Is it just me, or does this at first glance seem like an odd question to come up in the interview context? It certainly does come up, and not infrequently. Surely employers are interested in how you are in the workplace, not in what goes on when you are relaxing with people you like?
This is true. No employer will want to learn that as of last Saturday night your friends will describe you as hilarious but ultimately embarrassing – and go on to be told exactly why your friends would describe you that way. Nor do they want to know that in all honesty, your friends frequently describe you as rather grumpy (or maybe that’s just me).
It’s also an odd question because the chances are very small that an employer would contact your friends to find out what whether you are saying is true (although bear in mind that some employers will check social media profiles, so look to your privacy settings if you do have things on there that you’d rather only your closest friends know about).
So they can only rely on the very indirect and unreliable method of what you say about what your friends would say. So why on earth do recruiters ask it? After all, recruiters won’t waste time on asking interview questions which give them no useful information. In fact as with all interview questions, the trick is to think about why the employer is asking.
What they are really investigating here is self-awareness…
If you can say something convincing about how your friends perceive you, you probably know something about what you offer in the workplace, and where your strengths lie. Most recruiters will really appreciate new starters who have a good level of self-awareness. For example, one person might know that they are excellent at noticing the detail within a new project, but less strong about seeing the broader picture. Or the opposite. Someone else might know that they have much more enthusiasm for getting things started than for checking that they have been satisfactorily completed.
Now it may or not be that you have been with your friends in a context where they will be able to say anything about how you would respond with these kinds of work-place scenarios. But if you are able to say something convincing about how you think your friends would describe you, then the employer may feel some reassurance that you understand your own strengths and skills. And also perhaps that you will recognise that sometimes the ultimate outcome will be better because you recognise when you would be better asking others for advice or assistance.
How would an employer respond to your answer that ‘…your friends would describe me as an exceptionally hard worker, who never makes mistakes and who brings forth incredible results even from the most unpromising of situations.’
Even in the event that you are someone who could say this truthfully it is highly unlikely to impress an employer. Other than demonstrating an astonishing amount of self-confidence it gives them no information about for example, how you approach tasks. Or where you might work most effectively by forming a team with colleagues with a different skill-set.
You may be able to give a real-life example. If your friend says ‘Thanks for listening – you’ve no idea how much I appreciated it’ or ‘I think you’re amazing, organising something that complicated and getting it to work’, then (even though they may not think of it this way) that is your friends describing you. If you can give a real-life example like this, providing some context (and steering that careful course between confidence and arrogance) then you are likely to be giving a strong answer to the question ‘How would your friends describe you?’
If you are fortunate, you will have friends whom you trust to give you an honest answer to this question when asked directly. I was once asked a variation of this question on an application form. I asked someone I know very well and whom I could rely on for honest suggestions (actually it was my Mum). And I got that particular job!
Think too about what is appropriate for the job. If your friends would describe you as methodical and cautious, this would be a fantastic asset in many jobs – but not at all useful in others.
So this question really provides a strong opportunity to demonstrate that you know yourself and what you can offer to the recruiter. Ask, or imagine, your friends saying things about you which are positive and which provide an insight into you as the kind of person the recruiter would like to employ.
But if the first thing which pops into your head is something which an employer really would really be better off not knowing about, then think about something more positive you could talk about instead, quickly!