80+ Best Answers To "Describe Yourself In One Word"

When we walk into an interview, we’re trying to project the best possible version of ourselves. We want to appear confident, qualified, and ready to take on the job position. It’s difficult to keep up appearances in an interview, no matter how good you are in the interview itself. This is especially so when the hiring manager starts throwing curveball questions. One such question is “describe yourself in one word.”

It may seem simple enough to just pick one word that’s positive. The problem is, that question could be followed by a request to elaborate on your answer. And that could present a much more challenging answer.

When you think about it, it's the ultimate elevator pitch request. If you're asked this question in a job interview for any given position, how can you break down everything you can bring to the table in just one single word?

In this guide, we’re going to tackle why interviewers ask this question, how to craft the best answer, and what answers to emulate and avoid.

Table Of Contents

Why Do Interviewers Ask “Describe Yourself In One Word?”

Hiring managers do this for the same reason they ask most questions in an interview. They want to know more about you in order to find out if you are a good fit for the company or position.

The hiring manager is trying to get to the core essence of who you are as a person and as a professional addition to their team. Or, at the very least, they want to confirm based on first impressions who you think you may be. The relationship you have with yourself can have a very big impact on how you live and work, and this question is meant to put you on the spot to reveal your confidence or insecurity.

Pro tip: In a Job Outlook Survey performed by NACE in 2019 mentioned that communication skills were amongst the highest hard skills desired by employers. Interview questions like "describe yourself in one word" challenge that ability.

This question is usually used as a setup question to probe deeper, since many potential hires will use a grand word to describe themselves, but will then struggle to give an example of how that word is exemplified in professional day-to-day behavior. “Describe yourself in one word” also gives the hiring manager insight into how realistic the potential hire is being in their own self-reflective view. We’ll dip more into this in the next few sections.

What Are Hiring Managers Trying to Find Out by Asking “Describe Yourself In One Word?”

Like we mentioned before, the hiring managers want to paint a picture of who you are, who you think you are, and how well you can elaborate on a simple one-word answer.

When it comes down to it, they are looking for specific answers in your initial short answer and a subsequent longer answer. And they are looking for honesty, humbleness, and accuracy as well.

For example, let’s say you are interviewing for a position in customer service. Your hiring manager asks you to describe yourself in one word. The word you choose is “friendly.” They ask you to elaborate on this. A negative answer would be one that doesn’t relate back to a professional setting. If you answer with something along the lines of “My friends all say I’m very friendly,” that says nothing about your friendliness in the workplace. However, a good answer would contain an example of a past position experience in which a customer told you that you were very friendly and did a great job of taking care of their issue. This shows the interviewee that you have real-world professional examples to back up your claims.

It’s also worth noting that your hiring manager is also likely looking for inconsistencies. If you came into the interview with an attitude, then describe yourself as “friendly,” it could make you seem inconsistent, unaware of yourself, or just plain dishonest.

Strategies to Answer “Describe Yourself In One Word” Effectively

The key to answering this question, as is with all other possible common job interview answers, is to have a strategy. It isn't enough to choose a single word that only describes an element of your personality, no matter how accurate or likable it may be. You could be any sort of useful or beneficial things personality-wise, from warm to resilient to smart. However, these answers won't really do anything to help convince an interviewer to hire you-- unless those descriptors involve something you could really bring to the table as an employee.

What interviewees should really do is think about the position, company, and what qualities would be particularly good for someone to be successful in that role. Then, choose one of those words that apply to you.

Take the time to brainstorm some possibilities for good words to choose from. And make sure that you are prepared to follow up your answer with an explanation. Your hiring manager may or may not do this, but most of the time will do so.

When it comes down to it, the “one word” part is easy. The explanation is a whole other ballpark.

The safest answer to rely on would be a work ethic word. Answer with a work ethic word which best describes you as accurately as possible, while also having a specific behavioral example from past professional or academic experiences to back it up. This is an excellent opportunity to tell a brief but relevant story about when you went above what you were expected to do in your work or school life. It’s perfectly fine to take time while answering this question to show that you are thinking about the answer, but this is also definitely a question that you want to think about in advance. Be prepared in advance for how to answer the question, but also for how to explain your answer with examples or brief stories to back it up.

27 Bad (SHOULDN'T use) Example One Word Answers To "Describe Yourself In One Word"

These answers are less than ideal for a number of reasons. Some of them are just too underwhelming while others are a bit too boastful. Avoid these at all costs.

84 Best Example Answers (SHOULD use) To "Describe Yourself In One Word"

Before snatching up any of these answers to make your own, take the time to consider whether or not that one-word description is true of your personality. Like we mentioned before, your hiring manager may ask you to elaborate on why that word is such a good descriptor of you as a person.

If You're Asked To Explain Why

If the interviewer asks you to explain why you chose that word, you're going to need to line it up to a reason that makes you unique. If you use the answers above, you should be able to find an ample reason for why you chose that word. Be sure that you use some mixture of your personality along with the reason why you value that word for the work environment when explaining the reason you chose the word.

A good reason for the word choice will be a small working story, integration of your personality and the reason why you value the word for the work environment.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams.

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