It’s a question which is amongst the most commonly asked interview questions and can seem quite innocent at first, but could actually be the most important interview question that you will ever answer.
“Tell me about yourself”. I’ve had many clients coming to me asking me how to answer this question when they're in the run up to an interview. Maybe you’re in the same situation, you’ve just landed yourself an interview and you’re looking for tips on how to approach it. We always coach our clients to think about this question and all other interview questions from the other side of the table i.e. what is the interviewer trying to find out by asking the question. During a job interview, keep in mind that it's all about the employer's needs, even when your answering that first question, "So tell me about yourself."
Right from the top, this interview question is pitched so the interviewer can break the ice. Interviewers are human too and just like you they want to have an easy conversation. Secondly, they want to get a first impression. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. What you say, how you say it and for how long you say it will all determine the tone of the conversation going forward.
A hiring manager doesn't want to hear about how you knew you wanted to be in sales when you were six years old and set up your first lemonade stand. They want to know what you can do for them and how you can positively affect their bottom line.
We say that there are three principles on how to accurately and effectively handle this question.
- Give them a brief overview of your career experienceand your education - just a few sentences. This isn't the proper point in the interview to go into a lot of detail. Stay organized: by having a mental list of the experiences you want to discuss, you ca lead the conversation in a direction that is favourable to you. So, don’t tell your life story or launch into a list of hobbies.
- Be memorable. The best way to do this is to have an elevator pitch. It can be anywhere between half a minute and two minutes, but it should have a hook that makes you stand out compared to other candidates. Keep your elevator pitch focused on one or two work-related experiences and make sure they’re the highlights of your career. It’s important not to focus on your responsibilities, but rather the achievements and the contributions that you have made. Quantify wherever possible. If you’re not prepared, you can’t expect the interviewer to dig past your responsibilities.to find what makes you really outstanding. I’ve had too many candidates come to me with seemingly bland responsibilities, only to find out that they’ve actually had an impact that would put them in the top tier of candidates.
- Show that you’re an exceptional candidate for the job. By this stage the interviewer will know that you’re an exceptional candidate, so now it’s time to make sure that they know that you’re a great match for this particular job. The strongest answer will not only highlight professional strengths, but also how those strengths apply to the current position. Before the interview, carefully review the requirements of the job to get a clear understanding so that you can target your pitch to cater to those requirements. Get the interviewer to imagine how successful you’ll be in the role, because by doing this you’ll be off to a great start.
Finally, end your answer with a question."Are there any of these that you'd like to hear about in more detail?"
Here's an example of a complete answer:
"Well, I've spent most of my career in Operations, with a brief stint in Marketing and Communications. Most recently, I spent six years at Hallmark, where I was a Director at their production facility. It was during that time that I earned my MBA in Management.
As a result of that experience and education, I feel that I'm very strong at consistently turning around underperforming operations, managing team performance, and using technology to enhance productivity. I'm sure one or more of those might have piqued your interest - are there any of these that you'd like to hear about in more detail?"
This answer not only makes your experience relevant to their needs, but drives the conversation to talk about your strengths, which is exactly where you want the conversation to lead.