During a job interview, the interviewer tries to get to know more about your personality, skills, and work experience. To get to know you better as a professional and assess your willingness to grow and improve yourself, a commonly asked interview question is, “What have you done to improve yourself in the past year?“.
As you can imagine, economies, businesses, and strategies constantly change in fast, dynamic environments. Companies must, therefore, continue to adapt to stay profitable. This means that as the company changes, its workforce needs to adapt, too. This is also why employers when making hiring decisions, look for proactive candidates in their professional self-development. “What have you done to improve yourself in the past year?” is a commonly asked question, so ensure you prepare for it, because it’s likely to get asked.
As with many other interview questions, you can use this common interview question to your advantage with the right preparation. However, it does require a well-thought-out and honest answer to convince the interviewer of your self-development activities.
Related questions to “What have you done to improve yourself” are:
- What kind of actions do you take to become better qualified for your career?
- Have you taken any training or courses recently?
- What areas or skills need improvement, and how do you plan on improving them?
- What are you doing to improve your professional skills?
- How do you keep up with the latest trends in the industry?
- What are your career goals, and how do you plan on achieving them?
In this blog, we discuss why the interviewer is asking about what you have done to improve yourself. Also, we tell you what you should focus on when answering this question. Furthermore, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.
Why do Interviewers Ask, “What Have You Done To Improve Yourself In The Past Year?”
The main reason for asking this question is to try to find out if you are willing to improve and grow as a professional. Professional growth can mean different things because there are different ways to develop yourself. There is, for example, employer-led training or even mandatory training within a company, and there’s training that you take on your own initiative, which shows proactiveness 1.
Interviewers are curious to see if and how you are progressing with your skillset development. It’s important to understand that for employers, your potential is determined by your ability and desire to grow as a professional.
Employers specifically look for candidates who cannot only successfully perform the job today but also eventually develop themselves further to take on greater responsibilities and add more value to the company. Therefore, ensure that you have examples ready to discuss how you’re developing yourself and how this helps you achieve your career goals.
Furthermore, make sure that you can back up your statements with facts and show that you’re a proactive individual when it comes to self-development. Your answer gives the interviewer insights into your professional behavioral patterns and your willingness to invest in yourself to develop your skillset throughout your career.
How to Approach “How Have You Grown in the Past Year?” and “What Have You Done To Improve Yourself?”
Just like other common job interview questions, you should be prepared to answer questions about self-development and how you’re improving your qualifications. But how do you do this? One important aspect to consider is reflecting on personal growth and asking yourself, “How have you grown in the past year?” This introspective question can shed light on the specific ways you’ve developed both personally and professionally, providing valuable insights into your commitment to continuous improvement.
It is crucial to approach the question with a thoughtful and introspective mindset. Consider reflecting on specific ways you have developed both personally and professionally over the past year. Emphasize your commitment to continuous improvement, showcase adaptability and a willingness to learn, and highlight the proactive steps you have taken to enhance your skills. This approach not only demonstrates self-awareness but also presents you as a valuable and evolving asset in a dynamic work environment.
You can start your preparation off by writing down the top three of the courses that you have completed in recent years. Make sure you rank them on importance and relevance in relation to the position that you’re currently interviewing for.
Per course, you should write down a short paragraph or bullet points on how you benefited from that specific course. Your goal is to present yourself as someone eager to learn and develop.
When asked about a certain course, you can ask the interviewer if he or she is familiar with the course before you present your key takeaways. Describe what the courses were about, what you’ve learned, and how they broadened your horizon as a professional. You can also talk about how you stay up to date on current market developments and what advantages this gives you.
Showing that you took the initiative to develop yourself is always a plus. Only mentioning company-sponsored or mandatory training courses won’t impress the interviewer.
Examples of what you could discuss are courses, seminars, and training that you attended to develop your existing skills or acquire new ones. Including specific examples of times, you went out of your way, or your comfort zone to work on your development is the way to success. Also, if you volunteered to use your abilities to help others, it is always worth sharing during job interviews.
In short, discuss your professional development, specific training programs, educational curricula, specific studies in your professional field, engaging with a professional mentor, other skills-building activities, industry-relevant books, etc.
Answers To Avoid When Discussing Self-Improvement
Just like there are important aspects to focus on during a job interview, there are also answers you should avoid because they could hurt your chances of landing the job. Let’s have a look at a weak answer to the interview question, “What have you done to improve yourself?”
Example of a weak answer:
‘I took some courses in my previous job because it was free and I could do it during work hours. For me, this was perfect because I did not really like what I did at the time. I chose a course that was taught in the city with a couple of co-workers. This way, we could do the course during the day and go out into the city immediately after.’
As you can imagine, this answer won’t lead to the results you’re looking for. It’s a ‘lazy’ answer that’s not well thought out. Furthermore, the information in the answer is pretty negative, and your actions are not helping you progress as a professional.
Interviewers ask about how you work on your self-development and “What have you done to improve yourself?” to get an understanding of how proactive you are, what your career goals are, and what actions you’re taking to achieve them. Make sure you focus on these positive points and prepare your answers in advance to make sure you provide the interviewer with the information they’re looking for.
Sample Answers To “What Have You Done To Improve Yourself In The Past Year?”
Below, we discuss a couple of example answers to the interview question, “What have you done to improve yourself in the past year?”. However, these are only general examples. Make sure you tailor your answers to the specific company and position that you’re applying for.
How to Answer “What have you done to improve yourself?” – Sample Answer 1:
‘To keep developing myself as a professional, I’ve asked an experienced industry expert, who I’ve known for years through my network, to be my mentor. I reached out to him last year and explained where I was in my career and the guidance I was seeking. I convinced him of my willingness to do the necessary work and really follow through.
For me, this mentor/mentee relationship has already been very beneficial. We meet every other week, and he gives me concrete tips on becoming a better professional in my field. Furthermore, he provides me with challenges for me to stretch myself professionally and personally.’
How to Answer “What have you done to improve yourself?” – Sample Answer 2:
‘The financial industry is constantly changing, and it’s essential that I continue to gain knowledge through seminars and conferences. For example, this year, I attended the Banking Horizons event and several other smaller events regarding Fintech – in which I’m specializing at the moment.
Through these conferences, I’ve met some great connections in the industry, which increased the value of my professional network. Besides offering networking opportunities, I always end up coming back with new energy, ideas, and knowledge that I can apply in my position.’
How to Answer “What have you done to improve yourself?” – Sample Answer 3:
‘In my current position as a sales representative, I’m formally not yet leading my own team. However, I’ve volunteered as a team captain, which makes me responsible for leading meetings and assisting in setting up sales forecasts. In the long run, I’d love to become a team manager and take on more responsibilities as a leader.
To get ready for these responsibilities, I’m currently taking additional leadership and management courses. These classes help me build more confidence and work on my management competencies. These courses focus on management capabilities, such as different managerial methods and techniques.
Furthermore, these courses help me to actively work on my presentation skills, problem-solving skills, and financial management skills.’
Sample Answer 4:
‘Continuing education and following courses is a requirement to maintain my license in our industry as a professional. That’s also the reason why I bring it upon myself to go out of my way to go to make sure that I do the necessary and more. Each year, I take various elective courses to follow market developments and develop myself as a professional in our industry.
After one specific course, I convinced my manager to let me put my new skills and knowledge into practice. After a couple of months, we saw significant results in business growth, and I started training two co-workers so that they, in turn, could help others as well. At the moment, I am waiting for confirmation to join a volunteering program to help young professionals develop their skills by transferring my knowledge.’
When addressing the interview question “What have you done to improve yourself,” it’s essential to highlight your proactive approach to personal and professional growth. Emphasizing your commitment to continuous learning, seeking mentorship, and engaging in industry-relevant activities showcases your adaptability and eagerness to contribute value to potential employers. Key points to remember:
- Proactive Learning: Illustrate your initiative in pursuing courses, seminars, and training beyond mandatory company programs to enhance your skills and knowledge.
- Mentorship: Sharing experiences of how mentorship has shaped your professional development can underscore the importance of guidance and external perspectives in your growth journey.
- Industry Engagement: Demonstrating how you stay abreast of industry trends and participate in professional networks can highlight your dedication to being a forward-thinking and informed professional.
- Application of Knowledge: Provide examples of how you’ve applied what you’ve learned to real-world situations, showcasing the tangible impact of your self-improvement efforts.
Remember, discussing “What have you done to improve yourself” isn’t just about listing activities; it’s about conveying a mindset of growth, adaptability, and the continuous pursuit of excellence.
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- Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2019/01/to-improve-your-team-first-work-on-yourself