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Glenford Smith | Defining career success

Published:Wednesday | February 26, 2020 | 12:00 AM


QUESTION: Mr Smith, thank you for the clarity which you bring to bear on your questions. I would like to know how I deal with a job interview question. What if I am asked: How do you define success in your career? And how do you think you measure up to your own definition? Anticipating your response. – D.S.


CAREERS: Thank you for your question. Your commendation is appreciated. As is usually the case when the question seems quite simple and innocuous, there is something behind it. Because of the harmless nature of this question, many candidates don’t prepare for it and end up awkwardly blundering it.

I will deal with the latter part of the last part of your question first. You want to show the absolute best version of yourself. You will therefore do yourself no favours by playing down your achievements and your character. So, to answer your question, blow your own horn and be very loud about it.

Now, on the first and second question where I think things get trickier. We can try to define success, but there is no one definition of success and so the definition as such is up to you. There are as many definitions as people. Standard definitions include, “Success is a progressive realisation of a worthy ideal,” according to Earl Nightingale, author of The Strangest Secret.

In daily use, ‘success’ is used to define the achievement of a goal, aim or purpose. A rather pithy definition that I rather like is that by Elias Canetti, the writer and philosopher, “Success is the space one occupies in the newspaper". It gives you a more accurate measurement of my own importance – very little.

In the book Success edited by J. Pincott: “Success is a consequence and must not be a goal,” says Gustave Flaubert. So people have thought about what success means to them.

But you should not define your own success by someone else's definition. You will need to think through what success means to you and respond as enthusiastically as you can muster. Is money a part of your definition? How much money? Is working with great coworkers important? You will need to sit down, think about it and write it down.

For example, you can say in the interview: 'Success has many definitions but I’ll give you mine. Success to me is the achievement of a goal. As to how I measure up to that definition, I would say excellently. I have achieved most of my goals at this stage of my life. Accomplishing a degree in finance, which has qualified me for this post, is a major achievement to me. I have also developed leadership, tight management skills and communications skills.

'For instance, I was given the award for organising the summer programme at school during community week. This was where 15 of my colleagues and three organisers from the community went out into the community and painted, cleaned up the area and held a concert for the youths of the community'.

Alternatively, you may encapsulate your achievements that you enumerated formerly in another question. Have your accomplishments in a nutshell to just highlight quickly.


Glenford Smith is president of CareerBiz Coach and author of From Problems to Power and Profile of Excellence.