“How would your coworkers describe you?” can be a surprisingly tough question to answer without some preparation. Even though it might seem innocent, there’s a lot riding on your response!
Read this guide to learn how to answer this question effectively.
Why Do Interviewers Ask “How Would Your Coworkers Describe You?”
“How would your coworkers describe you?” is an interview question that often catches job-seekers by surprise. At face value, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. You’ve already provided your list of references, described yourself, and it’s not hard for them to speak to your previous employer. So, what gives?
Like many other personality-based questions, this one is layered. It serves a couple of different purposes.
The main goal is to see if you’re self-aware. Self-awareness is crucial in the workplace. You must know how you come off and how your actions affect others.
Coming up with an answer to “How would your coworkers describe you?” forces you to step into the shoes of your former colleagues. It makes you look at your experience from another perspective and analyze your impact on your colleagues.
Why does this matter?
Well, a self-aware person is typically confident yet humble. At the very least, it shows that you’re perceptive and capable of understanding how you come off. It’s a good sign that you can grow and improve on things you don’t typically excel at.
Another reason why interviewers ask this question is that it helps highlight soft skills. You can talk all day about your qualifications and education. But soft skills also have a lot of value.
Many jobs require working closely with coworkers. How you answer can provide insight into whether you’re a team player or not, how you deal with conflict, and more. It’s a valuable, multi-faceted question that can shed light on the type of employee you would be.
How to Answer This Question
“How would your coworkers describe you?” is an interview question that can be tricky to answer. It requires self-reflection and plenty of preparation. It’s also a good idea to research the company, its work culture, and what the position you’re applying for entails.
With all that information in mind, here are a few tips to help you formulate an answer that knocks it out of the park.
1. Always Be Honest
The most important thing to remember is that honesty is always the best policy. That applies to any personality-based question, but it’s vital here.
Many job-seekers make the mistake of bending the truth (especially when it comes to how others describe them). It’s easy to be less-than-honest when you think you understand what the interviewer wants to hear. But a fake answer or flat-out lie can backfire.
And if you can’t come up with anything, think about emails you received from colleagues or even clients that mention something you did or praised you for your efforts. We often forget about positive feedback so it’s worth researching and pondering.
Hiring managers can easily find the truth. They’ll likely speak to many people about your time at previous employers. While they might not talk to your colleagues directly, they can determine if what you say aligns with what others say about you.
Plus, lies often come off as over-rehearsed when being told in an interview. Avoid that issue altogether and be honest from the jump.
2. Pick a Couple of Characteristics to Highlight
When planning your answer to “How would your coworkers describe you?” we recommend picking one or two personality traits to highlight. With this question, it’s surprisingly easy to go off the rails and talk about things that don’t necessarily matter. It’s open-ended, and going off into tangents is easier than you think.
Hiring managers don’t want to hear your life story, and talking for more than a few minutes will make you seem scatter-brained or long-winded. Keep your answer concise and easy to remember.
Reflect on your past experiences and jot down the traits you feel your old coworkers would bring up if asked about you. Then, pick the most relevant and focus your answers on those. Quality matters more than quantity, so prioritize delivering an impactful response rather than listing out many traits you think are positive.
Of course, the key is to focus on your strengths. Find the traits that exemplify why you’re a fantastic worker and what you can bring to the table.
3. Connect Them to Your Ability to Do the Job
Here’s where you can take an ordinary answer and make it unforgettable. The best way to provide an impressive answer is to link it back to the job you’re trying to land. Ultimately, that’s the most important thing here.
This interview is to see if you’re the right candidate for the job. Your goal is to convince the hiring manager of just that. Molding our answer to the available position paints a compelling story that the interviewer can’t ignore.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re trying to get a managerial position. So, when thinking of how your coworkers would describe you, you can highlight instances when you took charge and led a group to success. Maybe you rallied a team to complete a big project or were the person people went to for help.
Either way, your answer would show the hiring manager how those traits would benefit you in this open position. It lays everything on the line and illustrates exactly why you’re the perfect fit.
4. Provide Some Examples
Our final tip is to provide examples. “How would your coworkers describe you?” is an interview question that’s best answered with a real-world example.
Examples provide more legitimacy to your response. It makes it seem more authentic.
Plus, giving examples helps to illustrate your skills better. You can talk about a specific situation that highlights why your coworkers think of you the way they do. Tell a story and provide as much insight as possible without going off into a tangent.
Examples help drive the point home and make your answer more memorable.
What to Avoid Saying
Figuring out how others would describe you should be an organic process full of self-reflection and thought. While there’s no universally “incorrect” answer, you can say things that give off the wrong impression, ultimately hurting your chances of getting a job offer.
Here are a few things to avoid saying in your response.
There’s a time and a place to talk yourself up. It’s always good to be confident and put yourself in the best light possible. But bragging and being overly boastful isn’t the best approach.
No one likes to work with people constantly tooting their own horns. You obviously want to highlight your accomplishments, but do your best to avoid bragging. Otherwise, you’ll appear unrelatable and off-putting.
We’ve already covered the importance of staying honest, but it bears repeating. Never lie during your interview. It’s tempting to do that, and “How would your coworkers describe you?” is a question that makes it feel easy to bend the truth.
But like we said earlier, it’s not worth the risk. Who would want to hire someone willing to lie during a job interview? It doesn’t make you look good and could hurt your chances.
Irrelevant Character Traits
While it might seem important to you, the hiring manager isn’t interested in hearing about irrelevant character traits. Avoid anything that doesn’t involve your strengths or the job you’re trying to get. For example, an interviewer doesn’t care if your old coworkers thought you were a great prankster or an amazing joke-teller.
None of that is relevant to the job, so it’s best to avoid bringing it up altogether.
Coming up with a great answer that shows what your coworkers would say about you isn’t easy. Your experience is different from everyone else’s, so there’s no such thing as a universally accepted response.
To make things easier, you can use our example questions to get inspiration on what works and doesn’t.
In your first example, the applicant wants to highlight their creative thinking. To do that, they talk about how they’ve helped former coworkers and employers find solutions to seemingly impossible obstacles. They provide a clear example that illustrates their strengths, making it easy for the hiring manager to connect the dots and see how they would be an asset in this role.
“My coworkers would describe me as a creative thinker and optimist. I love searching for solutions and finding innovative ways to deal with workplace issues. I remember one year dealing with budget cuts.
My entire team struggled to figure out how we would cut costs in our department. I found several ways to do just that, and we successfully implemented my ideas. We cut back some resources while maintaining a shoestring budget that kept everyone happy.”
The job-seeker is trying to get a managerial role in our next sample answer. So, they talk about their leadership skills and how they directly helped former coworkers. The response is a fine example of how you can shape your response to appeal to the job you’re trying to get.
“My old coworkers have often told me they value my leadership abilities. I had the pleasure of leading a few projects at my former company. In all those situations, I worked hard to keep my partners on the same page while maintaining a tight budget and strict schedule.
We always made our deadlines and often provided deliverables early. I became the go-to for leading time-sensitive projects, and many coworkers turned to me for guidance. I’m eager to bring some of those skills to [COMPANY.]”
In the last example, the job-seeker wants to highlight their organization and time-management skills. They’re trying to get a job as an administrative assistant, so they choose to focus on how they’ve helped maintain previous office environments.
“I believe my former coworkers would describe me as someone who is organized and calm even under pressure. My previous job was fast-paced. The office environment was often chaotic, requiring quick work and careful organization of resources.
I enjoyed that environment and took great pride in anticipating the needs of my colleagues. Many of my coworkers would come to me in times of need because they knew that they could rely on me to solve problems and get things done.”
“How would your coworkers describe you?” doesn’t have to be a question that trips you up. In fact, once you spend a little preparing we’re confident that your answer will be a highlight of the interview!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.