Job Interview

Interview Question: "How Do You Define Success?"


Due to rapid changes transforming the workplace, soft skills like critical thinking, adaptability, and emotional intelligence are increasingly valued by employers. So, it's no wonder the question, "How do you define success?" is commonly asked in interviews. How you define success influences your priorities, goals, and worldview. Employers introduce this question because they want an insight into your personality to determine if you're a good culture fit. They also want to know how you set and motivate yourself to achieve goals. Hiring managers love this question because it’s open-ended. That means you can’t simply provide a “yes” or “no” answer. Your response must be detailed and honest enough to make a stellar first impression.

Determining culture fit is just as important for you, the interviewee. In a McKinsey survey, 70% of employees said that their work defines their sense of purpose. The more you feel aligned with the organization's purpose, the more productive and happier you will be in your job. By answering truthfully, you’ll be more likely to identify a winning team that appreciates your unique talents.

The key to any successful interview is preparation. But even if you don’t get asked this question, formulating a response will force you to determine your priorities and articulate your thoughts. Here are a few tips to effectively answer the question, “How do you define success?”

Tip #1: Invest In Time To Self-Reflect

Interview preparation is an exercise in self-reflection. When thinking about how to answer, “How do you define success?” look back at your proudest accomplishments. Then, look for patterns among them. For example, if your most notable achievements center on coaching and mentoring direct reports, you may define success as developing others. Or perhaps your achievements focus on overcoming obstacles. In that case, success for you may be defined as maintaining a winning mindset amid setbacks.

Tip #2: Focus On Your Soft Skills

As previously mentioned, soft skills are in demand more than ever. According to a study by business school professor Peter Cardon, one reason is the rise of AI. Contrary to popular belief, many experts believe AI will transform companies into more human-centered organizations. As a result, qualities like character and communication will be highly valued in the workplace. So, if you define success as being a collaborative team player, don’t stop there. Describe how you used effective communication to build strong relationships with co-workers and creativity to brainstorm innovative solutions.

Tip #3: Consider How The Company Defines Success

Before any interview, research the company thoroughly. When you answer the question, “How do you define success?” consider the organization’s goals and mission statement. For example, a large corporation may heavily emphasize the bottom line, while a non-profit will focus more on exerting a positive influence in the community. Using that knowledge, formulate a response reflecting your and the company's values.

Tip #4: Provide Specific Examples

Storytelling can be a great tool during an interview. Start by understanding your audience and their biggest challenges. Then, craft a narrative using your most notable accomplishments. Lean into a storytelling approach by following a few simple steps:

  • Identify the most critical data you’d like to share
  • Use names and details to establish an emotional connection
  • Practice in advance so your delivery is as natural as possible

Explain to the employer what you bring and how your skills perfectly align with the company's needs. The right narrative will not only help you get noticed but also help you land the job.

Example Answers: “How Do You Define Success?”

Because success is a subjective concept, every individual views it a bit differently. Here are three sample responses to inspire you as you prepare for your interview.

Example 1: A large company

I define success as being part of a team that can meet and exceed their goals. One of the reasons I was attracted to this position is that your organization shares the same values. For example, my primary focus this past quarter was leading the team to launch our new product by the end of June. With focus and hard work, we successfully launched by the end of May, resulting in a 20% revenue boost. At the same time, we came in substantially under budget. I'm most proud of the fact that I also created a tracking system to monitor and measure key product launch metrics that were ultimately deployed company-wide. That achievement ultimately earned me a corporate innovation award.

Example 2: A non-profit organization

For me, success is about helping others grow and thrive. When I read the press release about your recent community initiative, I knew my values aligned with your mission statement. In my current role, I developed an international strategy to increase global impact and influence to accelerate fundraising and engagement. I expanded the affiliate network, resulting in 25% growth and more than $60M in additional revenue. Even more exciting was that we were able to build another 10 primary schools in Africa to improve the lives of thousands of children.

Example 3: A start-up firm

I feel successful when I can create value, add to the culture, and brainstorm new ideas. I would describe myself as a "build and grow" person who thrives in ambiguous environments. Over the last year, my role has focused on creating processes and procedures that didn’t previously exist. As a result, we've doubled the size of the marketing team in less than a year. We also just landed our first multi-million-dollar account. I love creating order out of chaos.

Everyone's concept of achievement is different. By preparing to answer the interview question, “How do you define success?” you’ll learn more about yourself and be more likely to impress your future employer.