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How to Answer the Interview Question "Describe Yourself in Five Words"

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When you go to a job interview, there may be a lot of surprises, but one thing's certain: The employer is sure to ask you to talk about yourself. If the employer asks you to describe yourself in five words, it's your chance to describe your "work self." Choose your five words carefully, and don't waste time talking about your hobbies or personal life.

Do Your Research

In every job interview, the key to success is making yourself appear to be the best candidate possible. That starts by finding out what the employer wants. Before you compile a list of adjectives that describe you, review any information you have about the job. Read the job posting and any subsequent emails or correspondence you've gotten from the employer regarding the interview. Also try to find out any insider information about who the company leaders like to hire by seeking out former employees or by reading company forums and social media feeds. From this research, you should have a good idea of the character traits as well as the skills the employer wants.

Keep It Positive

Choose a few of the adjectives used in the job description -- which also apply to you -- and add them to your list, then come up with one or two more that make you unique and attractive to the employer. For a teaching job, for example, the employer may be looking for someone detail-oriented and knowledgeable, and may mention it in the job posting -- but chances are the employer will also want someone who is punctual and passionate. Choose words that are as succinct and descriptive as possible. Also, only choose words that positively describe you; there's no need to focus on weaknesses when you're allowed so few words.

Stick to the Script

If a hiring manager has asked you for exactly five words to describe yourself, give that many words -- no more, no less. Some employers are sticklers for the rules, and this may be a test to find out whether you can follow directions to the letter. If you use a sentence such as "I would say I'm..." followed by an adjective, some employers will count those first four words as part of your answer, and you'll have lost out on being able to insert more helpful adjectives that describe you. Bottom line: stick to the script.

Follow-Up Questions

You've spent time preparing for how to answer this question succinctly, but that doesn't mean it's going to end there. Thus, be prepared to elaborate on each of the five words. A good way to do that is to use the STAR technique, short for situation or task, action and result. If you've used "adaptable" as a word to describe yourself, elaborate -- when asked -- by talking about a difficult situation you faced in the past, the actions you took to adapt to the situation, and the result of your actions. Ahead of the interview, have a STAR example ready for each of your five words, and rehearse the responses with a friend or colleague until you have them down pat.