How to Describe Yourself in an Interview
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Being asked to describe yourself is a common way to begin an interview. And even though it is common, employers are often surprised that it catches candidates off guard with a prepared answer. In this article, we discuss why employers ask you to describe yourself, how to plan your answer, descriptive words you can use and provide examples of impactful responses.
Why do employers ask you to describe yourself in an interview?
The purpose of asking you to describe yourself serves several reasons. The question eases both of you into the interview, and when prepared, it allows you to tell them precisely what you want to highlight about yourself. This question enables you to provide a short summary of your background and skills and why you make an excellent addition to their company. How you respond to the question sets the tone for the rest of the interview.
Planning your answer
Describing what makes you unique can be difficult as it's challenging to see your own strengths and qualities objectively. If you are struggling with preparing for the question, a great strategy can be to ask your family, friends, or colleagues. They can explain your strengths accurately, so be sure to take note of the words they use.
The key to effectively describing yourself during an interview is to explain why your specific experiences and attributes make you the best fit for the role. To help prepare, here are five questions you can ask yourself.
What qualities make you an excellent fit for this position?
Begin by reviewing the job description you are applying for. Consider what makes you stand out as an applicant. Perhaps it is a unique qualification or years of experience in a similar role. Focus on how you can meet and exceed the interviewer's expectations.
Why are you interested in the role?
Determine what excites you about the position. Maybe it excites you that you can finally use that unique skill in your job. Or maybe it is the challenge the role would provide. Highlight these ideas in your response.
Why are you interested in the company or the industry?
Do some research about the company to which you are applying. A great place to start is the company's website. Review their mission statement, the type of work they do, and the history of the company. Look for employee reviews to learn about the company culture. Also, search for the company's competitors to get a sense of the industry they serve. Draw parallels between the company and your values and characteristics.
Is there something unique about your background that makes you stand out from other applicants?
Having a unique response that will intrigue the interviewer can leave a positive impression. Think of what experiences you possess that make you stand out during the interview process. For example, saying that you have been coding computer programs since you were in your teens is sure to be of interest to the interviewer when applying for a programming position.
What are the positive traits or characteristics you possess that will serve you well in this role?
The interviewer wants to understand how and why you are the best fit for the role. Brainstorm all of the qualities and characteristics that are most related to the job description and will serve you well in the position.
Useful words to describe yourself
As you prepare to describe yourself, be sure to focus on positive, assertive words and descriptions of your soft skills. Here are examples of words you can use during an interview, elevator pitch, or resume summary:
Words to describe your work style:
Words to describe your personality:
Words to explain how you work with others:
How to answer the request to describe yourself
Now that you have reflected and prepared for the question, you are ready to share your story during your interview. Be sure to describe yourself in terms of how it will benefit the company and what qualifies you as a great fit for the job. To format your response, consider the following ideas:
1. Consider how your current job relates to the position you are applying for.
Talk about the transferable skills you currently have that make you an excellent fit for the new position. If the job you are applying for is a senior role, describe how you are taking on more responsibility at your current job. If the position is in a different industry, explain how your current role or other life experience is related.
2. Mention past experiences and proven successes as they relate to the position.
Review the job description and required skills. Then match up your past experiences that highlight your skills in action by providing specific examples and how they relate to the position. For instance, detailing your previous sales experience of increasing your territory's revenue by 25% is a positive skill that you can bring to the new company for a sales executive position.
3. Focus on experiences that you can support with examples.
Providing past experiences that are supported with quantifiable examples is more effective than a generic statement. For example, saying that you increased production by 15% over eight months is much more impactful than merely stating you increased production. If you do not have exact numbers, make a realistic estimate. Quantifying your examples allows the interviewer to see the value of your experiences.
4. Highlight your personality to break the ice.
As the purpose of describing yourself is for the interviewer to get to know you, highlight your personality in your response. Adding in a few personal details linked back to the position can feature your skills and abilities. For example, including how you enjoy marathon running because you like a challenge or that you just took a sushi-making class because you enjoy learning new skills can help the interviewer see your personality and qualities.
Example responses to being asked to describe yourself
To help you determine how to describe yourself in your interview, consider the examples below.
I am passionate about my work.
“I am passionate about my work. Because I love what I do, I have a steady source of motivation that drives me to do my best. At my last job, this passion led me to challenge myself daily and learn new skills that helped me excel. For example, I taught myself how to use Photoshop to improve the quality of our photos and graphics. I soon became the go-to person for any design needs.”
I am ambitious and driven.
“I am ambitious and driven. I thrive on challenges and constantly set goals for myself so I have something to strive toward. I'm not comfortable with settling, and I'm always looking for an opportunity to do better and achieve greatness. In my previous role, I was promoted three times in less than two years.”
I am highly organized.
“I am highly organized. I always take notes, and I use a series of tools to help myself stay on top of deadlines. I like to keep a clean workspace and create a logical filing method so I'm always able to find what I need. I find this increases efficiency and helps the rest of the team stay on track, too. In my last role, I created a new filing process that increased departmental efficiency by 25%.”
I'm a people-person.
“I'm a people-person. I love meeting new people and learning about their lives and backgrounds. I can almost always find common ground with strangers, and I like making people feel comfortable in my presence. I find this skill is especially helpful when kicking off projects with new clients. In my current job, my clients' satisfaction scores are 15% over the company average.”
I am a natural leader.
"I'm a natural leader. I've been promoted to a leadership role in almost every job because I'm driven and like to help people. I find co-workers usually come to me with questions or concerns even when I'm not in a leadership role because if I don't know the answer, I can at least point them in the right direction. In my last two roles, I was promoted to leadership positions after less than a year with the company.”
I am results-oriented.
“I am results-oriented, constantly checking in with the goal to determine how close or how far away we are and what it will take to make it happen. I find this pressure inspiring and it's a great motivator for the rest of the team. In fact, over the past year, I was able to help my team shorten our average product time to market by two weeks.”
I am an excellent communicator.
“I am an excellent communicator. I pride myself on making sure people have the right information because it drives better results. Most business issues stem from poor communication, so I feel a responsibility to keep everyone on the same page. These skills helped increase my personal client retention rate by more than 40% in a year, and helped the team deliver 100% of our projects within the original deadline.”
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