How Do You Define Success In Workplace? Tips For Interview

Christina J Colclough

By Christina Colclough

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Everyone defines success differently, both in work and in life. But when it comes to our career, what does success look like in the workplace? This open-ended question can leave you stumped during a job interview.

Success In Workplace

Sure, you can share your personal accomplishments, but the most impactful response goes beyond that. It should portray your perspective on success, reflect your values, and demonstrate you are a good fit for that position. Continue reading to see some suggestions!

Understanding What Success Looks Like To You

Being asked to determine success during a job interview without preparation might leave you confused. So, let’s do your homework first – articulate success. Simply put, we consider ourselves successful when achieving a goal, tangible or intangible; it could be money, happiness, or personal growth in the field you are passionate about.

So, when inquired about success, think of your specific goal and align it to the position you are applying for. For example, if you want to be a teacher, you could describe your success when you first became a tutor and help your students get high scores. 

When determining your success, ask yourself these questions:

  • What holds more weight for you: material possession, personal development, or both?
  • Do you have a defined purpose or goals that guide your life? If so, how does your work contribute to achieving them?
  • Do you want to be recognized and valued or to grow continuously?
  • Do you want to leave a positive impact on your work or life? What is it?
  • Do you prioritize your health, family, and relationships?
  • What makes you feel fulfilled?

Remember that we can achieve many accomplishments in life, so don’t restrict your answer to one specific story of success. Mention any achievement that satisfies you and resonates with the company’s vision.

Why Do Interviewers Ask You To Evaluate Success?

Understanding the interviewer’s intention helps you tailor your response to their expectations. Most of the time, the recruiter wants to gauge your personality, goals, and work ethic. 

Let me break it down for you. A response with a clear personal definition of your success demonstrates that you are improvement-oriented and have a track record of achieving your predefined goal. 

The way you find aspirations on your ongoing journey towards personal success also reveals your work ethic and approach to challenges. And if your success aligns with the company’s vision and mission statement, it further highlights that you’re a strong fit for that role.

How To Answer This Interview Question? 5 Tips

answering questions during an interview

Reflect On Your Past Successes

It’s time to walk down your memory lane a bit, looking back at your proudest accomplishments in the past. Think of at least 5 of them and single out the most relevant achievement by asking yourself these questions:

  • How do you determine true success?
  • What was your proudest achievement?
  • Why did you want to reach this goal?
  • What were the challenges you have to face?
  • What did you learn from it?
  • How did it impact your life and others?
  • How do you feel about that success?
  • Will you pursue similar goals in the long run?

After selecting the most impactful achievement, craft a short and sweet answer that encompasses how you define success in life, what your biggest success in work and life is, and how you approach that goal. 

Align Your Response With The Company’s Mission

The fact that our personal definition of success in life is different doesn’t mean you can mention any achievement in your answer. I’ve seen many applicants’ responses that revolved around their personal matters, straying away from the company goal. And you won’t want to follow in their footsteps!

Before the interview day, do some research about the company you are applying for, focusing on its mission and vision to understand its priorities. This way, your response can stay relevant and resonate with the business’s goals, giving the interviewer a positive impression.

For example, if the company is aiming to expand their presence to the global market, you could highlight your strong learning skills and adaptability, like mastering a new language within a short time. Or, let’s say the business follows a traditional brand image. Then, consider mentioning your long tenure at a position as an achievement, showcasing your commitment and loyalty to the company.

Be Specific

Little details go a long way! A number or a specific result in your answer holds 10x more weight than a vague story. While success can encompass subjective aspects like work-life balance or good health, incorporating metrics and concrete examples strengthens your response. This showcases your goal-oriented and detail-minded approach.

For instance, suppose you define success as collaboration to reach mutual goals of a sales team. Then, consider including how you help team members feel connected and together boost the sales of a product (again, mention the specific percentage).

Focus On Your Soft Skills

If your CV sets the stage for your hard skills to shine, an interview is when your soft skills enter the scene. Remember that these abilities are what set you apart from short-listed applicants.

Honestly, apart from hard skills that are evident through qualifications and certifications, HR professionals like me often doubt ambiguous soft skills like time management, teamwork, or leadership. And a face-to-face conversation with the recruiter grants you an opportunity to prove these abilities. 

So, if your success centers around being able to multitask, don’t hesitate to go the extra mile with some past experiences. For example, mention some situations when you have to juggle between multiple tasks, like your study and part-time job or running two projects simultaneously. Also, explain how you prioritize tasks, communicate clearly, and achieve positive results.

Think Big & Small

When it comes to evaluating success, we tend to think of major milestones. But sometimes, small wins, achieved daily or weekly, can speak volumes. For example, consistently waking up at 5 am demonstrates self-discipline. Waking into the office and completing all the daily tasks on time can be considered a successful workday.

Likewise, think of your career as a lifelong journey with smaller stages, each being filled with achievements that contribute to your long-term career goals. Focusing on these short-term wins makes it easier to identify convincing examples for your interview answer. Therefore, don’t worry if you haven’t reached any big goals; small things equally matter.

4 Examples Of How You Determine Or Evaluate Success

success of business people

While our values and life experiences differ, it’s a strategic move to align your vision of success with the company’s needs. Of course, you should base your answer on your authentic achievements, prioritizing honesty every step of the way. Here are some examples you might find helpful:

Example 1: View your success from different angles

“Success, for me, comes in different forms. With each workday, finishing all the assigned tasks before leaving the office is an achievement. Looking at the bigger picture, it’s the opportunity to work in a supportive and understanding environment that opens many doors for my personal growth. And after work, success narrows down to a win in a football match with my fellow friends.”

Why this example: The answer gives the interviewer a glimpse into your work ethic, always striving to complete all tasks at the office. It also reveals your desire for a supportive workplace and your future-focused mindset that always embraces growth. Additionally, mentioning your after-work pastime subtly conveys a healthy work-life balance.

Example 2: Focus on completing your job responsibilities

“My greatest satisfaction as a teacher comes from witnessing students truly grasp the day’s lesson. I don’t mind spending extra time, whether at the library or even students’ homes, to help them unlock their curiosity. And one of the most rewarding achievements throughout my career is when I helped a 7-year-old autistic boy keep pace with his classmates and form valuable friendships. That, for me, is the purest version of success.”

Why this example: This response shows the teacher’s genuine passion for teaching and leaving positive impacts on others’ lives. The specific example adds more weight to the answer, further highlighting her strong work ethic despite difficulties and challenges.

Example 3: Value the team’s success over yours

“My success is never complete without reaching the team goals. Working in a team for years, I’ve come to realize that mutual achievement is more rewarding and satisfying than individual wins. Of course, I could embrace more personal growth on the way to success with the team.”

Why this example: Most, if not all, companies look for candidates with a collaborative mindset to work in a dynamic environment. This answer hits the right spot, showcasing that you prioritize the team’s goals and are willing to contribute to mutual success.

Example 4: Success as a leader

“Leading my team to the final destination, be it a win or a loss, is what defines my success. As a former employee myself, I understand the power of recognition at work. So, I consistently acknowledge the effort my staff put into each project. Positive encouragement fuels the drive of my team, and a simple nod or word of appreciation goes a long way. Of course, constructive feedback, if delivered respectfully, also contributes to our shared success.”

Why this example: This response is a testament to your fair and supportive leadership. As a leader, you should treat everyone equally and appreciate even the smallest effort.

Do’s & Don’ts When Answering This Interview Question


  • Whether related to or outside of your work, always be genuine about your authentic experience.
  • Provide metrics and examples to convince the interviewer. Consider mentioning your future personal goals to prove that you stay true to the success.
  • Link your success to the company’s goals.
  • Keep the context and tone professional.


  • Don’t mention personal matters about yourself or your family that don’t add value to your answer.
  • Religious or political beliefs are a no-go.
  • Don’t refer to others’ definition of success; express your own self.
  • Don’t pursue perfection in your answer.

See more interview tips:

For Interview Question:


Success comes in various forms, so we have different ways to define it. However, when asked to determine your success, align your response with the company’s objectives. Remember that an impactful answer should highlight your achievement, big or small, while showcasing your soft skills to demonstrate that you are a good fit for the company culture.

If you still don’t know how to craft an effective response, refer to my examples above and tailor them to your specific accomplishment. Write to me if you need more help in the interview!

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Christina J Colclough

Christina J. Colclough

Dr Christina J. Colclough is an expert on The Future World of Work and the politics of digital technology advocating globally for the importance of the workers’ voice. She has extensive regional and global labour movement experience, is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach, and strategist advising progressive governments and worker organisations.

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