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Describe Yourself in 3 Words

Even if you’re well-prepared for an interview, sometimes the most basic questions can throw you off. One of those questions is, ‘Describe yourself in 3 words.’

When you only have three words to choose, each of them matters. If you select the wrong ones, you can give the interviewer an incorrect impression of who you are and put your candidacy at risk. We’ll explain how to answer this surprisingly tricky question in a way that spotlights your unique value and aligns with the job description. 

Why do interviewers ask you to describe yourself in three words?

When an interviewer asks you to select words that describe you, they’re not looking for explicitly job-related words, like ‘punctual’ or ‘data-driven.’ Rather, they’re looking to get a sense of who you are as a person. Thus, choosing a mix of words that pertain to your personality and the value you can bring to the job is a great idea. 

What interviewers are looking for when they ask what words describe you

The words you choose will help an interviewer understand how you perceive yourself, which, in turn, says something about the traits you value most. Ideally, an interviewer also wants to hear traits that align with what they value. 

An interviewer will also pay attention to see what characteristics you think are important. For example, if one of the words you choose is ‘funny,’ it probably indicates that you value having a sense of humor. Depending on the workplace culture, this may or may not make you a strong fit. Thus, it’s important to choose your three words wisely.

How to answer the interview question ‘Describe yourself in 3 words?’

Be genuine

Choose words that accurately capture your character rather than words you think an interviewer wants to hear.

It can be helpful to give this prompt to family, friends, and former coworkers to see what they come back with. If a word shows up multiple times, it’s probably a good one to include.

Align with the company’s priorities

Narrow down your pool of characteristics to those most relevant to the job. Some characteristics matter in certain jobs more than others.

For example, let’s say your top five words are creative, confident, outgoing, loyal, and independent. If you’re applying to be a graphic designer, you’d want to include ‘creative’ in your answer. If you’re applying to a sales role, ‘confident’ and ‘outgoing’ would be strong responses.

Use your company research to inform your answer, choosing words likely to align with the employer’s values and mission.

Expand your answer

Don’t just say three words and consider your answer complete. Give additional context on why you selected these specific terms. You might share a real-world example of how you demonstrated these characteristics while performing duties that are relevant to the job or state why you think these qualities are important for someone in this particular role.

How not to answer questions about describing yourself

Using negative adjectives

Don’t choose words that generally have a negative connotation, like ‘stubborn’ or ‘impatient.’

Using clichés

Avoid trite words like ‘innovative’ and ‘passionate.’ If you’d never say the word in a normal conversation, choosing something more authentic is best.

Sample answers to “Describe yourself in 3 words”

Example #1

“The three words I’d choose to describe myself are persistent, resourceful, and optimistic. These qualities are essential to be a good salesperson because you have to be comfortable hearing ‘no’ repeatedly without losing enthusiasm. I’m always looking for new tactics to use with prospects, even those that seem like a long shot. You never know unless you try.”

Example #2

“The words that best describe me are patient, empathetic, and creative. These are qualities that serve me well as a teacher. When I have a student who seems to be ‘just not getting it,’ I know that it usually means they need a little more time, some special attention, or a different approach for things to click.”

By choosing words that are genuine to your character and that also correspond with the job requirements, you’ll help the hiring manager see you have the right combination of personality and capabilities to be a strong choice for the role.