How to Answer "Describe Yourself in One Word"

Posted on Tuesday, August 31, 2021 by The InterviewerNo comments

At our London office support and PA recruitment agency, we often chat with candidates about what they found particularly tricky at the interview stage. One thing that often comes up is the question “Describe yourself in one word”. It’s often asked as one of the first warm-up questions. 

What our candidates tell us is that they are completely stumped about how to sing their praises in just one word. After all, everything at an interview is about selling yourself, and how can you do that when you don’t have the words at your disposal? However, remember that this is rarely going to be a closed question. It almost certainly will be followed up with “why?”, so try not to get too hung up on that single utterance!

Be strategic

Firstly, let’s be realistic—there isn’t going to be one word to sum up anyone on the planet. We are all complex and varied human beings, so realise that you aren’t actually being asked to paint an eloquent and detailed picture. You’re being asked for an overriding trait.

Secondly, you need to think about what the hiring manager is actually looking for. Your dominant trait may well be that you are intelligent, or warm-hearted, or kind. But that’s not what they are looking for. They need to know about your dominant role-based trait. 

So, approach this from a different angle. List all of the major traits that you think someone in this role needs. If someone were to really excel in this position for this company, what five characteristics would they have?

Then, pick the one that most applies to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect and doesn’t describe the whole you. It’s still true, and it simultaneously paints you as the person they want to hire. 

What might those one words be?

It can be hard to pluck some ideal words out of thin air, so have a think about the role you’re applying for, and then decide if any of these fit the bill. We’ve tried to identify ones which are particularly relevant to most PA and office support jobs:

Helpful: A willing attitude to help others is crucial in support roles.

Successful: Conveys you get things done without fuss.

Focused: Demonstrates you can handle multiple stressors and stay on task.

Motivated: Suggests that you’ll work independently and responsibly.

Organised: Exactly what those in PA and office support jobs should be.

Productive: Shows that it doesn’t matter what you’re working on, you get it done.

Efficient: Conveys that you use time wisely and are effective at work.

Versatile: Shows that you can adapt to anything the role throws at you.

Be ready for the follow-up

Don’t just think of the individual word, but also about how you’ll explain why you chose it. Importantly, you need to prove that you’ve not just chosen this word because it is the glowing beacon that sums up this role!

This means that you’re going to have to explain why that word describes you (and here’s your opportunity to bring in more related positive traits), and give concrete examples of it. For example, if you said that you’re “efficient”, you can now also expand and say it’s because you’re organised and focused. You can then give examples of how that benefited your previous employer in practice. 

Be prepared

Always be prepared for an interview, and in this instance choose the word that best describes you, but in relation to this exact job role.


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