Answering ‘How Would You Describe Yourself?’ 5 Tips and Examples.

It’s a common question that’s more complex than you might think. Here’s what experts have to say about it.

Written by Dawn Kawamoto
Answering ‘How Would You Describe Yourself?’ 5 Tips and Examples.
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UPDATED BY
Matthew Urwin | Jul 21, 2023
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One of the hardest parts of the job interview process is answering the seemingly simple question: How would you describe yourself? 

This question is vague for a reason, according to Ashley Watkins, a career consultant and former recruiter. Prospective employers are teeing up job candidates to see how well they can show their strengths for a role.

Knowing how to describe yourself is important because there’s a good chance you’ll be asked a variation of this question during a job interview.

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Why Interviewers Ask This Question

Interviewers might ask you to describe yourself for a very practical reason: It saves them time from guessing what makes you tick.

“I think the reason this question is so popular is that sometimes the interviewer really hasn’t had the time to read your resume,” Rachel Amos, director of career services and employer relations at Carnegie Mellon University, told Built In. “Maybe they’re interviewing 15 people a day and reading hundreds of resumes. So, you’re doing a little of their job for them.”

Decoding this question further, prospective employers ask this question to see what you can offer their company and whether your work experience, accomplishments, knowledge, skills and personality match the qualities they seek.

The question also tests your communication and listening skills, said Jenny Logullo, communications consultant and career coach.  She added the interviewer is certainly paying attention and evaluating what you say, so it’s important not to get distracted and ramble on.

Some hiring managers, however, don’t ask job candidates to describe themselves.

“I don’t ask that question because it’s not precise enough,” Philippe Clavel, senior director of engineering at Roblox, said. “I don’t think it’s set up for success to know what you want to know as an interviewer.”

Instead, Clavel said he’ll ask job candidates about their careers and what impact they’ve had, as well as their passions both in and outside of work.

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5 Variations of the ‘How Would You Describe Yourself’ Question

There are a few different ways interviewers might ask this question, but the nuances that employers are seeking in your response differ. In order to get it right, job applicants should be asking themselves what the interviewer is trying to learn.
 

Tell Me About Yourself

You may think “tell me about yourself” and “how would you describe yourself” are the same question at first glance, but to employers, it might not be, Amos said.

“Tell me about yourself is a different way of saying, ‘tell me about your professional and educational background,’” Amos added. “How would you describe yourself is more of a trait-based question and not a background-based one.”

Traits are based on your personality, such as, you really enjoy challenges and thrive on situations that call for lots of flexibility.

 

How Would Your Coworkers Describe You?

Employers ask this question to get better insight into your work style, work ethic and what your personality is like in a work situation.

Amos advises pulling the requested skills in the job description and trying to match at least three of those that fit with your own list of skills. 

“If the company wants people who enjoy solving complex problems and you have those skills, I would say, ‘I think my former boss would say I’m a person who enjoys solving complex problems, and here’s a couple of ways I’ve done that,” Amos said. 

This question may also seek to uncover whether you are a team player or how well you work in a team environment. It could be trying to find out if you share the workload equally or if you can build relationships with others, according to Dana McCormick, chief human resources officer at Simeio. 

 

What Are Three Words That Describe You?

“When they give you a number, that right there should be a cue to keep it concise,” Santina Pitcher, associate director of counseling and programs at the University of California at Berkeley’s Career Center, said. “Don’t just say three adjectives and be done with it. You need to give it a little context but you also don’t want to have a five-minute answer.”

One of the best steps to take to be prepared for a brief but impactful response is to prepare ahead of time for such a question and practice a response.

 

What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?

Questions about your strengths and weaknesses are designed to help employers get a sense of how much of a learning curve you may face and consider what other types of training and development opportunities may be appropriate for you, McCormick said.

Our egos may take a beating when we list our weaknesses, but avoid wimping out when responding to the interview question about your weaknesses, career experts advise.

“When asked about your greatest weakness, people may say, ‘I work too much,’ or ‘I don’t know when to say ‘no.’ Don’t say what you think they want to hear. They really want to know what makes you, you,” Pitcher said.

When asked about your greatest failure, employers are measuring whether you have ever faced adversity and did you display grit or resiliency after the failure.

 

What Do You Like to Do Outside of Work?

“Tech companies in particular love what I’m going to call passion projections,” Amos said.

It tells them what areas you’re excited about and gives them a better sense of whether the current job that is available would be a good fit — and, if not, keep you in mind for future jobs that fit your passion.

“If you didn’t plan for that question, you may say, ‘I enjoy reading.’ That’s not super helpful in a job interview,” Amos said. “But if you said I taught myself Java one summer because I really wanted to create this app and I needed to learn Java to do it, so I watched YouTube videos to learn it. That would be a great example.” 

That said, some recruiters like when candidates draw connections between their hobbies and what they enjoy about their work. Think: “I enjoy rock climbing because, similar to coding, I need to solve problems methodically through a series of precise steps.”

Other variations of this question range from “what do you do for fun,” “what makes you tick,” “what are you passionate about,” she added.

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DESCRIBE YOURSELF in 3 WORDS! | Video: CareerVidz

Ways to Describe Yourself in an Interview (With Examples)

“I’m a Team Player” 

Team players give companies a major boost. They are the ones who go the extra mile, taking on extra tasks their managers assign to them while offering to help coworkers with other projects. Managers covet these kinds of employees who leave their egos at the door and are willing to perform responsibilities outside of their job descriptions. 

Example

“I’m a team player who’s willing to do what it takes to help the team succeed. In my last role, I offered to help members of the product team finish designing a specific feature, despite being assigned to the UX team for that particular project. The product team had fallen behind schedule, but I helped them speed up the design process. As a result, I helped the team meet our two-week deadline, even after the product team was three days behind schedule.”  

 

“I’m Resilient” 

Resilient employees respond to challenges and setbacks, finding ways to rebound and achieve their goals. This trait is crucial for companies operating in volatile markets where external factors can shift quickly. Amid this uncertainty, it’s reassuring to have an employee who leadership can trust to handle adversity without flinching.  

Example

“I’m someone who displays resilience in the face of hardships. At my previous company, our design team faced a setback when we received user feedback where customers complained about our product being too confusing to use. I accepted this feedback with a positive attitude, shifting my priorities to focus on finding a fix for the issue and getting our final product released on time. By reallocating my energies and maintaining a can-do mentality, I helped redesign the product in less than a week, and the new design received stellar reviews from our customers.” 

 

“I’m Collaborative” 

Collaborative employees do more than just work well with others or act nice to everyone. They’re the ones who aren’t afraid to reach out to other team members and workers in different departments with questions, ideas and feedback. They set aside time to talk with others about projects, figuring out responsibilities, listening to advice from coworkers and being willing to adjust their own schedule and priorities to support the needs of other individuals and teams.

Example

“I’m collaborative by nature and know how to work with others to complete projects on time. In my previous role, I worked on designing a product with members from engineering and quality assurance. I made sure to reach out to the engineers if I had any questions about how they added certain features and constructed the product. And if I had any doubts about my work, I asked QA personnel to take a look and provide insights. Staying in constant communication with these teams allowed me to set aside any uncertainty and perform my job at a high level.” 

 

“I’m Passionate” 

Being passionate about something suggests an added degree of dedication that separates passionate employees from co-workers who simply show up and do their jobs. Passionate employees love their jobs, and this shines through in how they take additional steps to ensure their work is of the best quality.  

Example

“I’m extremely passionate about software development. In my previous role as a software developer, I took it upon myself to learn some of the newer programming languages my team had adopted, including F#, Swift and Java 17. I also volunteered to take on a side project where I developed coding shortcuts to speed up the software design process. My manager saw my commitment to my work, so they came to me often when they had more complex problems that they only trusted a focused member of the team to solve.” 

 

“I’m Organized” 

Organized individuals know how to manage their time and structure their days in a way that allows them to complete all their tasks. Managers appreciate having organized employees since they know they don’t need to tell these employees what to do. Organized workers know how to manage themselves, and this trait is especially useful in fast-paced environments. 

Example

“I’m highly organized and have developed a strong work ethic. In my last position as an editor, I often worked on several projects at once while overseeing the work of four writers. I learned how to structure my days effectively, completing short-term assignments quickly and working in sprints on long-term projects. As a result, I fulfilled my duties as an editor and helped writers meet tight deadlines while keeping up with the pace of a fast publishing industry.”

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Common Mistakes Made in Describing Yourself

 One of the biggest mistakes is that candidates take the question literally.

“The common mistake is to think that they’re interested in a long, babbling rendition of everything you’ve done and how you got there in front of them,” Robin Ryan, a career counselor and author of 60 Seconds and You’re Hired, said.

Instead, give personal information that’s aligned with the job description or the mission and values of the company you are interviewing with, rather than details about your personal life like your favorite food or hobbies.

When most people begin searching for words to describe themselves, adjectives like hardworking or team-oriented might come to mind. Those chosen words tell a story, and that requires a bit more preparation than an off-the-cuff answer.

Short, boring answers will also limit your chances of getting hired. 

“The common mistake is to think that they’re interested in a long, babbling rendition of everything you’ve done and how you got there in front of them.”

When asked to describe yourself, a vanilla response would go something like this: I am currently working on my master’s degree in information security and interested in an internship at your company because I would be learning a lot and working on challenging projects. 

Instead, Amos said to be as specific as possible in your response and offered up this example: “I really enjoy backend development, especially at the kernel level and getting way deep into the tech stack. I’m looking for opportunities where I can do some backend development at the driver level, storage level or kernel level.”  

And in telling a company about yourself, it’s also extremely important to explain why it’s their company you are particularly interested in.

“Another huge mistake is they don’t directly identify why this company is the one they want to work at and companies hate that,” Amos said. “Google is different from Microsoft and you can’t pretend they’re all the same.”

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How to Describe Yourself on Your Resume

Put a summary at the top of the resume that concisely describes your qualifications and the impact you’ve had at your current or previous jobs. Use strong bullet point statements in the summary that list your skills that match the ones sought in the job description and include the positive outcome from those skills.

“If you’re putting the two together — skill and positive outcome — and focus on the job qualifications, you really have created a nicely tailored resume,” Pitcher said. 

Cover letters are also a place where you can describe yourself, but Amos said don’t send one unless an employer specifically asks for one in the job posting.

The cover letter should tell a story of your skills, which match those listed in the job description, and the impact these skills have had on your current or former employer, project or organization.

But addressing the “how would you describe yourself?” question in the cover letter isn’t necessary, Amos said. The trait-based personality information, such as you like challenges or you thrive in a collaborative environment, should be covered once you get called in for an interview.

“The cover letter is heavily focused on really matching your skills with what they are looking for,” Amos added. “The cover letter’s goal is to get you an interview, then in the interview, you can talk about your traits and personality.” 

An earlier version of this story was written by Olivia McClure.

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