So, “How would your friends describe you?”
If you’re like me, then this question could prompt some pretty variable responses, depending on which of my friends you ask — but let me give you a bit of advice:
You don’t need to be completely forthcoming about your college drinking partner’s opinion of you.
Especially if they’re the type that loves to prove how terrible their conversational judgment is by obnoxiously declaring to anyone who’s near, “Oh my god I have no filter!”
Then learn to shut your mouth from time to time, Becky, geez.
But even if your taste in friends is in fact a questionable characteristic of yours, let me let you in on a little secret about this question: the interviewer has dirty socks that they care about more than what you think your friend’s opinion of you is.
Because in reality, this is a test of two things: your self-awareness and what non-career characteristics you find valuable in yourself and others.
What YOU think your friends think about you…
Have you noticed that interviewers are always asking you this question, not your friend?
The reason is that they don’t care, and the phrasing of this question is actually a bit of a trick. If they were to directly ask you what you think about yourself, they’d be opening themselves up to a whole bunch of the kind of resume fluff that they hate reading on a regular basis.
They already know that you’re going to paint yourself in a rosy picture regardless, but by getting you to remove yourself from the interviewee position for a moment and subconsciously empathize with another person’s perspective, they encourage you to be just a bit more realistic.
This question is a test of your self-awareness and an honest appraisal of how the world sees you, not just how you see yourself.
So don’t, you know, look like you’re not self-aware
However, you’re answering this question, so obviously there’s going to be bias. They know that. But that doesn’t give you free reign to just go off on a line about how sweet, thoughtful, and beautiful you are in denim.
I mean, if they wanted that, they’d have asked you what your mother thinks of you.
So this is not an opportunity for you to start being unrealistic. If you’re stern, disciplined, and come across as uptight and orderly, don’t say, “Oh, they’d tell you that I’m the life of the party, I swoop into every room with gusto and pizazz, and I’m basically a people’s people person.”
What you should do instead
- “My best friend since preschool, Timmy, would say that I’m a detailed-oriented team player.”
- “The best man at my wedding once told me that my ability to empathetically manage my direct reports inspired him to get married in the first place.”
- “My sorority big describes me as a deadlines-fixated perfectionist who is always willing to stay late.”
However, if you’re using that last one as a way to imply that you’re really good at ordering drinks right before last call so you can drink until the bar closes, that’s kind of cool.
The recruiter is trying to find out as much as possible about you as a person, so try to use at least one word that people who know you as a person would: kind, always there for me, funny, honest, thoughtful.
You get the idea. Unless you don’t, in which case you probably have no friends, so it’s a moot point. Go hang out with no-filter Becky.
Remember to stay relevant
I said to use one humanizing word — but this isn’t a dating profile, so you also want to keep this related to the workplace too: persistent, practical, innovative.
Talk about your leadership skills in an oblique way if relevant, but always keep your answer focused on the type of position. If it’s sales, emphasize your communication skills. If it’s management, refer to how helpful and dependable you are when it comes to making the call:
“He’d say that I’m always the first to volunteer and lead the way when it’s time to act.” “She would definitely tell you that when times are tough for everyone, not just one of us, I’m always there to see things through.” “That I’m organized, considerate, and dependable.”
It’s no good recruiting the excellent operator, who upsets everyone else in the workplace and causes all sorts of disruption.
Because this is a question you just need to get through
While you normally want to give answers that are memorable, the answer for this question is actually kind of an outlier in that you don’t want your interviewer to remember it — because if they do, it’s probably not for a good reason.
This is because your interviewer probably has an answer they’d like to hear, but the odds are that they just don’t want to hear anything that makes you sound like a prick or wild animal.
And as always, do the research.
Make sure that you describe yourself in a way that fits within the company you’re interviewing with. After reading this, prepare your pat answer for every interview — but in preparing for this interview, you should look into the company’s website to better gauge what they care about.
You can usually figure out from a company’s website what they value and how they like to present themselves to the public, and if not then take to LinkedIn — if workers here present themselves as best friends who care about their clients and the world at large, try to align yourself with those characteristics.
- Special initiatives they sponsor, such as philanthropy and 5k races
- Their focus on innovation or tradition
- Interesting projects and initiatives they’ve recently received press for
You might find that this company values sending its employees abroad or on philanthropic trips — even if this is something you only sort-of value, describe yourself who values this too:
“They say that I value my role in the world’s tapestry, always expressing gratitude for the blessings I have and finding ways to give back, that I have a sense of stewardship for the community.”
The focus here is to be able to position yourself as an ideal candidate at this very moment in time, and you do this by saying who you are right now.
So here are some of the things you hope your friends would say
It’s best to give a general answer that doesn’t pin you down to any specific career path, and don’t use synonyms for the same thing. Besides being boring, you don’t want to overemphasize one set of qualities and paint a caricature.
Make sure you emphasize it is at that company. Neither you nor your interviewer knows what your friends would say, but you both hope that it mirrors the type of employee the company values.
Indicate you’d like to progress and manage, but don’t paint yourself as an ambitious dictator. You want to present yourself as a leader and impressive individual with admirable aspirations, but it would be a bizarre friendship if you were always bossing your friends around and they told you they love your sincere quest for global domination.
Make it believable for your resume and obvious personality. As we said before, your friends might lie for you to make you look good and your interviewer would assume this bias exists, but you don’t want to come across as completely full of sh*t.
Whatever the case may be, you must make a list of these things, because these are the things you do not want to discuss — instead of giving them reasons why you have to take this job, tell them what the future you values the most about what the current company has to offer.
Things to be
So we’ve acknowledged some of the things that you don’t want to do, here we go into detail about some of the general things you do want to be.
Be to the point. Avoid ambiguity, and don’t avoid selling yourself and being too modest. Also, don’t say “They’d tell you I’m the most modest person in the world.”
Be honest. And don’t lie — I say that a lot, but you don’t want to get hired because you said, “They’d say that I speak the most impressive Greek and Mandarin they’ve ever heard,” when you actually don’t.
Be professional. This can be a little controversial, because some camps say you should always sell yourself as an employee — but you can’t just be a robot in this situation either. Interviewers already know what your capabilities are, this is an opportunity to show what your personality will be like.
How easy it is to get along with you is a pretty big factor when they make their decisions, so while it’s always safe to keep yourself inscrutable so you don’t screw up, if someone else has similar skills but is more likeable, you can guess which way the hiring manager will go.
Don’t let a Becky beat you just because you was a bit more flattering of herself and came across as a friendly person, while you played it safe and uttered short, monosyllabic phrases about your utility as a tool.
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