If you've ever struggled to describe yourself during an interview, you're not alone! You know you have a strong professional background, useful skills, and an awesome personality, but describing all of that to an employer is easier said than done.
Hiring managers ask you to describe yourself because they want to know about skills and abilities you have that align with the job. You can include (almost) anything in your response, including:
Strengths or qualities (discipline, creativity, versatility)
Soft skills (communication, teamwork, problem solving)
Hard or technical skills (data analysis, project management, forecasting)
Relevant hobbies (blogging, committee involvement, team sports)
Related work experience (internships or part-time/full-time jobs)
Education (degrees, certificates, or training programs)
Since this interview question is so common, it's a good idea to start practicing your answer (or polish the one you usually give) using the strategies and examples in this guide.
What are some of the best ways to respond to “describe yourself” during an interview?
There is no right or wrong answer to the "describe yourself" question. But there are a few guidelines that can help you answer the question more effectively (and get you that much closer to getting the job!)
The first thing to remember is to answer honestly. You could always claim to be an expert in your field with five specialized degrees and a slew of distinguished honors. But if that’s not true for you, avoid including this in your answer. To develop a good response when an interviewer asks you to describe yourself, lead with your truth.
If you need help figuring out what your truth is, start by asking yourself these questions:
How many years of experience do I have in the field?
How has my education or training helped prepare me for the role?
How have my personal interests or hobbies helped me become a well-rounded professional?
By answering these three questions honestly, you create the foundation for your response to "describe yourself”:
Sample response – part one
"I have five years of experience in engineering. My education and training in materials science has taught me how to work with materials safely and efficiently. Beyond that, I'm involved in a few organizations, such as the American Society for Testing and Materials, where I get to network and discover best practices with my peers in the field. I’m also involved in organizations that are related to my personal interests, like yoga, comic books, and crafts…”
One of the best things about an honest response? It's easy to remember! No one knows you quite like you do, so don't be afraid to share that with the employer (yes, even the part about comic books). You may even find that you and the interviewer have common interests or backgrounds.
Use adjectives to be descriptive
Now that you've got the honest part down, focus on being descriptive. Include adjectives to tell the interviewer more about you. Check out this example—an extension of the previous one—to get an idea of what that looks like:
Sample response – part two
“I’m also involved in organizations that are related to my personal interests, like yoga, comic books, and crafts. All of this reflects who I am as a person and a professional: collaborative, resourceful, and creative.”
By using adjectives to describe yourself, you can answer the interview question more descriptively and demonstrate that you're a good culture fit for the company. You can research the company’s culture by reviewing their careers page or social media platforms.
Examples of good adjectives you can use include:
Relate your answer to the job
Finally, make your answer relevant to the job. Consider duties, responsibilities, or skills you saw in the job posting and tie them to your own background. For example:
Sample response – part three
“All of this reflects who I am as a person and a professional; collaborative, resourceful, and creative. That's what attracted me to this job and your company. From what I read in the job description, there appears to be a lot of room to be creative and work with a team to test materials, which is aligned with my background."
When you put each of these examples together, you get a strong response that is honest, descriptive, and relevant to the job.
Sample response – full answer
"I have five years of experience in engineering. My education and training in materials science has taught me how to work with materials safely and efficiently. Beyond that, I'm involved in a few organizations, such as the American Society for Testing and Materials, where I get to network and discover best practices with my peers in the field. I’m also involved in organizations that are related to my personal interests, like yoga, comic books, and crafts. All of this reflects who I am as a person and a professional; collaborative, resourceful, and creative.
That's what attracted me to this job and your company. From what I read in the job description, there appears to be a lot of room to be creative and work with a team to test materials, which is aligned with my background."
Some words to avoid (or tweak)
Describing yourself during an interview is mainly about using the right words. However, it’s also important to know which words to tweak or avoid altogether. For instance, reconsider describing yourself as “motivated.” So many people use this term to describe themselves that it won't help you stand out. Tweak it by explaining in detail what you're motivated to do. Alternatively, you can use another word, such as “self-directed,” “ambitious,” or “proactive”. These terms send the same message but translate better.
Another term to avoid using is "people-person." Much like "motivated," this term is overused and may not be the best representation of who you are. Instead, go for terms like "collaborative," "inclusive," or "approachable."
While it may seem obvious, you also want to avoid filler words (“um”, “like”, or “basically”) or passive language (“I kind of have experience in this field”), which can send a message that you’re not ready for the job.
Which buzzwords resonate?
Just like there are words you should avoid during the interview, there are words you should include, called buzzwords. Buzzwords tend to stick with the interviewer long after the interview is over, which helps you stand out from other candidates.
Why it resonates: Adaptability shows that you know how to adjust to unexpected or quickly changing situations, which is needed in the workplace.
How to use it: "I'm adaptable and know what it takes to switch gears quickly, which has saved my former employer time and money."
Why it resonates: Customer service is a part of every job, so it helps to show that you understand the importance of meeting customer needs.
How to use it: "I would describe myself as customer-focused. I'm always looking for ways to improve the customer experience."
Why it resonates: Employers know that if you were able to get good results for your former employer, you can get good results for them, too.
How to use it: "My coworkers have described me as someone who knows how to get results. When I was a program manager, I secured new funding for all programs, and boosted program effectiveness by 10 percent in six months.
Why it resonates: “Execute” means that you know how to get things done!
How to use it: “In my current role, I consistently execute strategies that retain our key clients.”
Why it resonates: A strong example helps the interviewer picture what you’re describing, taking your interview response to the next level.
How to use it: “My coworkers have described me as proactive. For example, in my last job, I anticipated potential customer concerns so that we could address them head-on.”
Read more: How to Use Resume Buzzwords the Right Way