Despite being the most frequently asked open-ended question, many candidates fumble when they are prompted to “Tell me something about yourself” in job interviews. While this question is often asked to break the ice and make you feel comfortable, it can also give the interviewer a peek into your personality and help decide if you are a good fit for the job. Yet, if you haven’t prepared for it professionally, you may fumble trying to decide what would be a good way to answer the question.
While saying too little may not be helpful, diving too deep into your personal life to ramble about your hobbies and personal preferences is a sure fire way to begin your interview on a weak note. The ideal way to tackle this question is with an enthusiastic and concise response that summarizes why you are the right fit for the job. You should also take this question as a good opportunity to put forward some information about your significant achievements and goals since these will help you create a positive first impression. Answering this question well can even increase your chance of getting the job, as this gives you a powerful weapon to steer the interview in a direction you would want to.
Here are some important and effective tips to help you answer this important question well.
Your opening sentence should be an introduction to who you are – professionally and personally. So, plan an overview statement where you tell a little bit about your personal life, followed by where you are on the professional front at present. Give the interviewers a brief idea about your strengths and your personality as well. This is often referred to as the 30-second elevator pitch and is something you’ll want to get right. Not only will a well-articulated pitch impress your interviewer, a good elevator pitch will be a valuable tool in your professional networking for years to come.
Since answering in a precise manner and gracefully while covering all these grounds isn’t an easy task, it’s always prudent to practice the answer in advance and be prepared. Your focus should be to summaries your background without divulging too much of details that are unwarranted for the job.
Combine your skills and achievements of the past and present to offer a brief overview while keeping an eye on the future (which means talking about the ones relevant to the job you have applied for). So, if you have been interviewing for a position in the HR department and have drove the average salary of fresh recruits in your present company up from X to Y, you should highlight it.
Again, if you are trying for a job in the advertising agency and have been part of a creative tagline campaign for a client in your present company, you should talk about it. Skills and achievements related to creativity, innovation, leadership, collaboration, etc. are usually welcomed by most employers. However, you shouldn’t shy away from disclosing other skills (like your soft skills) and achievements that may indirectly relate to this job.
Just because the interviewer has your resume doesn’t mean he or she has read it in detail. So, briefly share your relevant work experience, emphasizing on two or three points that you think will help you stand out of the crowd.
Start with your most recent job and then include relevant jobs from the past, while picking the memorable learning experiences or achievements you had at each relevant job. Rather than simply sharing your job profile and tasks allotted, frame your answers to focus on experience gained and proof of performance.
Some examples include achieving a target within a stipulated time frame (eg. “While working as a sales person at Rogers mobile, I broke the record for highest sales in a month”), winning performance awards, developing skills and competence with workshops and training programs, or being promoted to the next level are all important aspects that should feature in your answer.
Interviewers love a balanced personality and it means talking not just about the successes, but challenges and roadblocks as well. Intrigue them by sharing some of the challenges that you faced while achieving your goals. Don’t dive too deep to fish out details that may bore the interviewers. Instead, pick one or two particular instances where you hit a roadblock and talk about the methods that you embraced or relied upon to resolve them.
Though it would be best to share challenges from your present or past workplaces, if you are a recent graduates that doesn’t have experience in the field yet, you’ll want to channel your college years and provide examples of things you overcame in academia. Just remember to emphasize on the solution you worked out to overcome the challenges and make sure they are something worth talking about.
Throughout your answer, remember to focus on the skills and experiences that are most relevant to the company and the role you’re interviewing for. From team skills and leadership traits to working under strict and often punishing deadlines, keeping your cool under stressful situations and creative problem solving, to dealing with irate customers to their satisfaction — you should cite particular instances from your life (preferably professional, but in some instances personal examples can work too) to prove what makes you suitable for the job in question. Instead of having a stock answer, tailor it to suit the job role and industry you are targeting to ensure it comes across as an honest and enthusiastic answer that would impress the interviewer.
Many candidates start reciting their resume when asked to tell something about themselves. Though it’s important to give an overview of your experience, skills and achievements, they should be presented in an interesting way during the course of an engaging conversation. Instead, when you get into the monologue mode, starting from your very first job or worse – your school and college education – the interviewer may be dozing off by the time you reach your present job and get to your relevant skills and qualities.
Steer clear of confusing your interviewer with an information overload. Pick the major achievements of your past jobs and give a brief overview of them with an emphasis on how they make you fit for this company and the job in question.
If you start telling your interviewer that you are a Cleveland Browns fan, love Pina coladas or the rain, you are way off the track. Remember you are appearing for a job interview, not a first date where you go on blabbering about your personal wishes and hobbies. Unlike your school and college admission interviews, where there is a lot of emphasis on who you are as a person, job interviews are strictly to assess how fit you are for the task at hand. So, your answer should focus on bringing to light your professional self unless you are asked to share about your hobbies or other pursuits.
“Tell me something about yourself” is an open ended question that you can interpret in different ways. However, some candidates make a mistake by asking for too much clarification, or worse – throwing back a question to the interviewers “What would you like to know?“
Asking such a question is somewhat insulting, as the interviewer is forced to reword the question. Instead of being hesitant and confused, you should take the question head on with a brief sketch of your personal and professional life followed by the steps we have discussed above. This way, you can begin on a positive note and sound confident.
In case your interviewers are looking for something specific or something different, they will ask for it anyway. So, don’t overthink it and answer this question in a precise, confident manner.
In front of a sympathetic interviewer, job-seekers often start talking about how bad their previous/present job or boss was/is, why they have left their job, how tough their financial condition is or who has been supporting them between jobs. Though it may sound tempting to unburden yourself when you have a sympathetic interviewer on the other side of the table, it’s not a great idea since it reflects badly on you as a competent professional.
Refrain from sharing details that are too personal like your religious and political views, financial hardships, relationship problems, family plans, problems with the law enforcement, injury or illness (provided they don’t interfere with your capability to do the job) and unproductive hobbies/pursuits.
Now that you know how to approach the question dreaded by many job candidates, sit down and chalk out a plan to answer it correctly with all the necessary elements, albeit in a brief, precise manner. Rehearse the answer a couple of times and the next time you respond to this question, you will feel how naturally and with ease it comes out of your mouth.
Here’s wishing you the best for your job interview success!
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Ben Karter is a senior recruiter for Xist4. He also works as a consultant & trainer for top IT companies. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the tech scene. Reach out to Ben on Twitter.