Although one of the most dreaded interview questions, unfortunately, “tell me about yourself” is not only the most common interview question, but also typically the first one asked during an interview. Your answer will likely set the tone for the rest of the interview.
“Tell me about yourself.”
Did you tell your entire life story as your interviewer’s eyes glazed over? Did you stumble around until you managed to wrangle a mediocre response? Or did you confidently and strategically deliver a composed and practiced response that highlighted your career achievements and gave your interviewer a starting off point to follow-up on the precise professional experience you’d like to elaborate on for a specific position?
We’d bet your answer was a closer resemblence to one of the first two options. But here’s how to change that…
How NOT to answer
“What do you want to know?” – Communicates that you’re unprepared for the interview and that you’re “getting even” with the interviewer by turning the question around.
“My name is so-and-so and I was born in Hometown, State. I moved to city in year. I have two children, one dog…” – Yes, if hired, interviewers will care about your life story. But for now, they most likely don’t have the time (or energy) to do that.
These responses are not what your interviewer wants to hear and certainly not why he or she is asking the question.
Why IS your interviewer asking you something as vague as “Tell me about yourself?”
- First, it’s an easy way to transition from small talk about weather and traffic into why he/she should hire you.
- Second, he/she wants to see how well prepared you are for the interview and how you react in an unstructured situation.
- Third, your interviewer wants to know what you think is important and why you are the best fit for the position. They will also be considering how confident you are, how self-aware you are and how well you communicate.
These factors will indicate to the interviewer how you will respond or communicate in similar situations at work and with clients.
How to nail it
Think of this as your elevator pitch – a short, one-minute introduction to who you are and your accomplishments as related to the position, crafted to “sell” yourself to the interviewer.
Start by telling your interviewer who you are, professionally.
Then, mention 1 or 2 specific selling points about your expertise and experience that make you the best candidate for the position.
Elaborate by briefly including accomplishments or character traits related to the position. Be sure to choose items that will make it easy for your interviewer to follow-up on (and easy for you to elaborate on) in case they haven’t had time to review your full resume.
Close with your interest in the position/company and what you can bring to the table.
“I am a sales professional with more than six years of experience at a Fortune 500 company. Most recently, I led the development of our Internet Sales department from strategy to execution. I am highly-organized with great attention to detail, which makes me very effective in following-up with potential clients and providing excellent customer service throughout our relationship. Right now, I am looking for an opportunity to apply my sales experience and customer service skills in a challenging environment with a company like this one.”
Entry-level with no career experience to mention? Tell your interviewer how your education, extracurriculars and personal qualities relate to the position and will help you succeed. Consider how any of your previous work experience, even if only part-time, has prepared you for the position.
Practice your answer until it becomes natural and “wow” your interviewer with a lasting first impression!