Saying nice things about yourself tends to be a lot harder than saying nice stuff about others—which is why so many people find interviewing uncomfortable. Job searching in general involves a lot of talking yourself up, and a job interview in particular requires you to toot your own horn.
Thankfully, there’s a brand of interview question that can (kind of) bridge this gap. When an interviewer asks you a question like, “How would your boss or colleagues describe you?” it’s your chance to use what others have said about you to talk about your own positive traits.
Sounds simple enough—and there are a few specific strategies you can use to take advantage of this opportunity.
1. Quote a performance review.
The easiest way to answer “How would your boss describe you?” is to paraphrase a recent positive performance review. By referencing specifically where you’re getting your information, it’ll be 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. Note: If your company does 360 reviews or otherwise includes peer feedback, you may also be able to use this strategy if you’re asked how your coworkers would describe you.
Example answers to “How would your boss describe you?” that reference official performance reviews:
- “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, I always do what I can to fix it first—rather than punting the problem back to the team immediately. I know she appreciates that about me.”
- “In my past performance reviews, my bosses have always highlighted how good I am at accounting for different individual preferences and building in contingencies if things go wrong. In my current job, I’m in charge of scheduling travel for several executives, and they’re always impressed that I know which plane seats they each prefer and always know which airline has the next flight to their destination in case they’re running behind schedule.”
2. Tell a story and share the takeaways.
Another way to answer this question is to start off with a story and conclude it with how your boss or coworkers would describe you. Since the inquiry is pretty open-ended, this is a great opportunity for you to share an experience or skill you know the hiring manager is looking for but haven’t had the chance to bring up yet.
Example answers to “How would your boss or coworkers describe you?” that tell stories:
- “I think that my boss and coworkers would both describe me as a patient problem solver. I’m often the one they go to when they’re dealing with a particularly angry customer. For example, I once walked into the building and was immediately flagged down by a colleague who brought me to where my supervisor was being yelled at by a customer. My supervisor looked so happy to see me as I started to speak with the customer. Even though it took about 10 minutes of calmly going over his options and explaining the benefits of each, I was able to sell them an additional product that solved his issue and he left happy.”
- “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. Name three positive traits with short examples for each.
Coming up with stories can be tricky when you’re asked on the spot (which is why you should always have a few of them prepared). 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, mention a short example after each. Your interviewer might even phrase this question as, “What are three words your boss would use to describe you?” or similar.
Example answers to “How would your boss or coworkers describe you?” that name three traits:
- “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 hardworking, since I can always be relied on to get a big project over the finish line. My boss in particular would say I’m very knowledgeable about audience development—he often taps me to help out when someone on the team is having trouble engaging the audience for one of their products. That’s also why I kept taking on more and more responsibilities in that domain.”
- “I think my boss would describe me as engaging—last year, I got the highest ratings of all the trainers in our department—and a fast learner, since I’m usually one of the first people to be ready to deliver a new training program. She might also call me detail-oriented—I was always the one to point out grammar mistakes in our new presentation slides and now she makes it a point to send me the slides to check for issues before sharing them with the group.”
Next time you get this question, you should be smiling because of what a great opportunity it presents to tell the interviewer pretty much anything you want about yourself, framed in a way that makes it easier for you to talk about. That’s what I call a win-win.