Interview Question: How Do You Define Success?

Many times throughout my career, I’ve been asked this question: How do you define success? For some reason, the question struck me, and I wasn’t sure how to answer it at first.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this was an important topic to discuss, especially in the context of my industry and how fast it changes daily.

What does success mean to you? How would you measure success in your life right now? 

If you could choose between two jobs with equal pay and benefits, which would you choose: the high-stress position where there is potential for advancement or the lower-stress position with more stable hours? Would any other factors influence your decision?

Let’s discuss it.

What Is the Simple Definition of Success?

The definition of success is achieving a goal of reaching the desired outcome. But it’s not always that simple. 

For some people, success might mean financial freedom or the ability to retire early. 

Others might define success as having a happy and healthy family life. And still, others might believe that success comes from making a difference in the world. 

No matter how you define it, success takes hard work, dedication, and perseverance.

What the Interviewer Wants to Know

The interviewer wants to know if you have a clear and attainable definition of success, if you can set goals and achieve them, if you are resilient in the face of setbacks, and if you have a sense of what it takes to be successful in the role you’re interviewing for. 

They may also be trying to gauge your level of ambition and motivation. 

For example, they might ask this question to see how excited you are about the company or industry. 

I think one way of looking at success is accomplishing my goals – whether related to my job – but I’m not sure I can put a single definition on it.

How to Answer “How Do You Define Success?”

I was recently asked this question in an interview, and I have to admit, it stumped me. 

I believe there are two types of success: personal and professional. 

Personal success to me is defined as happiness, health, and relationships.

Professional success is defined as achieving goals, being respected by peers, and making a positive impact. 

Both these definitions of success are important, but if I had to choose one, I would say that personal success is more important because we would not be able to experience the other type of success without it. 

If we do not find happiness or have good relationships with friends and family, our career goals will likely never happen. 

Conversely, if we are successful professionally but don’t find happiness or maintain healthy relationships, then it’s all meaningless. 

That’s why my definition of success includes both personal and professional elements. 

When I achieve success on a professional level, such as getting promoted at work or obtaining an academic degree, it means less if I am not also happy and maintaining healthy relationships. 

And when I am happy and feeling fulfilled personally – such as enjoying time with friends and family – it doesn’t matter if I’m not successful in my career.

 For example, many people might consider someone earning $50k per year unsuccessful financially. 

But even though they make less than someone who makes $150k per year, they might still consider themselves very successful because they enjoy life and have great relationships with their friends and family.

Tips for Giving the Best Response

  1. Before the interview, take some time to think about what success means to you. 
  2. Be honest in your answer and avoid clichés like I just want to be happy or I want to make a difference in the world. 
  3. Instead, focus on specifics like what you hope to achieve in your career, what kind of lifestyle you want to have, or what kind of impact you want to make. 
  4. Remember that your definition of success doesn’t have to be traditional or ambitious – it can be something as simple as being able to support yourself financially or having a job that makes you happy.


When it comes to success, there isn’t just one answer. And that’s OK. The important thing is that you have a definition of success that works for you. 

So, take some time to think about what success means to you. Then, create a plan to help you achieve your definition of success. 

With a clear understanding of what success looks like to you, and a plan to get there, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals.

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