#3 of 5 Tough Interview Questions – “Tell me about yourself”

A five-part series of really tough interview questions… and how to respond!!

5 tough eLast week’s essay covered the question “Why should we hire you?”

You need to know and understand that interviewing for a new job is “single-elimination” process! Get it right and you usually move on to the next step in the job-seeking process with that organization. If you don’t do well…it’s then time to start over elsewhere.

The job-seeking process requires the need to prepare for interviewing – you really do need to be ready to answer all the questions that will come your way…. especially the tough ones… the ones where a bad answer will end your opportunities with that potential employer.

Let’s look at the third of the five toughest interview questions:

“Tell me about yourself”

This a question full of opportunities for you to screw up. Why? Because there can be a tendency to give a really bad answer!! Really bad approaches and answers include:

Touchy-feely. Baring your soul about personal information – your children, your spouse, that you moved from Texas because of a divorce, how much you enjoy being a cub scout den leader, yada – yada – yada. An answer along these lines doesn’t tell the interviewer a thing about why you are a good candidate for the job. I can’t begin to count how many times over the years I have interviewed people and been subjected to what my children refer to as “TMI”… Too Much Information… of a “who cares”, unpleasant or even embarrassing nature.

I gotta get outa there. If your motivation to be on the job market is to get away from an unfavorable situation (bad boss or bad organization), this not the place to bring it up at all. Never, never, never badmouth a former boss or employer. If indeed you are leaving a job for reasons of incompatibility or a boss that you want to throttle, explain your decision in terms of seeking new challenges – that you are no longer learning – seeking an industry that is growing, and so on.

I think this is what you want to hear. Of course you pay attention to this –  you are only going to say good things about yourself – but an experienced interviewer can easily spot a candidate that is trying to leave no possible good trait unmentioned.

What an interviewer wants to know in response to this question is:

What is it about you that makes you a strong candidate for the job? What do you “bring to the table” that will make hiring you a good decision?

The secret to answering this wide open-ended question is to hone in with laser sharpness on what you want to say and how to say it… then script it and rehearse it in the form of an opening statement.

The Opening Statement

It will consist of “talking points” – concise statements of capability and achievement. Use them to answer this question,  and if this question isn’t asked, find a way to work in your opening statement in the first few minutes of the interview. If the first question is “why do you want to work here?”… say “well, first let me tell you a little about myself”… and go into your opening statement. Then answer the question that was asked.

Sample opening statement:

“I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and discuss how my background and achievements might be a good fit for the position of (position title) here at (name of organization).

I am a graduate of (college or university) with a (degree granted) and have had an exciting and rewarding career in (field) thus far (only if your degree was granted less than 10 years ago – skip this if it was more than 10 years ago).

I believe my record will indicate that I have strong people skills, an analytical approach to problem solving, and am both a team player as well as team builder. For example, the department I supervise recently moved into office space adjacent to another department in the company and there was a real problem getting good inter-department cooperation. My team was frustrated by it and making nice was not solving the problem. So I went to the other department head, who was also frustrated, and suggested that we institute two things:

First – a weekly pizza lunch meeting with both departments attending – a mandatory lunch meeting.

Secondly – at those meetings, each person had to address the group. One time it was to tell what they did and with whom they interacted. Another time, it was to tell the group something about them that the other group members would not know if they hadn’t been told. For example, I told them that I played the trombone in my high school band.

Within a month, we had peace and harmony between the two departments. I am really proud of that accomplishment.

I have been fortunate to have had a chance to make presentations on behalf of my current employer, be on the new client orientation team and otherwise contribute to the growth of the firm.

I am easily adaptable to change and eager to make a real contribution wherever I end up.

Does that sort of paint the picture for you?”

Total time to recite this – about 2 minutes. Draft your one or two concrete examples of what you accomplished – ”what happened  because you were there and made it happen”. They become the specific selling points for your candidacy when answering this question. You want to indicate the kind of value contribution you will bring to your new position if hired.

NOTE – you will need in many cases to modify your opening statement depending on the job you are interviewing for – just as you modified your resume for each specific position.

Another idea for the beginning of your opening statement might be:

“Those who know me in the workplace would say that I am driven to succeed, that I am bright, that I see the big picture very quickly and am very conscious that success often lies in the details… that I sweat the small stuff.”

Then take it from there.

Keep in mind you must know it cold… and that calls for rehearsal. If you are conducting a job search but haven’t but haven’t interviewed for a week or 10 days… go back and rehearse it again.

It is important to note that the interviewer will be also very interested in how you present yourself – you need to exude confidence, a sense of “knowing thine own self” and poise.

Finally, about your opening statement:  Be brief, be specific, be focused, and don’t ramble (but why would you – you rehearsed it – right??!!).

OK… you now know how to answer the question:

“Tell me about yourself”

Next week – how to answer “What salary are you looking for?”

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