Saying nice things about yourself tends to be a lot harder than saying nice stuff about others. For most people, it can be really awkward to talk about their own accomplishments—which is why interviewing is so uncomfortable for many.
Thankfully, there is one question that can (kind of) bridge this gap. When an interviewer asks you, “How would your boss or colleagues describe you?” this is your chance to use the words of others to talk about your own positive traits. Here are a few ideas about how you can take advantage of this opportunity.
1. Quoting an Official Performance Review
The easiest way to answer this question is to paraphrase a recent positive performance review. Referencing specifically where you’re getting your information from makes it easier to describe yourself as “trustworthy, dedicated, and creative” without cringing. You’ll also want to give some big picture context about your role and responsibilities to fill in the gaps around your answer. Altogether, it’ll sound something like this:
Actually, in my most recent performance review in April, my direct supervisor described me as someone who takes initiative and doesn’t shy away from hard problems. My role involves a lot of on-site implementation, and when things go wrong, it’s usually up to me to fix it. Rather than punting the problem back to the team, I always try to do what I can first. I know she appreciates that about me.
2. Start With the Story and Share the Takeaways
Another way to do this is to start off with the story and conclude it with how your boss or coworkers would describe you. Since the question is pretty open-ended, this is a great opportunity for you to share something you really wanted to mention in the interview but haven’t had the chance to yet.
Or, it could be the other way around. There might be some trait or skill you know the hiring manager is looking for, and the opportunity to talk about it hasn’t come up yet. This is your chance.
One thing I’ve noticed is that I’m always the one people turn to for recommendations on how to handle a new event or program—the latest fundraiser that I just told you about would be one. I have a lot of institutional knowledge, which helps, but I think the reason people come to me is because I work through what a new program might look like very methodically. If you were to ask my colleagues, I’m confident they’d describe me as logical, organized, and meticulous.
3. Naming Three Positive Traits With Short Examples for Each
Coming up with stories can be tricky when asked on the spot (which is why you should have a few prepared), so if you just can’t think of anything, here’s another approach. Try to think of three positive traits you bring to your work or workplace. Then, have a short example after each. It might go something like this:
I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but I’m pretty confident my colleagues would describe me as thoughtful—I’m the one in the office who remembers everyone’s birthdays—and hard-working, since I never leave my office until it’s been dark out for a couple of hours. My boss in particular would say I’m very knowledgeable about audience development—it’s why I kept taking on more and more responsibilities in that domain.
Next time you get this question, you should be smiling because of what a great opportunity it presents to talk about pretty much anything you want to framed in a way that makes it easier for you to talk about. That’s what you call a win-win.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author