How to Answer “How Do You Measure Success?”

Learn how to answer this tricky interview question with these tips and tricks.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Person learning how to answer "how do you measure success?"

Let’s face it, interviews are rarely easy. You will most likely be asked common job interview questions about how your skills and experience relate to the job role, but it’s also likely that you will be thrown a curveball question that seems a bit abstract and not directly relevant to the role. It’s these questions that usually dig a bit deeper and your answers reveal a lot about you, your motivations and your work ethic, and ultimately, convince employers to hire you during the hiring process.

One such question is “how do you measure success?” A question like this might initially throw you off balance, but with a bit of prep work and our tips for crafting the best response, you’ll be prepared to answer it.

Why hiring managers ask this question

You might wonder what the point of a question like this is. After all, it has little bearing on whether you have the skills for the role you’re interviewing for, right? Actually, that’s not the case. Hiring managers ask the question, “how do you measure success?” because it tells them a lot about your attitude to work and your work ethic. If you are measuring your own success, it shows that you are the kind of person who likes to do well, but perhaps, more importantly, who likes to improve and grow.

It’s also a way of finding out a bit more about your personality and motivations. By asking how you measure success, the hiring manager will be able to understand more about how you view success and what success is to you — as well as being able to spot any red flags and understanding if you’ll be a good team player.

Steps for crafting a response

There is no right answer to a question like this, and it really is for the hiring manager to determine whether you are a good fit for them. With this in mind, you need time to craft your answer so you tick all the right boxes, whilst remaining true to yourself.

Take a look at our steps for crafting a response to make sure you give an answer to the question that will impress.

Step 1: Define success for you

What is success to you? Everyone measures success differently. For some, the definition of success is money and status — and reaching the top position. For others, it might be about touching people’s lives, or helping other people to achieve something.

For example, if you are a new graduate just starting out in your career, your goal might be to reach a senior position, which signifies success for you. For you, each step up will be a move towards your goal and the sense of achievement and monetary benefits that come with stepping up the ladder will indicate success.

Similarly, if you are a writer, your ultimate goal that makes you feel successful might be authoring a book. This may not necessarily bring in a high salary range, but if it is the goal you’re working towards, reaching the end of this monumental project will feel like success for you.

It’s important that you know what success is to you before answering this question. Once you know how you view success, it will be easier to find a way to measure it.

Step 2: Think about your goals

When we talk about success and how you know that you are being successful, the key is goal setting. A goal involves steps that takes you closer to your ultimate end goal. In order to know if you are heading for success, you need to know what your end goal is. Do you want to be a CEO? Do you want to write a book? Do you want to change a policy? Whatever your goal is, that is your starting point.

In order to evaluate success, you need to know what you’re aiming for. Take some time to write out your goals, and then some steps to reach them. This is going to be how you measure success.

Step 3: Align with company goals

Having your own goals and measures to show that you are working towards them is fantastic, but no matter how good you are at answering this question, if your goals don’t match those of the employer, then you’ll end up giving the wrong answer and you won’t impress them.

Do some research on the employer and work culture within the organization. Find out what is important to them and align it with your answer. If the company you are interviewing with value ambitious people who they can fast track on management programs, talking about your goal to reach the top of the company is appropriate. If you are applying for a role with a charity with a fundamental goal of helping a group overcome a challenge, talking about your goals of money and status isn’t such a good match. Instead, you may want to talk about your goals and measures for supporting others.

Step 4: Be specific

The hiring manager wants to see that you are able to manage your own success and take control of your goals and professional achievements, so you need to be specific and confident in explaining how you measure success. An answer like, “I always do my best at everything I try so I feel successful” will not be enough. There is no measure there. The question specifically mentions “measure”.

Whatever you define success as, think about how you know that you are moving towards it. Perhaps you measure success with each new position you reach, or with every pay rise that takes you closer to that senior position. Perhaps you measure success on whether you are following your plan of writing a chapter of your book in a set time period, leading you to finish the book as the end goal.

Equally, you may measure your success on the number of people you are able to help, or on feedback you receive from customers. Whatever it is, it needs to be measurable. This is key.

Step 5: Get personal

When it comes to measuring success, thinking outside of the workplace can be beneficial. Rather than basing all your measure of success on your job, how do you know if you’ve been successful outside of work, or in a personal capacity? Maybe you value learning and are taking an online course — how you progress through that course is a great measure of success.

It might be that success to you is related to balance and you measure it on how you are able to be effective at work whilst being able to spend certain days at home and how that affects your mental health. Work-life balance is something many find difficult, so if it is important to you, and you equate it with success, and you have a solid way of measuring it, it’s a great example, providing it aligns with company goals.

Step 6: Be positive

When presenting yourself as someone who understands success and how to get there, stay positive. Talk about your measurements and achievements, and don’t highlight what you haven’t managed to achieve in a negative way. Acknowledge that success is not overnight and that every experience is an opportunity to learn.

Examples answers

How you answer the question, “How do you measure success?” will depend on how you view success. Here are some examples answers for you to consider and adapt to make them your own:

Success through growth

“To help me measure success, I set goals with steps that are achievable but challenging. When I reach those goals, I am able to feel a sense of success because I know I am growing and learning and working towards my end goal of moving up within the company to a more senior position.”

Success through balance

“My career is very important to me, and I believe to do well in my career, I need a good work life balance. I measure success on how well I achieve that balance. If I am able to work flexibly and excel in my work tasks, whilst having enough time to be present with my family, I consider that a success.”

Success through contribution

“I started along this career path because I want to make a difference. Aside from my own growth and development, I want to help others achieve. I measure my success on how many people I can impact and how many lives I can enhance through my work.”

Key takeaways

Success means something different for each person, but the important thing is that no matter how you define success, you can demonstrate how you measure it. Being able to answer this difficult question helps an employer understand your motivations, work ethic, personality, and ability to monitor yourself and your development. Important points to remember include:

  • Be true to yourself — Talk about your ideas of success, don’t feel pressure for them to be all about the job in question.
  • Align with company values — Think about how your goals and measures of success fit with the company you’re interviewing with to make sure you are on the same page.
  • Be positive — Talk about how your measures have shown you to be successful and give examples.

Have you ever been asked this question? How did you answer? Let us know in the comments below!


Originally published on 14 April 2014.