Job interviews are intimidating. More often than not, you spend hours preparing yourself, ensuring you have all the answers to any question they could possibly ask - then, they ask you something you somehow don’t have the answer to.
In this series, you’ll get insight into the true meaning behind some of the toughest interview questions out there, as well as a few different options for how you can best answer them.
Today’s question - “Tell me about yourself.”
This is one of the most open-ended questions that you’ll be asked in an interview process; the way that you answer is really up to you. When you answer, make sure you move from the beginning of your career to the end - you’re telling a story, and you want everyone in that interview to understand exactly how you’ve gotten to where you are.
This question is generally the first one that you’ll hear in an interview. It’s important that you keep your answer professional and succinct; while the question is open-ended, you do want to keep the focus on your professional accomplishments. There are a few things your interviewer will be on the lookout for in your answer, and you want to make sure you check all their boxes.
Is your answer well thought out? Have you thought about this beforehand?
Is your answer organized and fluid?
Have you pieced together your narrative in a chronological way, or are you jumping around in a way that’s hard to follow?
You want to structure your answer around these three qualities:
If there’s something on your resume or in your career that doesn’t look good to a future employer, this is when you want to get ahead of it. If you were fired or let go, if there was a gap on your resume, or if you were a job hopper, you can briefly mention these things as part of your narrative while offering a short explanation.
For example, “After my time at Company XYZ, I took a brief period of time off of working in order to care for a family member, after which I took my position at Company ABC.”
When deciding what to bring up, think back on your career and decide what parts of your experience qualify as major accomplishments.
Do you have a master’s or doctorate degree?
Do you hold a patent?
Were you the first person on your team or at your company to be trained in a particular technique or software?
Did you successfully lead a large-scale implementation?
Anything that showcases an impressive ability to lead and make advances in your field is something you want to mention. As a rule, you should spend the most time talking about your current and most recent roles, and only bring things up from the beginning of your career if they are truly impressive and relevant.
You should be thinking ahead of time about what you want to include in your answer. It’s very important that you find a balance between being too quiet and too long-winded. As much as a five-word answer looks bad, detailing every aspect of a fifteen-year career will have your interviewers falling asleep in front of you. Leave yourself cues to acknowledge your interviewer - you want to create a conversation. You can also use this as an opportunity to show you did your research. If you noticed during your interview prep that one of your interviewers had a similar experience to your own listed on their LinkedIn, this would be a great time to bring that up. You should also be prepared that the interviewer might stop you in the middle and ask some specific questions. This is a good sign - it means they’re invested.
If your list is still on the longer side, look over the job description and narrow down your narrative to things that will make you valuable for the particular requirements of the role you’re interviewing for.
To recap, there’s a really good chance you’ll be asked this on every interview you go on, so definitely take the time to have an elevator pitch prepared for “tell me about yourself.” You most likely will be interrupted during it, so the more you practice and feel comfortable with it, the better off you’ll be.
Having a strong, thought-out answer to this question will ensure that you set the tone for a successful interview from start to finish. In addition -
Have a great Attitude
Bring Enthusiasm to each and every interview
If you use this guide and remember these three things, you’ll be sure to ACE your interview.