How to Describe Yourself In a Job Interview

Person writing a list of traits.

Learning how to describe yourself in three words during a job interview can be essential to getting the job you want. Employers often search for specific traits in job candidates, but even if you have all the qualities a prospective employer wants, it won’t matter if you’re unable to communicate how well you fit with their organization. By preparing a few things to say in an interview about yourself, you can seize the opportunity to describe yourself and why you’re the best candidate for the position at-hand.

Why Interviewers Ask "How Would You Describe Yourself in 3 Words?"

The questions might be phrased in a variety of ways. You might be asked “how would you describe yourself?” Your interviewer may ask, "how would others describe you?” Or it could be the ever-popular: “use three words to describe yourself.”

Being asked to describe yourself during an interview isn’t merely a pleasantry. Employers are often searching for people who aren’t only qualified, but are also likely to fit within their company’s culture. Questions like these are also useful for testing self-awareness, confidence, and a person’s general demeanor.

Knowing how to describe yourself leads your interview in a more meaningful direction. It can help capture an interviewer’s attention and prompt them to mentally highlight your application. Your preparation can also help you to speak to them with confidence and authority.

How to Prepare Your Answer and Examples

In order to find the right words to describe yourself in an interview, begin by drafting a list of adjectives that describe you in a general sense. For instance, if you want to describe your work ethic, you might look for adjectives such as dependable, motivated, analytical. You’ll also want to consider adjectives that describe both your strengths and weaknesses, as this is another common interview question.

After you’ve built a list of various traits, you can then start to think about which traits on your list happen to match the job in question. Determining your qualities that you want to highlight is usually possible by carefully reading the job posting and researching the company.

With your list of job-appropriate adjectives in hand, the next thing you’ll need is to know how to demonstrate them. Merely claiming you’re a good problem solver actually communicates very little information. For each adjective on your list, think of an anecdote about a time when you exemplified that particular trait.

Do this while remaining positive and honest and you’ll be well on your way to knowing how to tackle a “describe yourself” interview question. And a couple of examples of how to describe yourself for a job might be helpful, too. Here are a few words to look to for inspiration. These can be building blocks to help you think of three adjectives and mock scenarios that can accurately describe you to a prospective employer:

Team Player

For instance, maybe you play recreational sports in a local league. You can cite a moment where you helped make sure the team was on the same page -- not just on the field, but in getting to practice. Picking up and dropping off team members who didn’t have transportation can be a great instance of showing how your actions helped pull the team together to work toward a common goal.

Self-Starter

Look to examples at previous jobs where there were existing problems that you helped solve by thinking differently. For instance, maybe your company had a big problem with waste. Nearly every employee was issued a smartphone or tablet that  replaced every couple of years. But the company wasn’t doing anything with the old equipment. Perhaps you recognized an opportunity and took steps to find a profitable means of reselling devices that were collecting dust, and helped fill a hole in your company’s budget.

Driven

Demonstrate your drive for success by showing steps you’ve taken to build skills related to a field. For instance, if you’re pursuing a career as an actuary, discuss how you’ve become familiar with the most common software systems used by actuaries, including the systems the company you’re interviewing with currently use. You can also discuss internships you’ve had and the work you’ve done as an intern.

Common Issues When Describing yourself in an insurance interview

What about how not to describe yourself in an interview? For all the things you should say, there are probably twice as many things you shouldn’t. For instance, avoid the common mistake of giving away too many details about yourself. Handing over information that’s not relevant or overly detailed will only distract from the reasons you’re qualified.

Don’t describe yourself in an interview using adjectives you can’t support. For instance, you might be intelligent, but that’s tough to demonstrate without coming off as arrogant. Likewise, the irony isn’t lost on people when you start bragging about being humble. And words like “successful” don’t communicate much, except for how you see yourself.

In short, there are some traits where you should let people draw their own conclusions. But that doesn’t mean you should be too timid or undersell yourself. Sometimes, people really are excellent at what they do. But without confidence, it’s tough to communicate just how good you are, which is the importance of using the right adjectives.

It also helps if you understand the reasoning behind how your previous job skills can transfer from one type of work to another. For example, suppose you’re in an interview for an underwriter position. You might want to mention that you have an excellent attention to detail which you developed during your last job, a strong background in mathematics from your academic career, and a good grasp on IT from personal experience.

Whatever your strengths and weaknesses, you can make a good case for yourself, as long as you avoid the mistake of providing a non-answer or  fail to show everything you’re capable of offering.

Getting the Job

Remember, the “describe yourself in three words” interview question exists to help an interviewer determine how well you might match their organization. Since the answer to this question can cause qualified candidates to be overlooked or can cause under qualified candidates to get hired, taking the time to prepare an answer is well worth your time.

For more interview preparation advice, check out the MyPath blog to learn the top behavioral-based interview questions you might face and how to craft a follow-up email after your interview, so you can be thoroughly prepared for your next job interview. If you’re still deciding which career path is right for you, check out MyPath’s Career Wizard Quiz.