Interview Question: "How Do You Define Success?"

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 6 September 2022

Published 27 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

How you define success influences your goals and indicates how you identify them. Because your definition of success is personal and individualistic, interviewers are likely to ask you how you define success. How you respond to this question can tell the interviewer what you find most important and what you may prioritise. In this article, we discuss how to tackle the interview question, “How do you define success?” and provide some example answers.

Why Employers Ask The Interview Question, “How Do You Define Success?”

Employers usually ask candidates the question ‘How do you define success?' because their answer can help the employer determine whether the candidate is right for the job or not. This question helps interviewers evaluate a candidate's work ethic and personality. How you define success can determine how hard you are willing to work to meet goals. For example, if success for you means consistently challenging yourself to be better than you were yesterday, that can tell employers that you are inclined to work toward personal development.

Employers also ask this question to determine what you prioritise. Maybe you define success by meeting team goals and collaborating effectively with teammates. It is also possible that your core measurement is based on company revenue or profits. Your answer tells employers what you prioritise in life and in your profession. The employer may also evaluate your expectations for the position based on your answer.

How To Answer “How Do You Define Success?”

Preparing to define success may require some self-reflection and practice toward articulating your thoughts clearly. Here are a few ways by which you can prepare to effectively answer this question in an interview:

1. Consider your proudest achievements

Practise answering how you define success by considering your greatest achievements. Think of at least five notable achievements. You may be proud of the promotion you received at your last job, or you may feel that following your dream and changing careers was one of your greatest accomplishments. Either way, include that in your response.

Look for common patterns among those accomplishments. Those patterns can reveal how you define success. For example, if your achievements revolve around overcoming fears and challenges to meet goals, that may be how you define success.

Related: How To Include Accomplishments on Your Resume

2. View success as a process

Sometimes your biggest achievements are the only ones you may focus on. However, try to view success as a process. You may also define success as short-term wins, like reaching daily, weekly and monthly goals. This can help you focus on the small accomplishments that lead to a major achievement. The employer is likely looking to learn a little about your personality and work ethic. So you can also include valuable traits like teamwork, determination, enthusiasm and anything that you think contributes to the betterment of your work.

Related: 13 Steps To Be Successful in Life: Tips and Advice

3. Consider how the company views success

Before you go for an interview, research the values of the company. Try to understand how the company defines success and try to incorporate that into your own answers. This allows you to align your visions along with the company's vision. For instance, if you are interviewing with a non-profit, their success may not revolve around revenue as much as it does around positive influence in the community. Knowing that beforehand can help you provide a better answer.

4. Give specific examples

Success can sometimes be ambiguous. So try to provide interviewers with specific, concrete examples which ground your definition. This may also give you another opportunity to talk about your achievements. Give specific examples of a time when you feel you were successful, and explain how it came about. For example, if you define success as leading a team to achieve collective and individual goals, you can discuss how you helped your team by improving teamwork, setting milestones and recognising individual efforts to improve motivation.

What Is The Best Way To Answer “How Do You Define Success?”

Each person's definition of success will vary. It can be based on the individual's values, career goals and their experiences. Try to give an honest answer to this question. Even though you may have practised the answer beforehand, ensure that it is in line with your values when you say it during an interview.

You can also take this opportunity to show that you have knowledge about the company and its goals by incorporating it into your answer. You can include appreciations you may have received for your work. Your answer can show the employer what you think is the most important aspect of the job. For example, if you evaluate your success not solely on your success but by the entire team's success, then the employer understands that you value teamwork. You can also tell the interviewer about a time you surpassed a goal and finished a project ahead of its deadline.

What To Avoid In Your Answer

There may be multiple open-ended questions in an interview that the employer will use to gauge your suitability for the post. There is no right or wrong answer to these questions. Even though your answer may be honest and from your own personal experience, you should try to avoid mentioning some things. Here is what to avoid:

  • Political views: Politics may have had an influence on your success, but it is best to avoid mention of your political leanings or speaking for or against any political faction. If a hiring manager asks about your political opinions, you can add that your political ideas will not interfere with your work.

  • Religion: Like politics, religion is another topic which is best to avoid. While your religious ideas may have been a major part of your success or your personality, it is best that you avoid mentioning this in an interview.

  • Sharing personal information: While an answer to the question of how you define success is somewhat personal, it is best to refrain from sharing too much personal information and instead focus on your professional accomplishments.

  • Limiting your potential: Make sure that your answer allows you room to grow in a job. You may not want the employer to think that you have already achieved everything and there is no space for further growth.

Related: 9 Common Mistakes To Avoid in an Interview

Example Answers

Since success is a subjective notion, how you define it will depend on your character and personal influences. These examples can help you decide how to combine a definition of success that fits a company's goals or values with your unique perspective:

For entry-level positions

Here are some examples of answers:

  • “I consider success as achieving both small and big milestones. Seeing success as a process has helped me to actively look for challenges that drive me. Furthermore, I strive to look at things from a different perspective and to find creative solutions to problems. Facing these challenges helps me make progress in both my personal and professional life.”

  • “I tend to view success as an ongoing process. I look forward to new projects and welcome every opportunity to learn. I work constantly towards improving my skills and as a result was able to single-handedly increase sales by 20% in my previous company. I wish to challenge myself every day to be better than the day before. If I leave work satisfied that I have achieved my personal and professional targets, then I can count that as a success.”

For mid-level positions

If you are applying to a mid-level role, here are some example answers:

  • “My idea of success is when the team reaches milestones together. I trust that my employer has placed me in a position where I am capable of achieving the team's and company's goals. So I work towards completing my individual duties as effectively as possible. I still want to grow within the company, but I hope to achieve that growth by making a positive impact where I stand.”

  • “I think of success as meeting a combination of team and individual goals. I am excited by new challenges, and I constantly want to find myself in situations where I can learn something new. I know that this company places great value in personal growth and community spirit, hence I think we will be able to have a productive relationship.”

For leadership positions

Use these examples if you are going for a leadership position:

  • “I define success as meeting a combination of company and personal goals and helping my team do the same. I believe that effective goals motivate us to push ourselves and grow, and as a result of meeting such goals, we not only help the company by meeting its objectives, but we also become more effective employees who can contribute to even greater growth in the future. As a leader, I also want my team to feel capable of achieving their goals as well as the company's objectives, so I make it a priority to personally help them meet individualised milestones."

  • “As a manager, I tend to find success in meeting different goals set as a group. I feel motivated when the team has achieved its personal and professional goals. I find time to let my employees know that their achievements are appreciated. This has helped me in keeping the morale of the group high and helped us reach impressive targets.“

Explore more articles