognized for not only rewarding success but giving employees opportunity to grow as well. After work, I enjoy playing softball, so success on the field is catching the winning pop-up.
  • For me, success is about doing my job well. I want to be recognized as someone who always does their best and tries their hardest to make my goals.
  • I evaluate success based on not only my work, but the work of my team. In order for me to be considered successful, the team needs to achieve both our individual and our team goals.
  • I define success based on outcomes. It's not always the path you take to achieve success that matters. Rather, it's quantifiable results.
  • I tend to view success incrementally. As someone who is invigorated by new, complex challenges, I never want to find myself in a situation where I feel like there is nothing left to learn or achieve. If, over the course of my employment, I can leave work each evening satisfied that I’ve learned something new or useful, then this counts as success to me.
  • To me, success is when I am performing well and satisfied with my position, knowing that my work is adding value to my company but also to my overall life and the lives of other people.
  • For me, success comes from knowing that I’ve contributed in a significant way to finishing a challenging team project within established deadlines and quality standards.
  • Success, for me, will always be about making a difference in other people’s lives. If I know that at the end of the day my work has helped someone to find a job or feed their family or turn their life around, then I sleep well at night and wake up eager to start work all over again the next day.
  • I want to be a change-maker – to know that, through both my own focused efforts and our team projects, our community will hear and respond to the messages we are sending by initiating much-needed social and / or policy reforms.

If you are able to go into your interview confident that your definition of success tallies well with that of your prospective employer, you’ll have created a firm framework for a memorable and productive “meeting of the minds” with your interviewers.