How to Answer the Interview Question "Describe Yourself In Five Words"

The more you prepare, the better off you'll be at the interview.

The more you prepare, the better off you'll be at the interview.

When you're searching for work, the job interview process is your time to shine. The employers have seen your resume, checked you out online, and perhaps even called your references -- but it's how you present yourself face to face that is likely going to make the biggest impression. Among common interview questions is "How would you describe yourself?" If you're asked to do that in just five words, you'll have to focus on the qualities most attractive to a potential employer, and more specifically, the qualities most attractive to the particular employer.

Brainstorm a list of qualities you possess that may be attractive to a future employer. Don't focus on qualities your boyfriend or friends may find attractive, such as "funny" or "generous," but instead, focus on your work style, including qualities such as focused, creative or dedicated. Imagine yourself doing the work, then think of how you behave while doing that work. Be honest with yourself, and don't write down words that are not true about your work style.

Read over the job description a few times, and underline the adjectives included in the job description. These are the words the employer chose to describe the ideal candidate, so it's clear those qualities are important to the company.

Research the company to get more information about its working style and reputation in the community. Look at its website as well as any consumer reviews, magazine articles or other press the company has received, then write down the words used to describe the company. This research will also give you valuable insight when you're in the interview and hiring managers ask why you want to work with their company.

Compare the list of words you used to describe yourself with the list of words you underlined in the job description, as well as the list of words you compiled that describe the company. Look for words that overlap; if you wrote down "dependable" to describe yourself and the company is also looking for a dependable person, include that on the list of five words. According to the job website "The Ladders," human resources managers want you to talk about the qualities you possess that will be best matched for the job -- not the qualities you possess that define your whole life. Focusing on the qualities that match the job description and the company's reputation will likely have the most impact during the interview process.

Write down six or seven words that describe you and your work style. Even though the hiring manager may only ask for five, you'll want to be prepared to change your answer on the fly, in case particular things come up in the interview that make you want to highlight one quality over the other. Memorize the list, then practice with a friend. Have him ask the question about your top five qualities, then answer without looking at the list.

Items you will need

  • Notebook
  • Pen


  • While you're creating your list of qualities you possess, you can also jot down a few qualities that are less desirable, since your future employer may ask about your weaknesses as well as your strengths. Do not include weaknesses that the employer specifically mentioned as qualities the company absolutely does not want -- that will likely not yield a positive result.

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About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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