What is success?
In a job interview, you can expect some common questions from the hiring manager, regardless of the position for which you're applying and the industry in which you work. One such question relates to how you define success. Often, hiring managers want to know what you see as personal, team, and organizational success to evaluate your suitability as a candidate for the company. Learn more about why employers ask this question, review steps for crafting an answer, consider example responses, and read about what not to say.
Why employers ask, 'How do you define success?'
Asking about your definition of success is a popular tactic for employers and hiring managers because your answer to this open-ended question gives your potential employer important information about your priorities, personal work philosophy, and expectations.
Your answer could reflect what you think are the most important aspects of the position. For example, if you say success is seeing everyone on the team succeed, you’re telling the hiring manager that you value teamwork and communication.
You can also communicate your personal philosophy on your work to the hiring manager with your answer. For example, if you mention how important it is to complete every task by the set deadline, the hiring manager will see you hold yourself to high expectations when it comes to timeliness.
Finally, the hiring manager might be able to see what your expectations for the position are based on your response. If you say your definition of success in this role would be closing at least five new sales a month, the hiring manager gets a sense of what you expect the position to look like.
How to answer, 'How do you define success?'
Follow these steps to help you prepare for and effectively answer any interview questions about how you define success.
- Prepare in advance. As you’re preparing for the other aspects of your job interview, take the time to make some notes and jot down a potential answer should you get asked this question by the hiring manager. Preparing ahead of time will help you answer more confidently and fluidly in the interview, especially if you have notes with you.
- Think about your professional achievements. Consider successes you’ve had in past positions. Write them down and think specifically about what made the achievement feel like a success. Make note of any praise or recognition you received from colleagues or supervisors, besides your own feelings.
- Consider how you arrived at past achievements. Once you’ve made your list of past successes, think about what led you to the success. Consider benchmarks, check-ins, conversations, or other indicators that you were on the road to success.
- Find out what the company considers a success. If you can, learn how the company defines success. You should incorporate some of that language into your response. Look at the business’s mission statement and values to help you gauge what success looks like.
- Draft a response. Use the information you gathered to draft a potential response. Begin by providing a clear definition of success, using input from both your own past experiences and from the company’s guidance. Then, provide an example of what success looks like, either from a previous position or a projection based on the position for which you’re interviewing.
Example answers for the question, 'How do you define success?'
Consider these example answers to help you construct your own response to any interview questions about how you define success on the job.
Example answer 1
To me, success is meeting the needs of the company and the client. In my last position, I felt the most successful when I was able to help a client find the perfect solution to their problem. My supervisors regularly praised my ability to clearly communicate and empathize with both my coworkers and my customers. I think those skills will translate well to this role and this company’s vision of success.
Example answer 2
I think you can only achieve personal success when the entire team achieves success. As a member of the accounting department, my numbers and calculations mean very little if I’m not actively communicating with and double checking my work with my colleagues. I know this company values work ethic and community spirit, so I think we’ll be able to find success together.
Example answer 3
As a manager, I find success in outstanding metrics. I feel successful when my team meets their goals, and I can quantify those achievements. In the past, I regularly praised my employees for hitting personal and team goals, which helped keep morale up and led my group to reach some impressive numbers.
What to avoid in an answer
The definition of success interview question is an open-ended question, and one without a specific right or wrong answer. Despite this, it’s still best to avoid some ideas when answering this question. Use these tips to help you bypass potentially negative answers in your interview. Avoid:
- Mentioning religion: While your religious beliefs might guide your personal sense of success, it’s best to leave any mention of religion out of your answer. The exception would be if you are interviewing with a religious organization.
- Sharing your political views: Like religion, politics might shape your definition of success. Despite this, avoid mentioning your political leanings and endorsing, or denouncing any political figures or candidates during your interview.
- Providing too much personal information: Sharing some personal information while answering this question is fine. You want the interviewer to get a sense of your personality and who you are on and off the job, but you don’t want to over share. There’s no need to mention specifics about your family while answering questions about professional success.
- Limiting your potential: Ensure your answer gives you room to grow in the role for which you’re interviewing. You don’t want to leave the hiring manager feeling as though you’ve already found the pinnacle of success and have nowhere else to go.