Be prepared to answer this popular interview question

You're sitting opposite a poker-faced interviewer. You've already covered the basic questions and now they're looking to dig deeper. After reviewing their notes, they look up at you, pause for a second, and then say “Pick three words to describe yourself.” It may sound like an innocent enough question, but your answer will tell them everything they need to know. Preparation is everything. Here's how you can answer it like a real pro. 

Why do interviewers ask this question?

Interviewers will often ask you to choose three words to describe yourself. How to answer it can be challenging. However, the first step here is to understand why you're being asked this question. That way, you'll know how to best choose the words for a winning answer. 

When an interviewer utters these words, they are trying to learn more about how you see yourself. Your answer will give them a clear idea of how well you'll fit into the company. Each word that you think describes you is a reflection of you as a professional. It's all about how you see yourself working with others and the personal brand you convey. 

Three words to describe yourself: how to answer it

When confronted with this question, don't stumble over your words. Take a deep breath and compose yourself. Choosing the characteristics to describe yourself doesn't have to be difficult. Fortunately, we have you covered when it comes to this one. You can use the following tips to help you to tackle this interview question: 

1. Consider the company and job

You can't use a “one size fits all” approach here. When you're answering this common interview question, you should consider the company and job role. Back while you were applying for the position, you should have done some research into both. That will give you an insight into what the hiring manager is looking for in candidates. Draw upon that knowledge when it comes to answering the “describe yourself in three words” question. 

2. Think about the qualities you have 

What qualities are you bringing to the table? That's what the interviewer is asking you here. Before you head to the interview, you should have considered your answer. It may be useful to note down around 10-15 professional traits that you have. From that list, you will need to whittle things down to just three words to describe yourself.  

3. Be genuine and not arrogant

It goes without saying, you need to be honest. While you're drafting the three words that describe you, make sure that you embody them. Saying that you're a leader when you know that's not the case is a mistake. You also want to avoid coming across as egotistical. Yes, you need to toot your own horn but don't exaggerate your talents for the sake of it. 

4. Explain each of your responses 

When you've chosen your three words to describe yourself, the next step is elaborating on them. It's all well and good to simply state the words. That's step one. But you need to explain why you believe that you have these traits. If possible, you should give some professional context to each of the words that you've picked. For instance, you could relate the fact that you are creative to your position as a senior graphic designer. 

Examples of how you can describe yourself in three words

Now that you have a clear idea of how to answer the question, let's take a look at some answers. As we've mentioned, you need to tailor your response to both the company and the position for which you're applying. Here are some examples for inspiration: 

Example 1

“I'd describe myself as creative, hard-working, and adaptable. As a UX designer, I'm constantly coming up with creative solutions to make the user experience as smooth as possible. I enjoy the challenge and have become adept at thinking outside the box. I'm used to working in fast-paced environments where workflows can change at a moment's notice, and so I have learned to adapt quickly. I also pride myself on my hard work and dedication to any given project.”

Example 2

“I'm organized, collaborative, and communicative. Over the years, I've held numerous leadership roles in which I've honed these skills. Since I tend to oversee others, I'm highly-skilled at organizing schedules and general time management. I try to encourage the best in team members through honest and open communication. I would say having a clear line of communication has allowed me to effortlessly collaborate with others.”

Example 3

“First up, I would say that I am driven. I've worked in graphic design for five years now and am keen to make it to a senior position in the coming five years. Secondly, I am curious. Whenever I'm working on a project, I take an inquisitive approach to creating the most original yet appropriate images for the job. Finally, I am approachable. I've been working in small, close-knit teams for my entire career and can easily work with other professionals.”

Example 4

“If I had to pick three adjectives to describe me, they would have to be confident, passionate, and observant. I've been working in the finance sector for more than 10 years and am confident in the decisions and advice I have to offer. I've always had a knack for numbers and my enthusiasm and passion for this industry has pushed me to gain additional training. Lastly, I have a keen eye for detail and always ensure I am thorough in my work. 

Example 5

“The three words that describe me are helpful, patient, and professional. As a customer service advisor, I am always eager to support customers' needs to the best of my ability. At times, this can be challenging - especially when explaining complex matters - which is why I exercise patience and understanding. I have previously been commended on my high levels of professionalism which I maintain regardless of how stressful the situation is.”

The takeaway 

The “describe yourself in three words” question can throw candidates. However, with a little thought, you can give an intelligent answer that will wow potential employers. Within this guide, we've taken a look at the approach you should take along with examples. If you're in the process of applying for jobs, why not start thinking about your answer now?

Ready for your next interview? If you're looking for a way to give yourself a competitive edge, book a session with one of our coaches at TopInterview. Armed with the advice of an expert coach, you may have a better chance of getting hired faster than ever. 

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