Nathania at the University of Massachusetts – Boston asked:
In a job interview, how should I respond when an employer says “Tell me about yourself”? What kind of answer they are looking for?
Hi Nathania –
The “Tell me about yourself” opening question is the home run pitch of the job interview. No other question gives you the opportunity to knock one out of the park the way “Tell me about yourself” does. So, why do so many people strike out rather than hit home runs? Lack of preparation, nervous energy and a compelling urge to over share. Let’s start with the last one first.
Overcome your urge to over share
“Tell me about yourself” does not mean tell me everything there is to know about you!
Employers are most interested in the current version of you, so start there. If you are getting ready to graduate, don’t begin your answer with a detailed account of everything you have done since Freshman year and finish 15 minutes later with an out of breath summary of what you just had for breakfast.
Okay, I’m exaggerating a little bit here, but when confronted with “Tell me about yourself,” too many people go on far too long about stuff that really doesn’t matter to the interviewer.
This question is intended to help you get comfortable speaking with the interviewer. It also gives the interviewer the opportunity to see how well you can summarize a large and complex subject (you!) into three or four main ideas. It is your elevator pitch!
Give a brief, concise and focused summary of your relevant education, experience, skills and characteristics, and give it in 90 seconds or less.
Use your response to get your tongue untied using a message you are prepared to deliver.
Harness your nervous energy
Why do people over share? Typically because the are nervous and/or unprepared. When you are nervous and unprepared, those short awkward silences during an interview feel like an eternity, so you try to fill the silence with syllables!
We have all been there! While words are spilling out of your mouth, you are having a silent debate with yourself about how to stop talking. You’re not sure what you are saying or how long you’ve been talking. You just wish you could stop, but you just keep going. The only thing worse than the words spilling out of your mouth would be the sound of silence when you finally stop, so you just keep going until you run out of words.
Whatever it takes! Harness your nervous energy and do your homework. Both are things you can control.
Be Prepared for the Interview
Going into a job interview, you know the recruiter is going to ask you about your qualifications. Be prepared to answer those questions.
The recruiter is probably also going to ask you why you want the job, why you think you are a good fit for the job, why you want to work in their industry and why you’re interested in working for their company.
You know those questions you hope they won’t ask? About your GPA, a time you failed, your weaknesses . . . ? Guess what – they are probably going to ask those questions, too. Be prepared to answer them honestly, authentically and with confidence.
There is no such thing as the “perfect candidate” – don’t try to be one. Try to be the best prepared, best qualified and most professional candidate. That is all you can ask of yourself. Be prepared.
Four Words that Can Transform your Interview
Related to this position . . .
These four words can change your life, if you attach them to every interview question you get:
Tell me something about yourself (related to this position).
What are you greatest strengths/weaknesses related to this position?
Give me an example (related to this position) of your ability to work well on a team
What accomplish are you most proud of (related to this position)?
Get the idea? Every response to every question should – in some way – position you as a candidate for the job. As you prepare responses to possible interview questions, ask yourself: “Why is it important for the interview to know this information about me?” If you can’t answer that question, you can’t expect an interview to answer it.
How do you respond to “Tell me about yourself”
With your elevator pitch! A 60-90 second summary of your qualifications (education, experience, skills and characteristics) relevant to the position for which you are applying. Start with the present, focus on the future, share sparingly from the past. Make sure that what you are sharing is relevant to the job for which you are interviewing.
When you have done this. Shut up, smile, and wait for the next question. Your interviewer will thank you!