Answering the “How Would You Describe Yourself?” Interview Question
- Recognize the importance of a tailored, honest, and evidence-backed answer when asked to describe oneself in an interview setting, emphasizing the need to align with the role’s requirements.
- Understand the reasons behind the popular interview question “How would you describe yourself?”, which includes gauging fit for the role, the company culture, and the genuine understanding of one’s own qualities.
- Be aware of common mistakes to avoid, such as giving vague answers, lacking focus, or unintentionally sharing a negative quality, ensuring their self-description leaves a lasting, positive impression.
You sit down for your interview ready for anything they might throw at you: weaknesses, strengths, motivations, accomplishments. You’ve got all the answers. The interviewer smiles, and then kicks things off by asking, “So, how would you describe yourself?”
This popular interview question can certainly feel like a curveball. Why does it matter how you’d describe yourself? What does it have to do with this internship? But just like “Tell me about yourself” before it, “How would you describe yourself?” is a much-loved way to kick off an interview.
Today, we’ll walk you through how to describe yourself to up your odds of interview success. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- The basics of a great response
- “How would you describe yourself?” sample answers
- “Why employers ask, “How would you describe yourself?”
- Other words to describe yourself
- What not to say
- In other words: “How would you describe yourself?”
When you describe yourself to the interviewer:
- List 1–3 core qualities.
- Be honest, but tailor your response. These qualities should describe you—and they should describe the ideal candidate for the job.
- Follow up with a short description of why you’ve chosen those qualities.
- Provide a concrete example of when you demonstrated those qualities in the past.
- End on a positive note.
There’s no right or wrong way to describe yourself, but if you want to impress the interviewer, the format above ensures a relevant, memorable response. Get those creative juices flowing by reading some sample answers below; then, we’ll dive into the details and review some tips and tricks.
If you’re applying to an administrative or project management role, qualities such as detail orientation, organizational skills, and time management are essential. This response highlights skills that are relevant to the internship, provides some personal background on why the candidate chose them, and backs up the answer with solid evidence. It ends on a personal note, with a unique hobby that’s sure to leave an impression. If you have an unusual interest, feel free to mention it—just don’t let it overshadow why you’re the perfect professional fit.
Here’s an example for a sales role:
Again, the candidate knows what the role requires and demonstrates (with multiple examples, supported by numbers) how they’re a perfect fit. And here’s one more for an engineering intern:
If you’re in a STEM field, you might want to highlight qualities that reflect your hard skills in math, science, and/or technology. To further showcase your value-add for the business, back up your response with quantifiable results whenever possible.
You understand how to structure a great response, and you know what a great response looks like. But why do employers ask this deceptively simple question in the first place?
Well, first of all, they want to get to know you—and the best way to do that is to understand how you view yourself. That’s why it’s important to answer truthfully. Don’t say you’re a people person when you prefer to stay solo; that’s how you end up unhappy at your job (and with an unhappy employer when your work suffers accordingly).
Next, the interviewer wants to gauge whether you’ll be a good fit for the role and the company. They’re checking that the qualities you use to describe yourself are also the qualities of their ideal candidate. That’s why it’s crucial to read the job description and do your company research. You can then tailor your response, using descriptors that align with the skills required to succeed in your new role.
Remember that the company is hiring because they have a need, and all your interview responses should be in service of meeting that need. When you describe yourself, assure the interviewer that you can help their business. Show them that you, as a person, are the solution.
In addition to the examples above, here are some other words to describe yourself, along with associated qualities and suggested fields.
- Creative (artistic, imaginative): Design, writing, visual art, marketing, nonprofits, event planning, fashion
- Diligent (hardworking, dedicated): Business, sales, engineering, government
- Proactive (entrepreneurial, motivated): Event planning, nonprofits, admin, project management
- Empathetic (compassionate, caring): Psychology, nursing, consulting, healthcare, human resources, social work
- Analytical (logical, methodical): Engineering, programming, finance, software development, economics
- Meticulous (attentive, careful): Admin, project management, editing, programming
- Flexible (accommodating, easygoing): Even planning, nonprofits, finance, business
- Diplomatic (strategic, considerate): Human resources, healthcare, admin, social work
You’re almost ready to go! But before you get interviewing, it’s important to review a few common mistakes. Here’s what to avoid when you answer, “How would you describe yourself?”
- Giving a vague or generic answer. “How would you describe yourself?” is an open-ended interview question—but you still need to support your answer with evidence. Don’t list three adjectives and call it a day. Instead, provide hard evidence of how you’ve demonstrated those qualities. Skip the clichés, too, by avoiding overused phrases and jargon. Being “a thought leader” or “results-focused” doesn’t really mean anything.
- Lacking focus. With such a broad question, it can be tempting to list a dozen traits, with a dozen supporting examples. But it’s important to stay focused. Stick to three descriptors max, keep your response to 60 seconds or less, and avoid going off on a tangent. You’re telling a story, and every good story has a beginning, middle, and end.
- Sharing a negative quality. Be aware that certain qualities can be perceived as negative, and stay far away from them. You might say that you’re independent because you want the interviewer to know that you don’t need your hand held. But many interviewers read “independent” as “not a team player,” which is probably not a great thing.
Interviewers ask a variety of questions that are quite similar to “How would you describe yourself?” If your interviewer asks any of the following questions, you can use the tools above to craft a similarly great response. The interviewer might also ask:
- Describe yourself in one word/three words.
- How would you describe your personality?
- How would your colleagues/supervisor/friends describe you?
Knowing how to describe yourself will serve you well in interviews, at networking events, and when it comes to your dating profile. By studying the tips above and tailoring your response to your audience, you’ll be well on your way to interview success.
Check out our other interview question articles. Learn how to answer: