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How to define success (and talk about it) in your next interview

June 3, 2022 - 12 min read

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What is success?

Why do interviewers ask "how do you define success?"

4 tips for answering the question correctly

4 examples of great answers

Moving forward

If you ask a room full of people, “How do you define success?” you’ll hear completely different answers from every person. For some people, success is a matter of having a big house and a nice car. Others may point to success coming from meaningful work, a fulfilling job that feeds their passion, or strong relationships with friends and family.  

There is no right answer to this question since it’s so personal. 

But when you’re asked for your definition of success in a job interview, your interviewer will be listening closely to your response. In an interview situation, some answers to this question will be more effective than others. It's worth putting some thought into this upfront.

Finding out what question your interviewer is actually asking and what they hear in your answer could make or break your interview. This question could be the difference between changing careers and staying in the same position. 

To begin, let’s start at the root of the question: what is success?

 

What is success?

Everyone has their own definition of success.  Measuring success is personal. Your definition of success may be different from your neighbor’s definition — or your co-worker’s. Your workplace could have team goals they want to achieve but they don’t scream individual success to you.

As a starting point, it’s helpful to know that success is typically defined as reaching a goal or accomplishing something you’ve set out to achieve. It provides a source of motivation for people to change their lives and values. 

You could have unrelated professional and personal goals but still consider it a success to reach them. 

Any of your goals count.

Your career development relies on your well-being. Finding someone to help you decide how you can reach success is key. A BetterUp coach can provide the perspective you need to hone in your personal or professional goals and develop the skills required to do so. 

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Why do interviewers ask "how do you define success?"

It’s common for a potential employer to use “how do you define success” as an interview question. 

First, understand the question. Ask for clarification if you need to. Are they asking for your general view on your personal success, or are they asking how you will define success in the role you're interviewing for? For, example, how will you define the success of the process you will be implementing?

Often, it is the former. Hiring managers and recruiters are looking to learn what motivates you to succeed in life and how your version of success fits into their business. It’s an opportunity to see how you’d fit in with the company culture and if your work ethic would match the company.

This question is also a chance for you to share your past experiences reaching success and how you plan on achieving it in the future. 

A hiring manager will read your body language while listening to your personal definition of success. They’ll be looking to see how confidently you speak. 

Hiring managers will also listen to the substance of your response. Do your ideas match the company’s goals and values

Finally, hiring managers will assess your sincerity. Do you mean what you’re saying, or do you think it’s what they want to hear? What does success mean to you?

4 tips for answering the question correctly

Open-ended questions can leave you feeling flustered. Preparation helps ease that feeling. Having a sense of what you’ll say to common interview questions will make a smoother and less stressful experience. 

Again, listen carefully and confirm what your interviewer is asking. 

Here are four tips for answering the question well:

1. Be descriptive

Hiring managers don’t want to hear vague answers. When you avoid the question by being vague, your interviewer will notice. They may wonder what you’re hiding. Plus, this type of answer makes you sound unsure of yourself.

Working-Together-on-a-Project-at-the-Office

Rather than skimming over a response, be descriptive. It can help to use numbers to paint a picture of a team you’ve led or how much work you produced each day. By quantifying previous successes, you’ll give an interviewer a better idea of your precision, how organized you are at work, and your standards for success.

2. Incorporate your knowledge about the company

The way you explain your definition of success may shift slightly depending on where you’re interviewing. For instance, if a company measures success by profit, your response might focus on land sales.

For a company that values collaboration, you may want to discuss how smooth teamwork is important to your definition of success. 

Before your interview, check out the company’s website and social media. This will give you a good sense of the company’s values and priorities. Then, incorporate that knowledge in your response.

3. Share your personality

You’re not just a working robot. You have feelings and perspectives of your own. Sharing them lets hiring managers understand what motivates you. Bonus points for contributing your perspective if it matches the company’s values.

coworkers-team-in-meeting

If success means for you what it means for them, why not share that? It can demonstrate that you fit with their company culture and that you’re passionate about the work you’d be doing.

4. Highlight your contributions

This is the time to emphasize how your skills would help the company succeed. When you provide your definition of success, you need to give examples. Some examples to consider sharing are: 

  • Your skills and values, like the importance of teamwork your strong work ethic
  • How you aim to positively impact your work environment 

Don’t miss any opportunity to remind your potential employer how you’d be an excellent addition to their team.

4 examples of great answers

The definition of success you provide differs depending on what kind of position you’re interviewing for. An entry-level job suggests a different idea of success than a manager-level position. 

Here are four example answers for a variety of positions that share their views of success:

Example 1 

As someone in the early stages of their career, I view success as a journey. I consider any achievement, recognized or unnoticed, a success. I took every opportunity to volunteer for new projects and collaborate with my team members in my previous job.

Businesswoman-Making-a-Presentation

I developed new skills, discovered new passions, and grew a lot. I helped the company increase its sales by 20%, and I felt personal success for putting myself out there.

Example 2

I see success as dependent both on my work and on how my team works. As a manager, I want to ensure that my team members grow and learn new things along the way. That way, we can achieve our goals and reach our team and individual milestones.

The opportunity to mentor other employees is important to me. I’ve seen how it boosts my team members’  productivity, confidence, and motivation to improve.

Example 3

My definition of success is pretty broad. In my workplace, I see it as meeting the goals that my supervisors set out for me that contribute to the overall values of my company. Reading [company name]’s mission statement, I understood it’s all about teamwork.

It’s clear you value everyone contributing their best to put out our best efforts into the community. I’m familiar with this because we all know we must be in tune with my hockey team to win our games.

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Example 4

Success always feels better when I see what it does for other people. Having a positive impact on someone’s life makes all the hard work worthwhile and motivates me to meet my goals that have the same impact.

I love seeing how my efforts can help someone’s day be more manageable and help them achieve something in return.

Moving forward

Now that you know how you define success, you’re ready to tackle this interview question. Success exists in every aspect of our lives, from the personal to the professional. Focus on work-related measurements of success when a hiring manager asks how you define it. 

Walking into that interview knowing that you’re prepared will give you the peace of mind you need to be yourself and answer questions in the best way you can. The effort that you put in beforehand will allow you to trust your abilities and be proud of yourself for doing your best.

Take a moment for some positive and encouraging self-talk before you enter the interview space. 

At BetterUp, we can help you prepare for your interview by strengthening your communication skills.  We’ll help you articulate exactly what you need to convey. With support from BetterUp, you’ll feel confident and prepared to answer questions with clarity.

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Published June 3, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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