For most of you, I wish all interviewers started off with this question. Answered properly, it allows you to set the tone for the rest of the interview. Unfortunately for many, it also is why so many of you screw up the interview.
The saying “the most qualified person doesn’t always get the job” is very true. How many times did you leave an interview knowing that you could do the job but just couldn’t answer the interview questions that proved this? Conversely, did you ever get offered a job that you may have not been the best candidate but just connected with the interviewer?
Both instances are great examples of how setting the tone in an interview by answering typical interview questions. For the interview question “tell me about yourself” you must have a plan. Without a plan your answers many times will show disorganization, lack of preparation or even worse give the interviewer the sense you are wasting their time. This is your time to shine. In my twenty five plus years of interviewing, this simple question gives me great insight on how the rest of the interview may go.
To answer the question “tell me about yourself” consider the following:
1. Don’t read off your entire career history. They already have your resume. Instead, verbalize the skills you have that match the job you are interviewing for in the first place. “Well, I have been very fortunate to have over six years’ experience working with two of your competitors selling digital artwork. While at these companies, I was ranked in the top ten percent nationwide”.
2. Tell a personal story. Everyone has a story. The one you tell in an interview may get you the job. A personal story is a great way to “humanize” the interview and give them a taste of who you are as a person. “When I was growing up, my mom, who was also a homeowners claims adjuster, would let me climb ladders onto the roofs of some of the claims she was adjusting. I just loved the way she would work with the homeowners and help solve their claims problems”.
3. Tell them a great professional story. You have softened them up with your personal story and now it is time to tell them of a great success that is relevant to the open job. “Professionally, I have had the opportunity to work with companies that were very challenging yet rewarding. At XYZ Company, I was able to grow market share by working with our developers to add a mobile feature that made buying online easy resulting in an increase of 54% in transactions. That is what attracted me to interview for your job because you are number one in this space and very proactive helping employees grow their careers.”
My formula is really simple in today’s world. Give them a sentence or two on your professional history (and relevant education/training). Tell them a personal story (this is really the most important piece in my opinion) about why you love what you do and how you got into it and then give them an example of why you are good.
This conversation allows YOU to set the tone. Doing this well will get the interviewer to consider you; even if your background may not have everything they may be looking for in the job.