interviews

How To Nail The Interview Question, "Tell Me About Yourself!"

"Wait, wait, I know this one!" / iStockphoto.com (Wavebreakmedia)

"Wait, wait, I know this one!" / iStockphoto.com (Wavebreakmedia)

 

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 scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.

Can I Ask an Employer For Interview Feedback?

Well, that explains it...  (iStockphoto.com/kasahasa)

Well, that explains it... (iStockphoto.com/kasahasa)

A week ago you interviewed for a job with a local technology company. You spent three hours answering and asking questions with interviewer after interviewer. You figure you did pretty well, so you're surprised to find the following message from the company's recruiter in your email inbox the next day:

"We appreciate your interest in our company and thank you for the time you spent interviewing with us, and giving us the opportunity to learn about your skills and accomplishments. However, we have identified a more highly qualified individual for the role. We wish you the best of luck on your job search and your future endeavors."

You thought you nailed the interview. And, there's nothing of value in that rejection letter that provides you any insight into the company's decision to cut you loose. Is it okay to reach out to the recruiter or the hiring manager to ask why they took a pass on you?

Absolutely, you can ask for feedback. Just don't expect a meaningful answer.

Or for that matter, any answer at all.

Why don't companies usually share useful information about the interview with you? There are several reasons:

• Potential liability: Employers wish to avoid providing job seekers with anything that could be used against them in a discrimination lawsuit. Even interview feedback provided with the best of intentions could turn out to be damaging, so it's not unheard of for companies' legal departments to implement and enforce a "no-feedback" policy for this reason.

• Goodwill: Yes, it hurts not to know where you went wrong in the process. A saccharine reason like, "we have identified a more highly qualified individual," can be puzzling, but also reassuring, planting the belief that you were this close to getting the role and that a more qualified candidate showed up. Many companies are very conscious of their image as both an employer and as a brand owner. If they hurt your feelings by telling you that your interview skills were terrible and you weren't qualified for the job, would you want go back for another round of interviews should you be called for another job there? And would you keep buying their product?

• Time: Let's say a recruiter is working on 25 open jobs. They've interviewed 5 people for each open position. Doing the back-of-the-napkin math, that would be 125 interviewees with whom the recruiter would need to spend time providing - and explaining - interview feedback. At an estimated ten minutes per conversation with each interviewee, it would take more than 20 hours to communicate feedback to everybody. Add this to the recruiter's other job responsibilities, such as sourcing and screening candidates, producing reports, and attending meetings, and it's easy to see why the recruiter would opt to send you a form letter generated by their candidate tracking system. Such conversations take a great deal of time; think back to your last performance appraisal - do you remember how much time and discussion you had with your manager around each little detail?

• They've made up their mind, and you can't change it: Employers have a great deal of latitude in terms of their hiring decisions, and they don't appreciate being second-guessed. By taking your call, and by having a conversation about the interview, company representatives are opening themselves to a potential disagreement over how things went or were perceived. The recruiter may tell you that you were too light in a key skill for the role, but you points out that you have over 10 years experience and clearly meet the job requirement. It puts the employer in the position of having to defend their position to support their decision. And oh, by the way, the other candidate who interviewed already accepted the offer and is scheduled to start on Monday.

So what do you do if you would still like to get feedback on your interview?

Ask for feedback. Nicely. Email the company recruiter or hiring manager thanking them for their time, indicating that while you were disappointed that you didn't get the job and that you hope they'll keep you in mind for future opportunities. At the end of your message, tell them you'd like to continue to develop, and that any feedback they could provide would be very much appreciated. Don't push it, and don't ask multiple interviewees for their input. If they want to share anything with you, they will. Be gracious in accepting any feedback they provide you (or be equally gracious if they tell you they can't provide you any feedback), without argument. Then let it go. You'll come across as professional and mature.

Polish your interviewing skills. Work under the assumption that you could use some more polish in your presentation. Conduct mock interviews with a coach or a friend. Pinpoint your areas for development, and work on those. Then you'll be ready the next time an employer calls.

The lack of feedback may leave you feeling unfulfilled and disappointed, but it's important to preserve your professional brand to an employer, so don't push the issue.


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 scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.

Tagged: interviewing, interviews, career, background checks

I Get Tons of Job Interviews, but Never an Offer! Why?

I don't think this interview is going well... (iStockphoto.com/ imtmphoto)

I don't think this interview is going well... (iStockphoto.com/imtmphoto)

As the old saying goes, "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride."

You have no problem getting job interviews. Tons of employers want to meet you. In fact, you're having trouble inventing new reasons to leave work early – your boss is getting suspicious of all these so-called doctor's appointments, funerals, and parent-teacher conferences.

You've been courted by more hiring managers than you can remember, and filled out scads of employment applications. But you can never seem to close the deal; you get those automated "Thank you for interviewing" notes informing you they've decided to keep looking.

What's going wrong?

It's time to take a look at how you approach the job search and interview process.

The good news first. Employers are noticing you, which means your resume and/or your LinkedIn profile are doing what they are supposed to do, generating interest with employers by highlighting your skills, accomplishments, and experience.

The bad news? Something is breaking down in the process after you get the call for the interview that's influencing employers not to hire you. Employers tend to be risk averse, and I once knew a manager who said very plainly about hiring decisions: "If it isn't yes, it's no." In other words, there's not much middle ground here - it doesn't take much to sink your chances.

Here is a checklist of things to consider.

• How's your interview style? Are you approachable? Friendly? Engaging? Positive? Don't underestimate the value employers place on personality. They want to hire employees they enjoy working with every day. A grumpy, curt, not-so-personable interviewee is a turn-off. Also, arrogance doesn't play well; yes, the company wanted to meet you, but they also want you to convince them that you're right for the role – and that you really want the role.

• Do you appear professional? Did you wear a suit to the interview? As in, a clean suit, without a ketchup stain on the lapel? Is your hair brushed? Are your fingernails clean? Did you remember to wear deodorant? How about brush your teeth? Also, even if you hear that the whole company wears jeans every day, wear a suit to the interview unless the Recruiter specifically tells you to wear something else; if you work in a business casual environment, and need to leave directly from work for an interview, keep a clean suit in your car and find somewhere to change into it before taking your first step into the interview.

• How did you answer the interview questions? Did you give smart, well thought out answers to the interview questions? For technical questions, were you able to explain effectively how you would solve the problem with sufficient detail to demonstrate that you know what you're talking about? If they asked you a behavioral interview question (i.e., "Tell me about a time when you had to..."), could you tell a story which explains how you overcame adversity? People are visual by nature, they want to have things explained to them clearly so that they can picture the situation.

• How were your manners? Did you show up on time? Did you remember to say "Please" and "Thank you?" How about answering questions when asked, and not interrupting? What about sending a "Thank You" note to all the interviewers afterward? The list of potential infractions goes on and on, but your mommy spent a lot of time teaching you how to behave for a reason.

• Did you oversell yourself in your resume? There's a temptation to really sell the heck out of yourself in your resume, and you should – so long as it accurately captures what can do and have done. But if you've exaggerated (or straight out lied) about your skills and experience in your resume, it will become apparent as soon as interviewers start asking in-depth questions about some of your stated accomplishments and you can't provide the essential details and knowledge to back up your braggadocio. If your answers don't feel right to an interviewer, you'll be knocked out of contention.

• How did you handle the compensation question? Companies want to know how much money it will take to get you into the job. It's a tricky discussion, loaded with traps and if the conversation goes poorly, it can end the interview on the spot. Learn more about the process here.

• Is there something funky on your background check? When you filled out an employer's application, you also completed an authorization for that employer to run a background check on you. So long as they have your signature on the background check authorization, the employer doesn't need any more approval or provide you with any notice to run it. And there could things showing up on there which give them pause; maybe there's a criminal offense you didn't disclose which pops up, or the dates of employment you provided on the application and the resume don't align with what came back in the check. Prior to extending an offer, here's a list of some of the ways employers might investigate you.

So what can you do to be sure that you'll be more successful in your interviews going forward? Here are a few strategies:

1. Practice interviewing. Interviewing is a learned skill, and you can get better at it. Engaging somebody to provide you with another perspective of your interview performance and presentation through mock interviewing – either a career coach or a very honest friend – can be highly beneficial. They'll be able to see things in the way you present yourself that you can't. Can you answer questions well? Are you being polite? Do you fidget?

2. Look the part. Think about upgrading your presentation with a modern, professional interviewing suit. Get your hair done. And make sure your shoes are polished. Practice good grooming. Don't give anybody a reason to knock you out due to your appearance.

3. Polish up your resume. It your resume accurately capturing you, your skills, and the value you've brought to an employer? While a resume is your platform to brag about your accomplishments, you also need to balance this with an honest approach, and a clear understanding of what you've done for an employer, in what capacity. Don't oversell yourself. Here are some tips for building a good resume

4. Learn what's in your background check. In the United States, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have a right to know what an employer finds in your background check that makes them decide not to hire you (disclaimer: I'm not an attorney, this is not legal advice – please consult an attorney for more specifics on FCRA and your rights). I would encourage you to take a proactive approach; if you think there's something adversely affecting you in your background check, it's better to know – hire a background check company to run a check on you so that you know what may be found in your files and be prepared to disclose it and answer questions about it.

5. Remember: There's always somebody out there who may be a better fit. At last count, there are more than 7.4 billion people on this little planet of ours. No matter how outstanding you are in your profession, no matter how likeable you are, no matter how many Nobel Prizes you've won, there is always – ALWAYS – the potential for another job applicant to come along who has a better resume than yours. Or they're slightly more likeable. Or they have better industry experience. Or they're best friends with the CEO's golf caddy. Or whatever. You won't always get the job, even if you're the best there is.


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 scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercs.com.