There are a few reasons that a hiring manager will ask an interview question like, “How do you define success?”
They’re testing your work ethic, attitude, and more… and the wrong answer could cost you the position.
Coming up, I’ll share how to define success in your job interviews with word-for-word example answers, mistakes to avoid, and tips to make sure your answer fits what the employer wants to hear.
The best way to answer “How do you define success?” is to show that you keep your company’s goals in mind, that you give a strong effort toward those goals, and that you aim to steadily grow and improve in your work.
Showing that you measure success and work performance as a strategy to improve will set you apart from other candidates and impress the potential employer.
There isn’t a single right or wrong answer to this question, but the approach above will impress hiring managers and show that you’ll be able to help them advance the company’s mission.
Then, to set your answer apart from other job candidates, consider giving specific examples of one or more past successes in the workplace.
You can discuss a successful project, or a result/achievement you were able to obtain through your personal definition of success.
You’ll see this in some of the sample answers coming up (for example, the last sentence in Example Answer 1 below), so don’t worry if you’re unsure how to give specific examples of defining success right now.
If you can define success like this, the hiring manager will see that you’ll make a positive impact on their team and company culture, and therefore will be more likely to hire you.
I define success as challenging myself, growing, and learning.
I also look at success in terms of how much I’m helping my team and company.
I don’t think you can have a good definition of success without looking at the results you achieve with your team.
Yet, I think it’s also a mistake to look only at results. I wouldn’t consider myself successful in my work if I weren’t improving, advancing to higher levels of work, analyzing mistakes to turn them into learning opportunities, etc.
My definition of success is putting forth a consistent effort and working to get the best possible outcome in any situation. For me, success starts with my work ethic. When I look back and analyze my past work, I evaluate success based on whether I made the best of the situation.
Of course, I also recognize that there are more objective ways to define success in most roles, and I do track my work metrics and progress carefully. For example, in my last role, I tracked my performance among other sales staff, and relative to our team goals, to ensure I was contributing more than what was expected of me. This approach worked well to keep me motivated and accountable, and in the past year, I achieved more than 145% of my individual sales quota.
I define success by looking at my effort and the overall outcome of a situation. I try to maintain a strong work ethic and approach each project and task with great effort and a positive attitude.
And I like to review the results of my work to look for ways to improve or make an even larger positive impact in the future.
I think that’s one way that any project can be successful — if you’re able to look back and learn a lot from it.
This definition of success has helped me be a consistent worker and steadily improve throughout my career.
I noticed in your job description that your company values professional development and learning on the job, so I was excited that the company’s vision seems to match up well with how I approach professional goals and how I define success.
To me, success means giving my best effort to each task I’m working on, and also striving to learn and improve steadily.
I’ve taken this approach in my personal life, such as in sports, as well as in previous jobs.
I also think that success means being patient and planning for the long-term. Professional success takes time, and so it’s important to bring a high level of effort every day, not just the days when you feel like it.
To me, being a successful person means being someone my team can count on for that consistent effort.
And success means that I can look back after each month and year and see that I’ve improved, too.
In a leadership position like the role I’ve applied for here, I think that success relates to the growth and performance of the team. Success should always be looked at as a team effort to some extent.
If my team isn’t producing great work, growing, bonding, and feeling positive, then I’m not succeeding as a manager.
When I reviewed your job posting, it seemed like teamwork and collaboration are some of your company’s top values, so I was excited to learn more about what you look for in the leaders you hire.
The answers above all offer something a bit different than each other, but they all accomplish the same general goals as well:
All of the traits above will thrill most hiring managers because they can’t teach these qualities. A job candidate either has these traits or doesn’t.
And you’re showing the employer that you possess these positive characteristics, which will help you stand out in your job search and get hired for better positions.
If you feel your answer is relatively short and you want to add more, conclude by sharing an example of a past achievement or project that was a success.
Pick a project that’s similar to the work you’ll be doing in this next role, or a project that illustrates that you’re a fit for the company’s values or work culture.
For example, if you sense that a company’s goals are to expand and grow, and you helped grow your last company, you could describe how you helped the organization meet those goals in your last role.
You might say the following:
As an example of a past success story, in my last position, we were an early-stage startup looking to grow as quickly as possible. I developed new processes and templates to help our sales team perform 40% more outbound calls and emails per week, which increased our team’s sales revenue by 29% last year. This is a case where I succeeded personally, but also where that success aligns with what my team and company needed to achieve. That’s how I view success overall.
You don’t have to highlight past achievements when answering, “What does success mean to you?” or “How do you define success?” but doing so is one way to stand out when the hiring manager asks about this topic.
As a part of your interview preparation, think of one or two recent success stories or past experiences that align with the work you’ll be doing in this new job.
By preparing examples of past projects where you achieved the desired outcome, you’ll help the hiring manager see that they can expect positive results from you in your future work, too.
If you take this step, you’ll also be ready to answer other tricky interview questions like:
This can be a tough interview question to answer because it’s such an open-ended question.
So to conclude, I’m going to share a couple of mistakes to avoid when you describe how you view success.
First, don’t give a definition of success that’s longer than 60-90 seconds. That’s an absolute maximum to aim for, and it’s okay if your answer is shorter.
Overall, one of the worst mistakes you can make in a job interview is to give long-winded answers, which will frustrate and exhaust the interviewer.
So aim for around 60 seconds when answering this question in the job interview.
The next mistake to avoid when answering interview questions about how you view success is:
Make sure not to only speak about individual and personal goals. Your answer should always mention team and company goals as well.
It can be a turn-off in the interview if you seem too focused on your personal goals and career goals with no regard for the company’s objectives. Show that you care about both, if possible.
One easy way to show that you care about a company’s goals is to simply mention something you saw on the job description that you feel you could perform well.
You can do this in response to a variety of interview questions.
I noticed in your job description that the role seems heavily involved in ___. In my last job, I succeeded in ___ and ___, so I’m confident that I could step into this role and be successful.
You can use this idea when you define success, or when you answer other common job interview questions like:
Success is a subjective concept and different people feel successful based on different factors.
When you answer questions about how you define success, it’s best to show that you’re a team player who balances company and personal goals, and that you’re someone who aims to grow and improve over time.
Then, you can consider concluding with an example of a past project or task where you felt successful, and why.
This is a tricky question and there isn’t one clear definition of success for all roles and career types, but the strategy above will help you show the hiring manager that you’re a strong candidate for any role.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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