Job Interviews: How To Answer the “Describe Yourself” Interview Question
I recently wrote about the "tell me something about yourself" job interview question. In that article I included a few thoughts on how to answer the "how would you describe yourself" variation an interviewer might ask you. But there is more to answering the question, since interviewers may be looking for a slightly different type of response. And I want to give you a sample answer to help you prepare for that too.
Example of how you might answer this question
When answering this question, some interviewers will be fine if you follow a similar answer technique discussed in my other article, but I want to give you a sample of a slightly different way to answer that more directly addresses the "describe yourself" part of the question. Instead of leading with your experience each time, you can lead with some personal characteristics, attitudes, your approach to things, etc. And then follow up with a good example of that personal description in action.
Here's a sample answer a job seeker might give. Of course, you would base yours on your own qualities, experience and the job you want.
- "Interesting question. (smile) Let's see … Well, I think of myself as smart, loyal and dedicated. I really enjoy solving problems, especially problems that other people haven't been able to solve. When I worked at ABC Company, we couldn't get the order department to communicate well with the fulfillment department. By doing x, y and z I figured out that we needed to change the way order notifications were processed. That felt great! I did something similar in DEF Company where I was able to come up with a way to streamline the customer feedback system." (NOTE: Make second story short; they can follow up if interested.)
- "I also like to see something through to the end if possible. Again at ABC Company, my boss gave me a new project before the order problem solution was implemented. He told me I could hand it off at that point if I wanted, but I asked if I could stay involved in an advisory capacity until fully implemented, to make to sure the problem actually got solved."
- "One of the reasons I'm so excited about this job opportunity, is that it gives me the chance to really dig in and use my problem-solving and follow-through skills to help you and your team improve product delivery operations. I would love that."
Be aware of the interviewer's reaction to your answer
Stay aware and in the moment. Listen to anything they might add or ask – and be ready to respond. Even though you're doing your best to have a relaxed, natural conversation (as much as possible under the circumstances), you need to check in and read the signs to see how they're reacting. If the interviewer seems to be signaling that you've gone on long enough, just go with the flow by getting to your closing about how well this fits you. They may have all they need. And you still have time to make more points.
Lead with your strengths as they relate to the job
No need to go off on a tangent about how much you enjoy abstract art when you are asked to describe yourself. At least not in an initial interview – and not if the job has nothing to do with art. Look for things that are real and that you can back up with success moments. And if you are asked about hobbies, try to find ones that somehow relate if at all possible. For example, for certain types of jobs, they might see the healthy competitiveness and striving to get better in a hobby like tennis as a good complement to your other skills and experience. Others might worry that's all you'd be thinking about.
So try to share these things in a way that make you seem balanced and not obsessed. Your research on the company and the person interviewing you (if you were able to find anything out about him or her) may provide some extra ideas for things to include. If you do happen to find out the person loves abstract art or tennis, you might slip it in casually and see if they light up or ask more about it. This can lead to that connection you want to establish. But if they don't react, keep it light and move on to showing how well you match the job in personality, interests, and experience. Still, it's best to stay away from strictly personal things if you can. Best to use your answer to this question to help create a picture in their minds of someone who would fit nicely in their organization as well as the job.
A few final tips
As with any answer to any job interview question, when you describe yourself be as natural and conversational as possible. You want them to feel like you're a real person just telling a little something about yourself that makes sense for a person they would want to hire. Speak clearly, with good energy and relatively-modest appreciation for the person you are. If you don't think much of yourself, why should they?
Remember to have eye contact and smile a bit as you mention your accomplishments. And please don't go on too long … just long enough to make a few strong points about who you are and what you bring with you to the new job. Good luck!