Whether it’s an online dating profile or a job interview, unless you’re super-confident, trying to describe yourself in just a few words can be pretty tricky. Why? Because there’s more to you than just a few words – plus with whatever words you choose, you run the risk of selling yourself short or making yourself sound like a complete fool.

Now, when this question comes up in a job interview, it can be easy to get into a bit of a flap for the all of the reasons mentioned above – but it’s important to keep calm. With a bit of advance preparation, you can create the perfect answer (after all, you only need to pick three words!).

When trying to prepare your answer, the first thing to bear in mind is that you’re being interviewed for a job, not a date – so it’s important to try and choose words which are relevant to you as a professional and the role in question, rather than your personal life outside of the office.

Consider your strengths in your current or previous role and what skills you’ve needed to be successful. By all means, it’s okay to choose words which are relevant to both your professional and private life but try and avoid words which are only relevant to your private life.

Next, take a look back at the original job spec or description and try and make a list of the keywords they used to describe their ideal candidate.

signs your job interview went wellOnce you’ve done this, it’s a good idea to have a look at what other people have said about you. Why? Because we find it a lot easier to describe other people than ourselves…

Take a look at your LinkedIn profile and any testimonials you have on there. Look back at what previous colleagues, bosses, or acquaintances have said about you and in particular, the words they’ve used to describe you. You’ll probably find that these are completely different to the words you might have thought of to describe yourself but they’re all actually pretty accurate.

If you don’t have any testimonials on there, give your old boss or old colleagues a text or call and see if they can help. If you’re applying for your first job, ask other students or your old lecturers or teachers for their opinions – okay, so these won’t be opinions of you in a professional work capacity, but they will be opinions of you in a learning and team environment so they’ll still be relevant.

Last but not least, it’s a good idea to look at the company’s website or marketing material to see how they describe themselves and their employees.

Once you’ve got your collection of words together, it’s time to compare them all to see if there are any matches. It goes without saying that you need to choose positive words but you also need to keep an eye out for cliches – because you want the words you choose to paint you as a unique candidate.

Whichever words you use, just like the “biggest strengths” question, you need to have some examples in your back pocket to back up your choices. So, for example, if you’ve said you’re “committed,” you might want to back this up by explaining how you worked above and beyond in your last role to complete a particular project to a tight deadline.

Finally, with this question, it’s important to mention that you need to ensure you’re truthful in whatever words you choose, because, just like anything else with job applications, if you fib, it can come back to bite you on the bum. For example, if you say you’re “ambitious,” your new boss might push you hard to go in for constant promotions – which is obviously not ideal if you’re more than happy to just stay in this particular role and float along.

So there you go; my top tips for answering this tricky question. Think I’ve missed anything off or have something to add? Feel free to leave a comment below.