The interview question, "Tell me about yourself," is painful for so many reasons:
- It's vague, and wide open to interpretation.
- It's unclear what the interviewer wants to know about you. Are they interested in your work history? Or are they interested in knowing your golf score? Your inability to read the interviewer's mind can toss you out of the running.
- It is, quite frankly, a lazy question. It requires no imagination or planning on the part of the interviewer, and places the burden squarely on you to make of it what you can.
When I was a recruiter and I had to run into an interview with acandidate with little time to prepare, I asked this question, too. Sorry.
Regardless of how the interviewer asks this question, you should really be hearing the following question:
"Why should I hire you?"
The best strategy here is to toss out your best "elevator speech." In case you haven't heard the term, an elevator speech refers to a short sales pitch that can be delivered during a brief elevator ride with your intended target.
As an example, let's say you devised an incredible new chemical process for converting lead to gold, and you find yourself in an elevator ride with the president of a chemical company. The ride in the elevator might last two minutes, at most. How can you sell your idea to the president in that time?
You only get one chance to make a first impression, right? How can you open your interview as strongly as possible? You need to load your answer with your qualifications, and give the hiring managers reasons, to hire you.
Let's say you're a teacher interviewing for a tenure-track educator position at a school district. The conversation might look something like this:
Interviewer: So, tell me about yourself (yawns).
Job Hunter: I would be glad to. I am a highly skilled and experienced educator, with over ten years of experience in changing the lives of young students for the better. My teaching methods have been recognized as highly advanced, and I currently hold the latest state certifications. Over the last three years, my classes have consistently ranked in the top tier of standardized test scores. In addition, I have experience mentoring students in not just the classroom setting, but through my leadership in extracurricular activities such as coaching the soccer team and academic tutoring.
Interviewer: (Perking up) Very interesting! As you know, we have a teaching position available, but we also lost our last soccer coach last week.
Think about what makes you unique and exciting to a hiring manager. Then polish it into your own elevator speech. Then you'll be ready the next time an employer asks you to, "Tell me about yourself."
Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, and career coaching services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.