"How would you answer this?" "What would say?" "Is there a response that's better than all the others when it comes to 'this' interview question or 'that' interview question?"
As a communication professional, I get these kinds of queries all the time. Recently, this one came across my desk: "How would you respond to 'Describe yourself in 5 words?'" It captured my attention because, if you know me ... well ... you know I can be quite long-winded, especially in one-on-one situations. As such, I saw this as a good challenge for proposing a strategy for how one would successfully (and obviously succinctly) respond to this in an interview by identifying what to say and what not to say.
1. What would you say?: First, select as many descriptors as possible that align well with the attributes befitting of the kind of person the company wants to see in the position for which you are interviewing. Once you have identified those words, opt for words that beg further exploration. For instance, instead of responding with "organized, energetic, driven, confident, and funny,” say "formulaic, dynamic, galvanized, and courageous, and whimsical.” The latter are more likely to spark interest, lead to follow-up questions by the interviewer, create an opportunity for you to provide more information that does not appear on your résumé, or even pave the way to sneak in another success story. They are words that will compel the listener to lean in and say, “You’re courageous? How so? In what way? Do tell me more!”
2. What would you not say?: Avoid providing typical, standard descriptors that, on their own, make it obvious what you want to communicate about yourself. Naturally, start with the words that describe you and that may err on the side the obvious, then use a thesaurus to propel you toward words that offer a more intriguing approach to your response. In addition to avoiding the use of ordinary words, also avoid communicating words that have negative connotations. Associate with only the most agreeable of terms, and avoid attaching to one’s self or one's brand anything that can be construed as an unfavorable attribute. The interview is your sales pitch - your extended elevator pitch - and how well you communicate your worth and value to an organization will determine how well the organization sees you as an asset to further its vision and mission. Demonstrate with every word you say that you are worthy of the position and more!
Photograph credit: Gerd Altmann
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