Saying that job interviews are not fun would be an understatement. In fact, most people grunt and sigh whenever they need to attend an interview, no matter how desperate they are to get a job. Why? Well, because having to sit across the room from a stranger and have them judge every professional decision you’ve ever made is never easy.
However, job interviews are a necessary means to an end and it is, therefore, our responsibility to prepare before each of these professional meetings. Going through common interview questions can help you feel more at ease, and because situational questions (eg: ‘You encounter problem X at work, what do you do?’) are much easier to answer than generic ones, we are here to help you find a clever way to answer ‘How would you describe yourself?’
Understand the interviewer’s motives
It’s true that some of the questions we get asked during job interviews seem completely pointless, but rather than complying with the idea that the interviewer is simply going down their list of things to ask, always start by thinking ‘Why am I being asked that?’
With questions like ‘How would you describe yourself?’ the interviewer is trying to find out more about you and how you judge yourself. As such, your answer will essentially shape their way of understanding you and this means that you need to put some thought into what you are going to say.
The reason why this particular question is usually asked is not so that the hiring manager can learn more about your range of vocabulary but rather to evaluate whether you’d be a good fit to the company’s culture and work environment. Hiring managers are often worried that hiring someone who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the team will lead to conflict and eventually turnover, and their best way to avoid that is by ensuring that you’ll be able to adjust to the workplace as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
Therefore, the best way to answer this question is to show them that you are the right fit for this position, ie: that you have the skills required and that your personality pretty much fits the requirements as well.
Find out more about the company culture
Researching a company before the interview is, as you probably already know, necessary. Not only will most hiring managers blatantly ask you if you’ve looked at their website, etc, but they will also expect you to know details about their operation. Researching a company also has the additional benefits of being able to better understand what the hiring manager is talking about when describing the job’s duties and being able to ask more focused questions.
However, researching the company and their major competitors is not enough. Especially when you suspect that you may be asked questions such as ‘How would you describe yourself?’ Memorising up to the fifth decimal point of the figure of the profit the company turned around in the second trimester of 2014 will do nothing to show that you are a great culture fit.
What you should do instead is research the company’s culture, so go to the company’s social media pages and look for company photos. Most companies will at least have shared a picture from their Christmas party or from a fundraiser they participated in, and these pictures and posts can help you better understand the company’s organisational culture.
Another great idea is to contact someone who already works at the company to find out the insight scoop. Go through your LinkedIn contacts to see if you have any acquaintances who work there and if you don’t, then use social media for what they were intended for: stalking. Go through employees’ social media profiles and see if they’ve posted anything about their work. Most people have, so you are very likely to find the kind of information you’re looking for.
Identify your best qualities and characteristics
The first two steps relate to researching and understanding how to meet the interviewer’s expectations; this step has to do with taking action in order to meet their expectations. The first thing you need to do is sit down with a friend, or a family member, and write down any and every word that comes to mind that is relevant to you. So, if you’re a daydreamer, for example, write it down; if you’re an organisation freak, put that down as well. There are many things we find unattractive about ourselves, but with the right spin, they can turn into qualities any employee would be lucky to possess.
The next step has to do with matching your qualities to the company’s expectations. Go through the job description once more and circle any words that are similar (even remotely) to what you have down on your list. Once you do that, think of how you can improve the adjectives and phrases on your list to make them more attractive. So, if you’ve put down ‘daydreamer’, for example, and the company is looking for someone with innovative ideas, then you can describe yourself as someone with a vision.
Also, make sure that you think of what you can maybe use from past work experience. Although, generally speaking, interviewers do not want to drag this question and they’ll expect you to be as concise as possible, some will ask you to elaborate. So, the best way to answer the question is by having an interesting example/story to relate. Think of occasions when your organisational skills came in handy or when your ability to multitask helped your team hand in a project before the deadline, etc.
- ‘I’m someone who’s very organised and very detail-oriented. Not just in the workplace, but in my personal life as well. I believe that by keeping track of what you want to achieve, you’re basically ensuring success and I think this is true at work as well. Knowing what you need to do ahead of time makes you methodical which also helps you spot any details that others could miss.’
- ‘I am a people person. I work best when in a functional team because I believe that sharing ideas with others leads to more creativity and more effective results. That’s not to say that I can’t work independently, as well; on the contrary, I am great at carrying out my own tasks, but I think that when there’s collaboration in the workplace you get better results.’
- ‘I am a problem-solver and I’m very orientated towards producing results. I enjoy challenges because they give me a unique opportunity to put my head down and come up with a solution. And I do, every time; I am not afraid to take risks and do things differently, although I never dive into something without calculating the risk.’
- ‘I am someone who’s highly adaptable. I can adjust to new situations quite easily and I find that the challenge of having to learn something new is half the fun. This is why I always push myself to grow and continue to improve as well.’
- ‘I am a very creative individual and I enjoy coming up with creative solutions at work. I always try to find that one angle that no one has considered to address an issue before and to figure out a way to make that work. I think that, at the end of the day, this can help you win over the client every time.’
- ‘I am someone who can think on their feet, something which I believe is necessary in this industry as things change very fast. Of course, I am also able to make responsible decisions as I can quickly consider the effects a decision I’ll make can have on my work and the customer.’
- ‘I am someone who believes in the power of communication. From my experience, having open communication channels with everyone can significantly benefit the team and the results they produce.’
- ‘I am someone who’s very focused on the end-goal. I don’t lose time worrying about details. I know what needs to be done and I pull through every time.’
- ‘I am someone who thinks customer service should always come first. It’s always my goal to create a lasting impression to the customer so that they’ll keep coming back. I believe that unless you prioritise the clients’ needs, there’s no way you’ll able to achieve your goals.’
- ‘I am a person to whom other people look to when there’s trouble. I am always in control of a situation and others know that if they need assistance or guidance, they can come to me and I will be more than happy to help them.’
Identifying a clever way to answer ‘How would you describe yourself?’ can help the interview start on the right foot. Remember to not get too carried away and be honest because, if you’re not, it will come up later down the line and will torpedo the interviewer’s impression of you.
Have you ever been asked this interview question? Let me know in the comments section below.
This article was originally published in May 2015.