You’re in a job interview and you are asked “How would your friends describe you?”
You are probably wondering which friend.
Your drinking partner or your study buddy?
And what does this question have to do with the job anyway?
Well, frankly, not much.
Because the intent of the question isn’t to actually understand how your friends would describe you.
There is more to it.
And being prepared for this question will help you be less anxious for the interview.
In this article, we will cover:
Let's do it!
What Does the Question “How would your friends describe you?” Mean?
The interviewer doesn’t really care what your friends think of you.
Or how your former roommate thought you were a slob.
I hate to call the question a trick but there is certainly an underlying meaning to it that is not clear at first glance.
If an interviewer were to ask what you think of yourself, you would likely (and hopefully) describe the value of all of your experiences and skills. The ones you think are most relevant to the role.
This question is a bit more of a curve ball.
It forces you to assess your qualities from the viewpoint of someone else, rather than internally.
Honestly, this is not difficult to do. Your friends probably know you rather well.
Your qualities that friends have pointed out to you are likely similar to those that you are aware of to be strengths.
The key to this question is to be able to choose a quality that you can explain as a valuable asset in your professional life.
And then demonstrate to your interviewer how valuable it really is.
How do you do this?
There is a simple 4-step strategy to use in order to make your answer stand out.
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4-Step Strategy to Answer “How Would Your Friends Describe You?”
In order to best answer this question you should structure your answer as follows:
Provide a specific example of a quality a friend admires about you
Specifics always are better in answers to interview questions.
It is no different for this question.
If you can recall a specific comment that a friend made about you, use it. Take one quality that you can tie to how it makes you a valuable employee.
For example, saying that:
My close friend Jake once told me that I am incredible at thinking ahead when we were planning a big class presentation. My planning was able to prepare us for many of the questions we received during the presentation.
is much more powerful than saying:
My friends think I am good at planning
Specific examples resonate more. They tell a story.
Everyone loves a good story.
Remember, don’t feel pressure to hop into a story as soon as an interviewer finishes the question.
It is okay to spend some time in silence as you think of a specific example that you can use.
Consider stressful situations you were in with friends and how they described you afterward.
Or what friends have admired about you through the years.
Most likely, many of the qualities you know to be true about yourself that you are ready to speak to have already been recognized by your friends at one time or another.
Outline how that quality applies to you and your life
Once you have highlighted what your friends admire about you, briefly connect that feedback to a general statement about your life.
We are essentially building a bridge from a specific statement your friends have made to specific achievements and value in your professional life.
So continuing with the example above, if your friends think you are great at planning you can say something to the effect of:
I have always thought it was important to prepare for the unknown, whether it is in my personal or professional life. That is why I am so diligent about planning.
Now we have made a connection from a specific situation in your personal life, your friends’ feedback, to a general statement of how you approach your professional life.
We will use this to get into specifics that will demonstrate the value of this quality to your potential employer.
Provide a specific example of how this quality has resulted in achievement in your work
You have now shifted the direction of the feedback towards your professional life.
So it is the perfect time to draw upon a specific example of how this quality has brought value to previous employers.
When has planning paid off in a specific situation at work?
Probably many times. It always pays off to be prepared.
Try to choose an example that is relatable to your potential employer.
An obstacle that their business may have had to face or will face in the future.
Take this example of someone whose role requires interacting with FDA about clinical study design.
In my past experience, I have prepared rigorously for meetings with FDA. To prepare for our meeting with FDA to speak about the clinical study design, I blocked out a full day before the meeting with the entire team, including consulting physicians, that would be in attendance. We ran through mock presentations and questions.
Walking into the meeting, everyone felt very prepared. We were able to get into alignment with FDA for the study design we wanted. Our consulting physicians told senior management that it was one of the best meetings they had attended with FDA, largely because of the preparation.
If you are interviewing for a role that requires FDA interaction, that is a pretty powerful example.
You achieved strategic success for the business as well as upheld valuable relationships with FDA and key physicians.
A potential employer will value this experience and quality.
Explain how this quality brings value to your work and the potential employer
It’s time to wrap up your answer with a pretty bow. Bring everything to the place your interviewer cares about.
What does this mean for me?
If your example from previous experience is directly applicable to your potential employer, and the challenges they face, this is just an easy couple of sentences.
In the example above, if you are interviewing for a role involving interacting with FDA you can simply conclude your answer with:
Preparation is key for any successful interaction with FDA. My ability and desire to plan, across all aspects of my life, will allow me to ensure that we reach agreements with FDA that are beneficial to the business and its strategic goals.
My friends think I am a good planner. This quality extends from my personal to my professional life. My preparation has paid dividends to my previous employer. And it will bring value to you.
You’ve turned a rather mundane and “tricky” question into an opportunity to further explain how your qualities and experience will make you a valuable addition to the organization.
If your previous experience example is not quite as transferable to the role you are interviewing for, you can take a bit more time to connect the dots to how the quality will bring value to the role you are interviewing for.
In summary, your goal for answering this question should be to:
If you are able to hit all of these points, it will keep your interviewer engaged in your answer.
And at the end, they will be impressed with your ability to turn a benign question into an answer that truly helps them understand the value of your skill sets and experience.
Remember, always be honest and professional in your response.
List of Qualities to Use (and not use)
If you’d like some examples of qualities that are great to emphasize for this question, check out the chart below.
Pick one or two that you can use and form an answer using the strategy described above.
Qualities to Answer
"How would your friends describe you?"
These are overused, try to avoid:
In addition to the example we walked through above, here are a couple of extra examples implementing the strategy to answering this question.
My best friend told me once that I inspired her to be consistent with her fitness because of my own focus. She really admired that I am able to prioritize that what is important in my life, versus what may not be as important. She recognized this through my focus on my fitness but it spans across other areas of my life.
In my professional life, I am always focused on and committed to what is best for the business. At my previous company, there was a situation where a high profile customer provided feedback that was not aligned with our prior market research. Due to the high profile of this customer, other employees began to focus on how they can address his feedback at the expense of swiftly addressing other feedback we received from thousands of customers.
I brought the team together to re-prioritize our work and which feedback would be addressed in the next revision of the product. It was important to me that the team recognizes that what is best for the business is to address the pain points many are feeling rather than a select few. Once we did release the next version of the product, it was a fantastic success and we received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our customer base.
I bring that same focus through to everything I do. I always focus on what is best for the business and prioritize my work based on that. Whereas in my personal life my health and wellness are the top priority, in my work the business’ success will always be my top priority. This approach ensures that the business I support is set up to thrive.
I took a trip to Europe with friends once and suffice it to say a lot of things went wrong on the trip. The weather did not cooperate and plans were constantly changing. My friend Peter praised me for my adaptability during the trip, as I scrambled to salvage itineraries and rearrange schedules.
My adaptability plays a significant role in my life and in my work. In my previous role, our business model changed significantly after COVID-19. We had to shift to delivering the product from our brick and mortar stores to primarily through e-commerce. I was able to adapt our supply chain to these dramatic shifts in order to ensure that there were no delays in delivering products.
Strategic priorities are constantly shifting with the market, industry, and political climate. I am able to stay calm despite the flux, and adapt my work and priorities with the direction needed for the business.
So that is the strategy you should use to answer "How would your friends describe you?"
Have you had this question asked before in an interview? How did it go?
Let me know below!