Interview Question: "How Would You Describe Yourself?"

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Some of the most common job interview questions ask you to describe yourself to the hiring manager. Popular variations on this theme include: "Tell me about yourself," or "How would you describe yourself?" or “How would others describe you?

But while these questions are typical, the answers aren’t always as simple as they seem. What's the best way to describe yourself? What words should you use when you respond?

Answer the right way, and you’ll show the hiring manager not only that you’re competent and aware of your skills, but that you’re a good fit for the team.

Answer the wrong way, and you might come off as unprepared, arrogant, or less than confident.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Employers ask you to describe yourself for a couple of reasons. First, they want to see whether you will be a good fit for the position and the company culture. Next, they hope that your answers will provide insight into how you perceive yourself, which can be useful in helping them assess your self-awareness, confidence, and demeanor.

How to Answer “How Would You Describe Yourself?”

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It’s obviously important to highlight your strengths when answering. However, along with being positive, you should also be honest and straightforward regarding why you're a good fit for the company. This is an opportunity to sell yourself to the interviewer and show why you're a strong candidate for the role for which you're being considered.

To be ready to answer this question, create a list of adjectives and phrases that you think best describe you. (You may even want to ask family and friends for suggestions.) Then, look back at the job description and circle all the adjectives and phrases on your list that best relate to the position.

With a list of terms and examples in mind, you will be ready to answer any form of the question. By matching your qualifications to the job, you'll be able to show you've got the right skills and personality for the position.

For example, we’ve provided a list of adjectives that describe a candidate, a job posting, and a sample response describing how the person is a good match for the job.

Adjective List:

  • Analytic
  • Calm
  • Confident
  • Collaborative
  • Dependable
  • Detail-oriented
  • High-achieving
  • Motivated
  • Organized
  • Self-starter
  • Team player
  • Tech-savvy

Job Posting: Seeking a tech-savvy, confident self-starter who works well both independently and in teams. Prior sales experience required. Must have a demonstrated ability to achieve sales goals through prospecting and lead generation, a strong work ethic, and excellent communication skills. The ideal candidate will possess a property and casualty license, although for strong candidates, a willingness to obtain a license will be considered.

Sample Answer: I think that my experience in the insurance industry and my ability to meet ever-increasing sales targets make me a good match for this position. In my recent position, I used my strong work ethic and analytical and technical skills to help my team surpass our goals for three quarters running.

Examples of the Best Answers

When answering this question, be sure your answer fits your own work experience and the job for which you are applying. (In other words, don’t just go with one of our samples as written – customize it to show off your particular qualifications.)

I'm a people person. I really enjoy meeting and working with a lot of different people, and I am known for being a great listener and clear communicator, whether I’m engaging with colleagues or interacting with clients.

Why It Works: In addition to emphasizing qualifications that are essential to the job, this answer shows that the candidate is enjoyable to work with.

I'm the kind of person who knows how to execute difficult tasks with precision. I pay attention to all the details of a project. I make sure that every task is just right and that it is completed in a timely manner.

Why It Works: In a deadline-driven environment, ability to complete things on time is necessary but not sufficient for success. The best candidate will also be able to demonstrate that they can complete the work in a satisfactory manner.

I'm a creative thinker. I like to explore alternative solutions to problems, and I have an open mind about what will work best. My creativity has made me an effective team leader because I can anticipate problems and innovate solutions.

Why It Works: This answer shows that the interviewee understands the importance of creativity in practice, as well as in theory. The speaker is demonstrating that they can use their creativity to produce results. 

I'm an extremely organized person who is focused on producing results. While I am always realistic when setting goals, I consistently develop ways to efficiently achieve, and often exceed, those goals.

Why It Works: Good boundaries and self-awareness are key to effective goal-setting, but this candidate also emphasizes that they often exceed their goals – meaning that they aren’t setting the bar low in order to meet it. 

I enjoy solving problems, troubleshooting issues, and coming up with solutions in a timely manner. I thrive in team settings, and I think my skill in effectively communicating with others is what drives my ability to solve a variety of problems.

Why It Works: Most workplaces are team environments. This answer reflects an understanding of that and an ability to get stuff done while working well with others.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Keep the job description in mind. Match your qualifications to the job listing to show that you’re right for this particular job, not just any similar job in the field.

Tell a story. Pick two or three of the terms that best fit the position and think of specific times when you have demonstrated each of those characteristics.

Focus on the qualities that make you an ideal match for the job and the company. When you respond, keep in mind the type of position you are interviewing for, the company culture, and the work environment. However, it's not a good idea to simply regurgitate a list of reasons why you are right for the position.

Instead, answer with a few positive adjectives or phrases that describe your personal characteristics or your attitude. (Sometimes employers ask a similar question: “What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?”)

What Not to Say

Don’t get bogged down in multiple examples right away. You typically do not need to follow up your response with specific examples of times you have displayed each characteristic. Often, an employer wants a relatively concise answer to this question.

However, if you give your answer and the interviewer looks like he or she is waiting for more, you can then follow up with examples from past work experiences. The interviewer may even ask you outright to expand on your answer with examples.

Don’t stretch the truth. While you should shape your answer to fit the particular job, authenticity is still important. Your response should be positive but genuine.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

Match your qualifications to the job listing: Sell yourself to the interviewer by emphasizing your skills and abilities that match the job description.

Keep company culture in mind: Work environment, values, even the physical layout of the office space – they’re all part of the culture and they’re all important. Show that you’ll shine in this culture.

Be authentic: Don’t stretch the truth or talk up qualities that aren’t your greatest strengths.