How Would You Describe Yourself?

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009 - Employment, Job Application, Job Interview, job search

How Would You Describe Yourself?

describe yourself

Kathy, an IT professional looking at moving for career development, asks: Hi team at, I hope this finds you all well – Bora Da! Love my new Professional CV and the results it is getting in positive engagement with lots of telephone interviews, but I am now getting nervous about the upcoming physical interviews. I have read all through the notes and eBook on Behavioural Interviews, but want to ask a supplemental question about a particular type of that question. How would you advise someone to answer the interview question: How would your former colleagues or boss describe you? Thank you!

In answer:
The “how would you/a third party describe you” type question, is a behavioural interview type job interview question: it places you, in a situation, and asks you to describe the experience (ideally real, or created).

The interviewer can gain different perspectives by either posing it from your point of view, a friend, or a close third party/superior at work. Psychological evidence shows us that when we put an individual outside their own person and place them with an external view point looking in at themselves, as the stimulus we often will use less words to get more revealing answers, which are also more critical/negative in perspective.

Accepting you should always remain mentally positive in interview, there are three things to take account of in answering such a question, in this priority order:

  • Relevance of experience to job being applied for
  • That experience is reference able
  • That it is not (totally) negative!

Why is negative last, why not first you may be asking? Because, as a trained interviewer, I am taught that if every thing is wonderful/rosy in the garden and all is well, to ask the question at some point about a negative experience and how you dealt with it, eg:

Tell me about a situation where you had a negative experience (eg: conflict, dispute, legal issue)

at work or in another situation,

where you faced a negative reaction from someone you worked closely with, and how you dealt with it?

Secondly, are we as individuals always all good, or at least not as good at some things, let alone bad? The HR view on competencies is that often positive things (eg: drive or energy), can have negative trailing consequences (ie: leaving people behind, distancing individuals). Not taking account of these, or at least not actively acknowledging them, is a severe personal weakness.

Answering Interview Questions

Hence, tactically and strategically in a job interview, if you can find an opportunity to insert a “nice” difficult experience – or at least one with a good outcome, eventually – then this type of personal question is an ideal point in which to use it. You can also tightly manage/ensure the probable outcome. Yes, as the interviewer it will be easy for me to put you under pressure in such a question – it is close, it is personal. But legally there is only so much I can push on: this can’t get too personal.

Can’t think of a “nice” negative quality that you can manage? Choose one of the key skills the job requires/you have, and over emphasise it: eg: I am too X, or a bit too Y, etc. With some jobs and skill sets, this “over good to negative” could create an excellent employer impression, most easily seen in sales, eg: “I’m too dedicated too getting the right results, and tend occasionally at present to need a talk at some point, which I have found quickly allows me to pull back and consolidate my learning.”

Therefore, in answering the question try to touch on the top three things you have, which the job also requires: drive, energy, passion for instance in sales, or listening, caring and dedicated for a customer services job. Then pick one negative thing. In each case, and anticipating the interviewers follow up on the first item only, move a step further and use quantifiable examples. For example, avoid clich├ęd phrases like “hard worker, “team player,” and use something along the lines of: “I am told that I am a good team player team because I managed a group of 50 people and worked closely with upper level management to complete…” shows a good quality along with the proof.

Hence, in answering the question, you need to think about the job, and how your skills fit the employers requirements.

Good Luck!


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