How to Describe Yourself to Make the Best Impression in an Interview
“How would you describe yourself?” is a tough question because… well, how would you describe yourself, exactly? It can be very hard to see yourself clearly, and trying to talk about yourself this way can make a lot of people self-conscious. How do you make yourself look good without coming across as boastful? What’s relevant, so that you don’t wind up rambling on about your entire life story for 15 minutes?
This question comes up a lot in interviews and applications, and it’s a common jumping-off point for longer conversations and more detailed questions. So you’ll want to say something substantial enough to break the ice and get the ball rolling. It’s also a bit of a test of whether you can tell a concise, direct story about your own experience.
So, how would you describe yourself, if you were being asked in a situation (like a job interview) where a fair amount rides on your answer? Here are some things you can consider:
What makes you a good fit for the role?
Being asked to describe yourself in an interview context is a slightly more general version of being asked “why should we hire you?” So you first want to think about what makes you a great fit for the job. You’ll want to do some research on the role and the company, gain a concrete understanding of what the position will involve and what kind of candidate the hiring manager is looking for, and think about how you align with that. You’ve probably already done a fair amount of this as part of your general interview prep.
While we’re focusing primarily on job interviews in this article, the same principles hold true if you’re asked to describe yourself in another setting – for example at a professional event, or in an application for an educational program, club, or fellowship. You’ll want to make sure you really understand the context, and how you can present yourself in the best light within that context. As such, the general way you approach the question will be the same no matter what.
Some words you could use to describe yourself
To help get you thinking, we’ve made a list of some adjectives and positive attributes that could factor into your answer. Read through the list and think about which ones resonate with you – they should point to things about yourself that feel fundamentally true, and also strike you as relevant to the situation.
A fast learner
General tips on how to describe yourself
In forming a response, you can keep these guidelines in mind:
Be positive, but be honest. Don’t say you’re good at something that you don’t have a track record with, or pick a quality you’re not actually confident you have. There are great things you can say about yourself without having to lie or exaggerate, and being honest is crucial because you’ll want to…
Be as specific as possible. Give details, or relay anecdotes or accomplishments, that illustrate the ways in which you possess the qualities you’re talking about.
Be confident, but don’t brag. Being confident in your positive attributes is essential when advocating for yourself in a professional setting, or anywhere else! However you don’t want to go on and on about how great you are – in addition to being off-putting, boasting can make it seem like you’re compensating for something, and is meaningless unless it’s supported by reality. That’s another reason specifics are key: they show that you have good reason to believe in yourself, and mean that you’re telling a story rather than simply blowing hot air.
Keep it concise. Unless you’re directly asked to constrain your answer to a few words or a sentence (more on this below), it’s ok to give yourself a few sentences to elaborate on specifics and examples. However you don’t want to eat up precious interview time by reciting your entire biography! Think about what’s important to emphasize given the particulars of the situation, and confine yourself to what will directly support the point you want to make.
How to give the short answer
Sometimes you’ll specifically be asked to describe yourself in the shortest way possible – meaning you could be asked to “describe yourself in three words” or “describe yourself in a sentence.” This is either easier or harder, depending on how you think about it!
A great way to prepare for your interview is to actually come up with an answer to the “short version” of the question. Choosing three great words, or distilling your most important quality into a sentence, will force you to think hard about what you feel is the most essential information to convey and how to do so effectively.
If you can do that, you’ll be in great shape to construct a somewhat longer and more elaborate version of your answer, or to respond to similar questions about your qualities and qualifications.
Examples of how to describe yourself in an interview
Below are some ideas of how you could structure an answer if asked to describe yourself in a job interview. These examples are meant as a guide – depending on the role and what qualities you want to highlight, you can and should come up with your own version!
Highlight An Accomplishment
It’s great if you can discuss a concrete achievement that is relevant to the job you’re applying for, and illustrates a quality you want to highlight. This not only demonstrates that you’re qualified, but that you have a track record of getting results.
I would say that I’m extremely proactive and resourceful, which makes me great at solving problems on the fly. In my last job, one of our biggest clients contacted us about a service interruption the morning before they were supposed to give a major presentation that they had designed using our software. I was able to locate the source of the error and coordinate a successful solve, even though two of our regular team members were out sick that day. Once a solution was reached I proactively briefed the CTO, who made the decision to personally call the client and make sure their concerns were addressed. As a result, the client wrote a testimonial about our customer service which is now featured on the landing page of our company website.
Highlight Your Social Skills
Social skills are crucial for any kind of service-oriented or customer-facing role, as well as any career that involves networking, facilitating partnerships, or resolving conflicts.
One thing about me that stands out, and that has been invaluable in my career, is that I’m highly social and love making authentic connections. I’m not at all shy about chatting people up at a party or networking event, and I like finding common ground with people. This tends to, in turn, make them feel comfortable talking to me and I’ve been told by clients that they always enjoy our conversations and trust my advice.
Highlight Your Passion and Ability to Learn
This can be especially important if you’re applying for a job that represents a career leap from where you are now, or you’re a recent graduate and don’t have many concrete professional accomplishments to point to yet.
Something I learned during my education is that I love diving into every detail of something \t I’m passionate about, and finding ways to make those passions a part of my life. I’ve taught myself two languages in addition to the one I’ve formally studied, just because of how fascinating it is for me to find the connections between different languages in the same family. I also actively sought out opportunities to practice my skills by attending lectures given entirely in French, even when my knowledge of the language wasn’t yet advanced.
Highlight Your Leadership Qualities
Leadership qualities can include a number of things depending on the role and the industry, but having vision and being confident and proactive about executing it are key – as are possessing the kind of social skills that will inspire others.
At this point of my career I’m extremely ambitious and have been actively seeking out projects where I can set strategy and assume a leadership role among the members of my team. When I’m passionate about something, I naturally start to think about what steps are necessary to ensure that it happens, and I love being able to instill that enthusiasm on my team so that it feels like we’re all working toward a common goal.
Highlight Your Creativity
If you’re applying for a job in a creative field, or one that requires a lot of outside-the-box problem-solving, creativity is a great quality to highlight. In addition to talking about your professional background, your hobbies and interests can be a great way of demonstrating that you have a creative mind.
I’m fundamentally a very creative person, which has played a role in nearly every aspect of my life. I’ve been writing since my teens and have actually won two awards for my short fiction – and the creative skills I’ve built due to my passions have been invaluable in my copywriting career. I’ve worked with several corporations and nonprofits to help them craft specific, compelling human narratives that connect on an emotional level. The last nonprofit campaign I worked on resulted in a massive increase in social media shares and a 150% increase in donations compared to the campaign they ran at this time year before.