“So tell me about yourself.”
It’s just a question, but a question that everyone is all too eager to avoid these days. Like a parent asking, “Where are you going?” as you try to slip out the door. You feel stuck; especially when someone asks you about yourself in one of the most tense situations imaginable – a job interview.
But why is this question so dreaded? Who could know you better than you? You should be an expert, right?
Well, the truth of the matter is that there’s probably a lot more to you than can be described in under two minutes, which is approximately how long you have to answer. Which is why it helps to not think of it a question at all. Not only is the interviewer essentially handing you the keys to the interview, they’re letting you adjust the seat and pick the music as well.
As I said before, there’s too much to talk about to cramp into less than two minutes. This means you need to be very selective about what you decide to use to define yourself within the context of the interview. Which is just that, a job interview. The person interviewing you doesn’t care who’s in your family or what your favorite color is. All they want to know more about is…
– Where you were: What were you doing before you decided to look for a new job?
– Where you are now: What are you doing as of today in terms of work?
– Where you want to be: What are your plans down the road?
Could you fill 30-35 seconds of relevant content into each of these three sections? Well, granted that you’re reading this piece, you might be needing a little more insight.
Each of these three parts is really asking the same thing, just at different points in time: How have you demonstrated your talents and skills? This is not an opportunity to read from your resume – they’ve read it, and the very fact that you were called in for an interview in the first place means you’re fit for the job. Now you just need to prove that you’re more fit than everyone else who got the same call you did. Proof that begins with adequately answering the question of YOU.
You’ll start with your name as a formality, then choose a skill of yours and describe that skill through a short story of how you used that skill on the job. If you’re a natural leader, describe the time when you saved your previous workplace from certain doom during a huge rush by delegating roles to maximize efficiency. If you’re well organized, describe how you kept neat and flawless sales records for three years. Naturally, your example should be truthful. Being called out with a follow-up question could spell trouble for you if you’re making things up.
Next, you’ll more or less want to do the same thing as the previous step – only this time, things will be current. If you’re still employed, touch on what you’re doing at work while you’ve been job searching. If you’re unemployed, how have you been occupying your time in a productive manner? This is also a good opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the company you’ve applied to (you did do your research, right?).
Lastly, you’re giving an earnest prediction of how your skills will serve you or will have developed in the future. What will you have accomplished there in a year? In five years? How did you accomplish these things (if you don’t plan to work there for a year or more, it’s probably best not to bring that up)?
Make sure to practice your responses in a situation as close to an interview setting as possible.
Remember, this question isn’t about your personal likes, dislikes, or what you can do. Rather, it’s all about what you’ve done for others, and what you’ll do for your new boss as well.