Welcome to a new episode of interview questions and answers. Today’s focus is “Tell Me About Yourself”. This is a big one. So, get ready!
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Hiring managers love to throw a question like this during job interviews. Sometimes, it’s the first question asked, after you’ve exchanged pleasantries or the manager explained the job opportunity or how the interview would progress, but it’s almost always near the beginning of the interview. It’s such an innocuous question that many candidates take it at face value and respond with a short monologue describing their personality and lifestyle choices. That’s a big mistake.
Why Ask This Question?
Do know that the manager is not just trying to get to know you better or looking for shared interests. He doesn’t care that you go to the same church, root for the same sports teams, or vote for the same party. The question is not intended as an icebreaker, to ease your anxiety before the real questions are asked. This is a real question. When it is asked, the interview has started and so you need to treat it as such.
Quite simply, hiring managers ask this question because they want to see how you answer. More than just what you say, they want to see the mental process you go through to develop the response. And, they want to understand what is important to you.
Don’t Respond Like This
Before I tell you how to nail this question, let’s be sure you understand how to not blow the interview because you weren’t prepared for this question.
- Don’t describe your lifestyle, personality, extracurricular activities or the other minutiae that comprises your daily existence. No one cares; this is business and your response should capture anything related to it.
- Don’t rattle on for more than a couple of minutes. That is more than enough time to say what should be said. Any more time is needless, and you risk boring the manager. Make clear statements and at all cost, do not belabor the point.
- Don’t recite your resume. The manager already has that information, and he’s trying to learn something new about you. The correct response may include highlights and accomplishments from your resume, but presented in the context of how they make you the best candidate for the job.
- Don’t answer this question with a question. Any version of “what would you like to know?” is a huge loser. The manager wants to see you think under pressure; he wants an honest answer that reveals what you believe is important in this situation.
Think Before You Speak
Even though the manager is trying to get an ad-libbed answer from you, and doesn’t want a canned response, you must prepare in advance to answer this question. So prepared that you can ad lib the answer when asked, not with a canned response, but with a compelling description of why your life experiences and career accomplishments make you the best candidate for the job.
Despite the wording, this question is not about you. It’s about the hiring manager – what he or she believes is important in the person hired for this job. You answer will be what the hiring manager wants to hear about you, not what you want to tell about yourself.
The first thing the manager will judge from your answer is how you react when asked to answer an open-ended, unstructured question under pressure. It says a lot about how you will react under pressure if they decide to hire you. If you blurt out the first thing that comes to mind to technically answer the question, it reveals that you probably won’t give thoughtful consideration to their clients’ concern if hired. If you stall by asking for more clarification when the question’s meaning is patently obvious, it reveals that you aren’t prepared, and that you probably won’t be prepared for their business. They do not want an employee trying to bluff their way around a client question.
Ideally, the manager sees you pause for a moment to consider the question before answering. When you do answer, he wants to see that your answer addresses what you’ve decided he wants to know about you – in order to accomplish your goal of getting hired. That is how he wants you to think through such questions from their clients – consider their perspective and answer in a way that furthers the company’s goals.
Now, Say This
You have researched the company and have a good idea of its culture, priorities, and value proposition. You’ve analyzed the job description to identify the most important qualifications, and how those qualifications come together to form the ideal candidate. And, you’ve mapped your skills, career experience, and accomplishments to those important qualifications so that you can formulate compelling arguments why you are the ideal candidate for each job requirement. Finally, you document “success stories” from your career and/or personal life that demonstrate how you’ve actually executed with those skills and experience to achieve objectives relevant to those required by this job. Now, you are prepared to answer this question in a natural, thoughtful way.
All that you can add at this point is any insights you’ve learned about the hiring manager or opportunity during the interview itself. Something you learn may allow you to tweak the answer you’ve prepared to be even more effective. If so, it should require no more than elevating or substituting one of your skills over the others and using a different success story. You have all of that in you preparation from mapping your skills to their qualifications. All you are doing in the interview is choosing which skills/success stories you’ve developed will be more important to the hiring manager, and relating those in order of importance to create a persuasive argument.
Confirm and Close
Don’t be afraid to ask, after answering the question, whether the hiring manager thinks someone like you would be a good employee choice. You want to confirm that you’ve addressed his concerns. Ask whether there is anything else he’d like to know about you. As the interview is winding down, look for an opportunity to restate your argument, and then ask a closing question – “I’m even more excited after this meeting to work for your company. Can you see any reason why I wouldn’t be a very strong candidate?” If you’ve done well, the hiring manager will probably give you a positive buying signal.