Your resume worked and you got an interview. You are a little bit excited and a lot nervous. You go into the room and are anticipating that first crucial question.
“So, why don’t you tell me a little more about yourself?”
You freeze. Running through your head is a jumble of thoughts. What do they want to know? Should I tell them where I grew up? What I’m doing now at work? What I ate for breakfast?
You open your mouth and a flood of words come out, a rambling, run on sentence kind of answer. You don’t know what to do, do you shut up or do you try and dig yourself out of the hole? You keep talking trying to salvage the answer before finally stopping in the middle of a thought.
Does this sound familiar to you? I wouldn’t be surprised since as a recruiter I see the above all the time! I have also had interviewees go on for 10 minutes, describing every little detail of every job. I have had interviewees give a 1 sentence answers, giving me no clarity as to who they are. Honestly, I have seen it all. But sadly the one thing I don’t see too often is a great answer to this seemingly simple question!
The “Tell me about yourself” is a classic ice breaker question, it is a great way to open up an interview allowing a recruiter or hiring manager to get a sense of who you are and evaluate your fit.
Having a great, thought out answer to this question gives an excellent first impression to the interviewer and really sets you up for success in the rest of the interview so investing a short amount of time is worth it in the long run.
The key to success in answering this question is to go from the scattered mess answer you may normally give to a structured and organized answer. Having a good plan guarantees this and my 3 step plan is an easy one to follow.
Step 1: Where you are right now
Tell them a little bit of who you are and what you are doing currently, or in your most recent job. If the role is in the same field highlight your job title and relevant industry related experiences. If you are in the midst of a career change, highlight your skills that are relevant to this job.
Do not get into your life history, focus only on your current/most recent role to start with.
Step 2: What You Have Done
Outline how your mix of experience, skills and education will bring value to this job. Like I wrote about in The Secrets to an Engaging Cover Letter, be sure to summarize talking about patterns of successes with some highlights of hard data (ie my ability to analyze data, recognize inefficiencies and create new process improvements has led to a cost savings of $100k at this job and $500k at this job) rather than listing a ton of accomplishments. If there are 1-2 accomplishments that really line up with this job then definitely highlight them without going into details (the rest of the interview will allow you to do that).
Step 3: Where Are You Going
In your final section of this answer, you want to outline how where you are right now and what you have done has lead you to this job, this team and this company. Focus on what you are moving towards with this role instead of leaving behind (bad boss, long commute, etc) and showcase your enthusiasm and excitement!
Depending the company and the interviewer, you may want to throw in at the end – “in my spare time…” As a recruiter, I like to see someone who has a whole life, not just a work life. Especially if some of your side hobbies are relevant to the job at hand.
The “Tell me about yourself’ is generally considered to be one of two dreaded questions – dreaded because they are almost always asked. The other one is “Why do you want to work here?” – if you have an interview coming up read that article and you will WOW the interviewer within the first couple of questions giving them a great first impression.
Have an interview coming up but not sure if you can create the connection you need to get that job? I can help with that with my customized Master the Interview coaching.
Sara Curto, Career Management Specialist. Working with you towards Career and Job Search Success.