What One Word Would You Choose?

My friend conducted an interview yesterday and asked the candidate: “How would you describe yourself in one word?”  Apparently this was the question that sent the candidate over the spaz edge.  The candidate stammered, hemmed and hawed and even repeated, “That’s a really hard question, I’ve never been asked that before.”

Yeah, well you are being asked now.

Making sure that she was staying within her time frame my friend discretely kept close watch of the time, which is how she knew that it took the candidate six minutes to answer the question.  In interviewing a six minute pause in responding is a slow and painful death.  After all that time for deliberation guess what word the candidate chose to describer herself:


Seriously?  Seriously.  Seriously!  Does anyone else see the irony in this response?  This shocked me to the point of speechlessness – and trust me, that is hard to do.  Okay, well, it was a temporary speechlessness, but I was without words nonetheless.

But that wasn’t the kicker, at least to me.  Let me back up for a moment to set the entire stage here: her resume was wrought with errors, no punctuation, no opening statement just a sloppy page of bullet points.  She was visibly shaken throughout the entire interview to the point of making my friend question if she should call for medical help.

When asked how she would handle a certain situation the candidate said she would ask for direction from her boss.  When my friend asked what she would do if the boss were not available she openly challenged her saying she could not imagine between office phones, computers and  Blackberrys that anyone would be unavailable.  Seriously?  Apparently she does not have teenagers – those little suckers can disappear on a dime.  Anyway….

So after this horrific episode my friend asked her boss where he found this candidate and – wait for it – he said she was recommended by a highly reputable recruiting firm.

Seriously? Seriously.  Seriously!!  Fire that firm for crying out loud.  They let a candidate present themselves in paper and in person in such a poor manner that I cannot understand how they could be considered reputable.  I’m sorry, but to speak frankly – there is no way in hell I would every allow my clients to subject themselves to such terror without being prepared.

I get that the interview might be daunting but there is no reason for a total crap resume full of typos.  None.  And as someone representing this woman shame, shame, shame on them for allowing that piece of paper to ever see the light of day.

Okay, off that point.  Now back to the main point of this blog – describing yourself in one word.

Yes, you could get asked this question so it is worth exploring.  Some interviewers ask this question and use it as a tool to get insight; others ask it because they have heard it is something that is asked but have no clue how to utilize the information.

I was on a date once and a guy asked me that question; as I was not there for an interview for any long term position I answered “uninterested”.  Hey – don’t judge – you weren’t there and don’t know how tragic the date was so give me a break!

People will ask me what they should say.  I’m not coming up with your word – it is to describe you, you should know you.  I cannot look at you and say “use this word”.   Because here’s the kicker – what word you chose will depend on the situation.  Yep, the long and short of what word to use is – it depends.  Sorry.

Before you start cursing me for having read all the above just to get to a “it depends” hang on, I’m not washing my hands of this issue.  I’m simply going to help you make the determination as to what word you should use.  Hang in there.

One word does not fit all situations.  There are many words that could be used to describe me and some are a constant while others have varied throughout my life: mother, sister, daughter, wife, fiancée, friend, lover, leader, professional, driven, outspoken, contemplative, supportive, articulate, silly, adventurous, cautious, dork, fearless, content, flexible, introverted, introspective, foolish, brazen – you get the idea.

No one can literally be summed up in one word; well, okay, there are a few out there that “ass” seems to cover it, but that’s another story.

So how do you choose the right word – by knowing your environment.  Had the candidate prepared she would have know the job, the requirements, the expectations and even gotten a clue on the company culture.  Knowing all these factors she could have analyzed what was important for the employer in the next candidate.  Comparing these to her strengths then she could have chosen a more appropriate word – then been able to back it up.

After a six minute pause there was no explaining “self-aware”.  Seriously.  However, if she had stated that she was “decisive” then a natural follow up question would be for her to explain.  Then she could have used the opportunity to give examples of how in her past she had been in situations that required immediate decision-making; how she analyzed the situation and came to her decision and the positive result of her actions.

If you are interviewing for a supportive role than you want to convey that you are a team player completely accommodating to the team goals and objectives while making things happen.   If they are needing someone who can get and keep the team together and moving forward behind the scenes then perhaps a good word would be “organized”.

If you are interviewing for a company who is looking for someone who is aggressive and a real go getter then maybe “driven” would be appropriate.  Again, have the proof to back it up.  Not just the examples of when you were driven or supportive but also the positive results of your actions.  Nothing is worse than hearing a great story but the ending sucks.  Like Prince Charming completing a harrowing quest ending with a dramatic fight with the fire-breathing dragon to finally get to his princess hidden deep inside the dragon’s cave finding her in suspended life so he kisses her out of her slumber then looks deep into her eyes and says “Let’s just be friends”.  Seriously.

Do your homework on the company, the position and the culture – know what is important to this prospective employer and use that information to help you determine how to answer those seemingly odd or difficult questions so you, too, do not become fodder for some random blog.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.


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