How To Answer the Interview Question "How Do You Define Success?"

Updated 9 March 2023

Interviewers have a motive behind each of their questions to better understand candidates and assess their suitability. How you define success influences your goals and performance in your work, so it's important for employers to know. Learning how to answer the question and impress your interviewer can increase your chances of landing the job. In this article, we discuss why employers ask "how do you define success?" and provide examples of good responses to the question.

Why employers ask, "How do you define success?"

Employers want to know how you define success because your answer can help them determine your professional goals and desires. It can help them to understand your personality and provide insights into how you might perform in the position. This question is partly evaluating your work ethic and establishing if you have similar goals to the employer. For example, if you define success as learning more every day, that can tell employers that you'll adapt to the job quickly and progress into higher positions.

This question can also identify what you prioritise professionally. For example, if you define success by meeting monthly targets and exceeding what's expected of you, this can tell employers that you prioritise workplace performance. Or if you define success as collaborating with teammates and meeting team goals. This could show employers that you prioritise the team's aspirations and help strengthen the skills of others.

How to answer "How do you define success?"

You can provide a reflective and honest response to this interview question, using specific examples of your successes and the factors that contributed. Succinctly articulating your thoughts can help you to deliver an impressive answer. Here are seven ways you can prepare to answer this question effectively:

1. Reflect on your personal definition of success

A great way to start preparing your answer to this question is to gather ideas of your accomplishments. Brainstorm your version of success in different contexts. How do you define success day-to-day? How do you define long-term success? As you reflect on these questions, take notes on what success looks like and how this can translate into goals.

Consider the overlapping themes of your achievements in different contexts. For example, your day-to-day success might include connecting with people and collaborating with a team. However, if a long-term aspiration means being a manager in your field, then these answers both involve working with people. Your response to the interview question can then include leading your team to achieve collective goals.

2. Consider your proudest achievements

Consider your proudest professional and personal achievements to help you define your success in the past. Try to list at least five experiences you're proud of achieving. You can include projects you worked on, promotions, career changes and positive work feedback you have received, for example.

Look for themes among your accomplishments, as the patterns can reveal your benchmarks for success. For example, if you took a risk and changed careers, this may have taken you out of your comfort zone. Maybe you also worked on a project that was challenging and unfamiliar to you and your company. Both of these accomplishments involve overcoming fears to reach a goal. This can imply that you define success by taking on challenges and navigating through the unknown.

3. Identify what you're passionate about

A major part of success is doing what inspires you. If you're struggling to understand how you define what success is to you, try to identify what you're passionate about. Completing something that inspires you may leave you with a feeling of completion and victory.

These don't need to be professional passions. However, you can find tangible relations to aspects in your professional life to help you answer this question in most cases. For example, if you're passionate about helping vulnerable people in society, your idea of success may include supporting other people. You can translate this professionally by emphasising your drive to help others achieve their goals.

4. View success as a process

It can be easy to look at success as momentary achievements, like being promoted to a managerial position. However, success can also be a daily process that makes you feel fulfilled. Professionals that work in a field they love, deem this an accomplishment in itself. Others feel triumphant as they meet their daily goals and targets.

Viewing success as an ongoing process, rather than a single achievement, can help you identify your peak moments throughout your professional journey rather than at the end. An interview answer like this can show an employer that you're self-motivated and show passion for every task you complete. This can create an impressive answer, as employers may look for candidates who bring a positive attitude to the company.

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5. Consider the job position

Like all interview questions, you can consider the type of job you're interviewing for when creating your answer. For example, a managerial position might call for candidates with a focus on their team's success. In contrast, a technical position usually requires independent workers that can meet their daily goals with a strong work ethic.

Consider the position you're interviewing for and review the job requirements. This can give you valuable hints as to what success in the position may require. If you've already performed some self-reflection on Once you've brainstormed your interpretation of 'success,' identify how the company you are applying to measures accomplishments. You can showcase how your goals and long-term aspirations align with the job.

6. Research the company

Companies all have different goals and versions of success. For example, a large corporation might place its efforts on increasing revenue, while a charity may measure success on the social impact they facilitate. A design company might define success as innovation in product design, while a startup would emphasise its growth and user attainment.

As you prepare to answer this question, research the company and try to identify its goals. Look for pages on their website such as 'Our Mission' or 'Our Values' to learn how they evaluate their success. Using this research, blend the company's goals with your view of success. This can allow you to answer the interviewer's question and show that you understand and share their vision.

7. Give specific examples

Examples always help employers understand your answer in an interview. Aim to provide examples of unique accomplishments and how they impacted you professionally and personally. This can help the hiring manager understand your core values.

For example, if you define success as working on projects you're passionate about, tell the interviewer about the most exciting project you've worked on. You can then discuss how contributing to the goal of the project left you feeling motivated and successful.

Example answers

These examples can help you plan your answer around your definition of success that suits the position and employer:

Example 1: Entry-level position

"I define success by reaching both small and large targets towards my goals. Success is a process where overcoming challenges inspires me to broaden my perspective to find solutions to new problems. Stepping out of my comfort zone by working on unfamiliar projects that help me grow while meeting the company's goals keeps me fulfilled. For example, from working as a graduate, I've been exposed to many real-world projects that challenged me in many ways, but I always feel successful when I've completed them."

Example 2: Mid-level position

"I consider helping my team achieve their goals and the goals of the company as a success. My success includes finding new ways to improve internal processes and see these adaptations come to life. So I'm focused on improving my team's work, communications, and collaboration as effectively as possible. When these impacts have a visible benefit for the company, I'm left feeling fulfilled and successful."

Example 3: Leadership position

"My definition of success is to help my staff and the company meet the goals we set out to achieve. As a natural leader, I can have the most impact by creating an environment that helps everyone succeed. This is how I feel the most successful and accomplished in my work. I believe that effective goals motivate us to push ourselves and grow, and when we meet these goals, we become more effective employees that can contribute even more in the future."

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