By Wendy Campbell, Principal
There are some job interview questions that are guaranteed to come up in most if not all job interviews, and at the top of the list is the much-dreaded question: tell me about yourself. Why is it so difficult to answer this question? Talking about yourself should be the easiest thing to do but giving a good answer to this question is often very tough for job seekers. Most candidates start a running list of thoughts in their mind when asked this question; what does the interviewer want to know? How long should my answer be? What information should I include? It can become overwhelming to say the least. The following can help you get to the root of why this question is so often asked, and how you can prepare to answer it.
What is the Interviewer Trying to Achieve by Asking This Question?
For the interviewer, this question is an easy and open-ended way to start the conversation. But what the interviewer really wants to know is why they should hire you, what value you can add to the organization, and what experience you bring that will help the organization achieve its goals and objectives.
By asking this open-ended question, the interviewer is trying to get a sense of whether or not you truly understand which experiences, skills, and abilities are relevant to the position for which you are applying. The interviewer can learn a lot about you as a candidate. For example: How well do you understand the job and the organization? How are you going to fit in with the company and add value? How articulate and confident are you? How well do you know yourself?
How can you Benefit from This Question?
Answering this question allows you to emphasize the skills and experience you want the potential employer to know about you. Your answer will create a first impression and will set the tone for the rest of the interview, letting you lead with your strongest selling points. It is a great opportunity for you to market yourself and position yourself as the perfect candidate for the job
What Not to do if Asked This Question
- Don’t ask “what would you like to know?” This tells the interviewer that you are hesitant and unprepared for the interview.
- Don’t repeat what is on your resume; this is a great opportunity to promote yourself and tell the interviewer something he/she does not know about you.
- Don’t talk about personal things which are not relevant to the job.
- Don’t say negative things about your previous employer.
- Don’t talk too much. Just give a few important details that will spark their interest in learning more about you; keep the answer to around 90 seconds in length.
How to Answer This Question
Since this is often the first question asked in an interview, it’s your chance to establish rapport and make a good first impression. To establish rapport, you need to talk about things that are relevant to the position and the organization. Your goal is to craft a convincing statement that will make the interviewer want to know more about you and what you can do for the organization.
Before you start crafting your answer spend some time reviewing the job description, researching the company, and if possible, talking to customers, suppliers, and employees of the organization. If you take the time to prepare your answer you will have a better idea of what the hiring manager is looking for as far as qualifications, experience and fit and it will be apparent that you are an organized and qualified candidate.
Your answer will be comprised of a brief three-part marketing statement built of the past, present, and future:
Start with a one or two sentence career summary or overview of what you have to offer at this point in time. This is your, I AM statement, highlighting the skills, strengths, and expertise you have that make you especially qualified for the position. You want to grab the attention by focusing on what the interviewer is interested in and by customizing your response to the needs of the organization.
Once you have the attention of the interviewer, you can segue by saying something like “let me tell you briefly how I got here.” Begin by talking about the most significant highlights of your previous positions. These are the qualifications that make it clear you are an ideal candidate for the job. Describe specific accomplishments, skills, past experiences, and proven successes that are relevant to the specific position and that demonstrate how you can benefit the organization.
Your answer should be tailored to the needs of the company and can span your entire career. This could be number of years of experience in a particular industry or area of specialization. You might also highlight special training and technical skills – focus on the qualifications in the job description and how you meet and exceed the requirements. If your recent experience is more relevant, detail your accomplishments in reverse chronological order giving less emphasis to your first few jobs. If your most relevant experiences occurred in the middle of your career you may want to start your description at that point.
Have specific examples to illustrate your skills. For example, to emphasize problem solving skills, describe a problem you faced in a past job, what actions you took, and how this benefited the company.
This is a one sentence summary of what you want to do next in your career. This will change from interview to interview and will be an employer-specific career goal. Emphasize that what you are looking for is what the employer is interested in hiring you for. You can wrap up by indicating why you are interested in this position.
Finally your script should help you stay on track but should not sound memorized. Refine and rehearse your answer until you can deliver it naturally – with energy, enthusiasm and confidence.
Wendy Campbell is a Principal with Feldman Daxon Partners.
- On May 28, 2018