How to Answer: Tell Me About Yourself.


This lesson covers the dreaded
“tell me about yourself” question. You hate this question, all of
my clients hate this question, but it’s a question that starts
off 99% of job interviews. I highly recommend spending
some time on this question because it’s going can
make a world of difference to your interview
performance and your results. Let’s get started. Why does every interviewer
ask this question? Along with variations like walk
me through your background, tell me more about you, it
sounds like a harmless way to start a job interview. It’s very open-ended, not
particularly difficult, everybody should know a little
something about themselves that they can talk about, right? From the interviewer’s
perspective, it’s an easy way to get
the conversation going. They just want to get
you talking and dive into the relevant information. For the candidate, the
dread comes from the fact that question is so open-ended. You could answer in so
many different ways, and people aren’t quite
sure what the best way is. What does this person
want to know about me? They stumble, they
falter, they talk too much about ancient history,
and that’s a terrible way to start an interview– by
fumbling around and sounding confused, or worse,
boring your interviewer. Instead, I want you to
embrace this question, because answering
this question well is one of the most
affective things you can do in the entire interview. It allows you to set the tone. It gives you some power and
autonomy in this interview situation, where
you may otherwise feel nervous and at the
mercy of your interviewer. By starting strong, you make
a great first impression and shape the dialogue
that comes next. Take the time to prepare how
you want to tell your story and ensure you make a
first impression that leads to a job offer. Here’s how you should craft
your “tell me about yourself” response. Think about it as an elevator
pitch– a focused overview that’s concise enough to
deliver during an elevator ride. Your elevator pitch
as a job candidate should include your top selling
points for the position. Your top selling
points are going to be a little bit
different from job to job. You want to give a little
bit of your personality and your interest
in the opportunity along with your selling points. You want to sound natural
and spontaneous while also covering the points that you
want to communicate to make the best possible impression. I’m going to teach you to
outline a standard answer that can also be customized for
different opportunities. I recommend a bullet
point approach, not a scripted approach. Scripted answers tend to
sound stiff and artificial. Interviewers don’t
feel like they’re getting to know the real you. Instead, I suggest that you
outline the bullet points that you want to cover and
leave room for spontaneity in terms of exactly how you
deliver the points each time. Then with a little
practice, you’ll find that your
answers will naturally evolve as you get comfortable
with what you want to say. Once you know your
key speaking points, you’ll have room to be flexible
and deliver differently in every single interview. It’s not unlike how a celebrity
prepares with a publicist before hitting the
talk show circuit. They want to sound
genuine and likable, so they don’t script
their remarks, but they do have an
idea of the topics they want to cover–
promoting the new movie, telling a funny story
about their coworker, you know how it goes. So let’s get started with
outlining your elevator pitch. We’ve got a great
three-step formula for you. Step one– who you are. The first key component is a
confident, compelling statement of who you are professionally. The most common mistake
I see is a candidate starting this
answer by going back to the beginning of
the resume and walking through their experience
chronologically and often in way
too much detail. This approach is
weak because it leads with out-of-date and
irrelevant information instead of leading with what’s most
impressive about you right now. For most candidates,
this includes a reference to their
current position, as well as an overview
of the breadth and depth of their related experience. Let’s take a look at
a couple of examples to give you a sense of what
I’m talking about here. So here’s our first candidate. Who are you? “Well, I’m
a recent Columbia MBA graduate with a
strong background in the pharmaceutical industry.” This puts the emphasis
on that shiny new MBA and the candidate’s
industry experience. Here’s another approach
from a different candidate. “I’m an experienced
HR executive who has managed all aspects
of the HR function from recruiting to
training to benefits.” This is a nice big picture,
high-level introduction for someone who has a diverse
skill set within the HR function. It concisely summarizes
a diverse background. Now let’s look at a
not-so-good example. “Well, I grew up in Cincinnati. As a child, I originally
wanted to be a fireman, then later became quite
interested in dinosaurs. I excelled in the
sciences from early on, placing first in my
fourth grade science fair. You know, funny
story about that–” OK, way TMI. Sadly, the interviewer
does not really care. And I realize this is
an exaggerated example, but, trust me, I have heard a
lot of people go the TMI route. The idea here is to start
strong and grab their attention before getting into the details. Tell them how you
want them to see you. Step two– why you’re qualified. Step two is kind
of like the meat in the sandwich of your “tell
me about yourself” answer. The idea here is to plan in
advance which details to share that are most likely
to knock the socks off of this interviewer. Remember, your
interviewer doesn’t have endless amounts of time. Focus on two to
four, maybe five, points that you’d like to make. The goal is to keep
it under two minutes total, so think about it. What are those two
to four points? There will be more
time for detail later, so focus on the biggest
selling points– the stuff that you think– if you
were the interviewer– would make you perk up your ears and
say, ah, this is interesting. This could be a classic
reverse chronological overview of your
last few positions or it could be a list of
key accomplishments tailored to the job requirements. So let’s look at an
example here of how you might present that
middle piece of the answer. “I spent the last six
years developing my skills as a customer service
manager for Megacompany, Inc, where I won several
performance awards and I’ve been promoted twice. I love managing teams and
solving customer problems.” This is a very concise example,
and yours can certainly have a bit more detail. Just keep in mind that
the overall answer should be no longer than two minutes. What’s good about this answer? Well, the emphasis is on
relevant experience, and not just that, but proof
of performance. It’s not a summary
of job duties. A lot of people make that
mistake– both on the resume and in the interview. When asked about what
you did somewhere, you’re not just
going to rattle off the duties that any human would
have done in the position. You’re going to
focus on what you did that was above and beyond–
accomplishments, competencies, all of it tailored to
what’s relevant for the job description. Step three– why you’re here. This is your chance
to express enthusiasm for the position in one,
maybe two, sentences. Keep it short and sweet here. Here’s an example
of one way to do this. “Although I
love my current role, I feel I’m now ready for a
more challenging assignment, and this position
really excites me.” This is very general. You could use it for a lot
of different positions. If you can make it a bit
more specific for the job, even better, but something along
these lines will work well. You’ll have time to
get into more detail later– to show
that you researched the company, to show why you’re
a great fit for the role. The goal in this
moment is to wrap up your pitch in a
concise, confident way and show your enthusiasm. Once you’ve got bullet points
for each of the three steps, it’s time to put
them all together into a polished,
powerful elevator pitch. The key is to practice a
bit and find your rhythm, find your flow. You can practice a time or
two with your notes handy. Then once you’ve internalized
the general outline, it’s going to feel more
natural, and your personality is going to come through. To give you an idea of how
it can all come together, I want to share
an example answer. Here’s a candidate with
their version of the answer to “tell me about yourself.” “I have more than
five years experience as a technical project manager
at top Wall Street companies. Most recently, I helped develop
an award-winning new trading platform. I’m a person who thrives in
a fast-paced environment, so right now, I’m looking
for an opportunity to apply my
technology expertise, along with my creative
problem-solving skills, at an innovative
software company.” Your version will be even
stronger, but more detailed, tailored for the particular
type of opportunity. Now that you know what you
need to do to ace this answer, it’s time to outline
your own bullet points for each of the three
parts and start practicing. Big Interview has
more sample answers and a fantastic
practice tool to help you make the best possible
first impression with “tell me about yourself.”

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