Interview Question: "How Do You Define Success?"

Jennifer Herrity

Updated June 8, 2022

Published October 7, 2019

Jennifer Herrity is a seasoned career services professional with 12+ years of experience in career coaching, recruiting and leadership roles with the purpose of helping others to find their best-fit jobs. She helps people navigate the job search process through one-on-one career coaching, webinars, workshops, articles and career advice videos on Indeed's YouTube channel.

How you define success influences goals and how you measure them. Because your definition of success is so important, interviewers are likely to ask you how you define it. How you respond to this question can tell the interviewer what you find most important and what you may prioritize.

In this article, we discuss why interviewers want to know how you define success and how to answer this question.

Why employers ask "How Do You Define Success?"

Employers ask how you define success because your answer can help them determine what kind of employee you will be. In one way, this question is evaluating your work ethic. How you define success can determine how hard you’re willing to work to meet goals. If success for you is challenging yourself to be better than you were yesterday, for example, that can tell employers that you will work hard to be productive.

Employers also may ask this question to determine what you prioritize. Maybe you define success by meeting team goals and collaborating effectively with teammates, or maybe your core measurement is increasing company revenue. Your answer tells employers how you prioritize.

Related: 21 Job Interview Tips: How To Make a Great Impression

Tips to answer “How do you define success?”

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

1. Consider your proudest achievements

Practice how you define success by considering your greatest achievements. Think of at least five. Maybe you are proud of the promotion you received at your last job, or maybe you feel that following your dream and changing careers was one of your greatest accomplishments.

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

Related: Interview Question: “What Is Your Greatest Accomplishment?”

2. View success as a process

Sometimes your most notable achievements, like becoming an executive or finally making a considerable profit on a startup business, are the easiest to focus on. However, you may also define success as short-term wins, like reaching daily, weekly and monthly goals. Viewing success as a process can help you focus on the small accomplishments that lead to a major achievement.

Related: Interview Question: “What Are Your Future Goals?”

3. Consider how the company views success

When researching before an interview, consider how they may define success. Using that research, synthesize your view of success with the company’s values, which allows you to answer both the interviewer’s question and show that you understand and share the company’s vision. For instance, if you are interviewing with a non-profit, their success may not revolve as much around revenue as it does around positive influence in the community.

4. Give specific examples

Since success can sometimes be ambiguous, providing interviewers with specific, concrete examples can ground your definition and give you another opportunity to talk about your achievements. Give specific examples of a time when you feel that 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, tell the interviewer about a time you surpassed a goal and finished a project ahead of its deadline. You can then discuss how you helped your team by improving teamwork, recognizing individual efforts to improve motivation and setting milestones.

Related: How To Set and Track Project Milestones

Example answers

Since success is individual, how you define it will vary. These examples can help you decide how to combine a definition of success that fits company goals or values with your unique perspective:

Example 1: Entry-level position

“I consider reaching both small and large milestones towards a goal as a success. I view success as a process where challenges encourage me to look at things from different perspectives and to find creative solutions to problems. Facing those challenges helps me progress personally at the same time that I hopefully make progress toward company objectives. I can leave work feeling successful as long as I have made some progress toward solving a problem or reaching a goal, even if I have not reached every personal goal at the end of the day.”

Example 2: Mid-level position

“I define success as fulfilling my role in my team and the company. I trust that my employer has placed me in a position where I am capable of achieving the team’s and company’s goals, and so I work toward completing my 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.”

Example 3: 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 that 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 individualized milestones."

Related: 11 Effective Leadership Principles

Explore more articles