This is the most popular blog post of 2014. See the rest of the top 15 here.
If you have ever been in an interview, then you have undoubtedly had to answer the “Tell Me About Yourself” question. It is so common that it is often neglected during our interview preparation. However, it is arguably the most important interview question as it sets the tone for the rest of the interview.
The way you respond to this question will decide the success of the interview and ultimately whether or not you will get the job. Don’t worry too much– the interviewer is on your side and they want to hire you. They want more than anything for you to crush the interview, so that they can stop spending hours reviewing resumes and doing interviews.
If you can successfully answer the “Tell Me About Yourself” question your chances of getting the job increase tenfold.
When answering this question, there are two rules you should consider:
Don’t Tell Your Life Story
Do Tell Pertinent Info
The first rule is easy enough to follow. When the interviewee is unprepared, they often resort to answering the “Tell Me About Yourself” with the history of their life. The interviewer doesn’t want an hour-long diatribe on your life story starting from childhood, nor does he/she want to know the names of your pets or your favorite movie genres.
The interviewer wants to know about the second rule, but it begs the questions, “What is pertinent info I should share, and how much should I say?”
To effectively answer the “Tell Me About Yourself” question, your response should be broken into five categories.
- Recent professional achievements
- Educational achievements
- Applicable skills
- Professional goals
- Reason for interest in the company
Unless necessary, try not to go over 30 seconds per category. That gives you a solid 2 minute and 30 second presentation to start yourself out on the right foot. Try not to go less than two minutes, and avoid going over 3 minutes.
Hit that sweet introduction spot and blow the hiring manager away. Let’s take each section individually, and discuss what’s important in each part, and what should mistakes should be avoided.
1. Recent Professional Achievements
- Recite your resume
- Waffle around your experience
- Mention achievements that are unrelated to the position
Rambling or waffling during your response tells the interviewer that you are unprepared and can’t perform well in an unstructured situation. A long-winded response will also reveal your lack of confidence to an employer and can severely hurt your chances of getting the job.
- Plan out 3-5 professional achievements before the interview
- Mention achievements that relate to the position you are applying for
- Practice, Practice, Practice
The best way to sound smooth and confident in an interview is to practice your response in front of a mirror. Plan out your answer and choose the key points that you want to discuss within each category.
Don’t plan out your response word for word. Instead map out each category and practice until you are able to improvise around each one.
2. Educational Achievements
- Go too in-depth if you are already a seasoned professional
- Ramble on about your thesis papers
- Recite your course list
If you already have a wealth of professional experience, don’t worry about shortening your educational achievements. The hiring manager doesn’t want to hear every course you took in college. Employers want to know more about course projects and knowledge you gained from them.
- Explain how the abilities and knowledge you gained can be leveraged to successfully satisfy the position’s requirements
- Refer to extracurricular activities in which you gained leadership skills
- Expand on major projects that you worked on
Mentioning your leadership roles within your extracurricular activities is a great way to sneak in tidbits about your hobbies and personal interests. Although you shouldn’t expound on your hobbies, you can carefully drop references to your private life that can color you as an individual, make you more memorable, and even cause the hiring manager to ask you more personal questions and make the interview more casual and less stressful.
3. Applicable Skills
- Simply list any skills that you may possess
- Talk about skills that are unrelated to the position
- Lie about your skills
Lots of people like to lie or exaggerate their skills in an interview. This is a big mistake. Your employer will find out if you were lying and then it is all down hill from there.
- Prepare 2-4 relevant skills
- Discuss skills that fit the job duties
- Explain how you gained these skills
It’s a good idea to mention how you learned your skills rather than just listing them. This will help to provide a background to how your skills were utilized.
4. Career Goals
- Discuss your life goals (i.e. owning a house, raising kids)
- Give off the impression that you lack career goals
- Mention goals that you won’t be able to achieve with the company
Make sure you stick to discussing your career goals and not your life goals. If you don’t have clear goals you may give off the impression that you are not a goal-oriented individual.
- Mention goals that the company can help you achieve
- Talk about goals that show you are forward thinking
- Demonstrate that you want to build a stable career
Employers are looking for candidates that are interested in a stable long-term career. If your goals bounce around and lack direction, it will reflect that you might not stick around for long.
5. Reason for your interest in the company
- Talk about the pay
- Just say you want a job
- Mention you want to work for the company because of the great commute
Be careful how you phrase this section. If you are only interested in the position for the money or the convenient commute, you will give off the position that you are not really dedicated to helping the company succeed.
- Explain how the company can help you achieve your goals
- Compliment the company’s healthy work environment
- Indicate that you could see yourself with the company long term
If you follow these Do’s and Don’ts, answering the “Tell Me About Yourself” question will be a breeze. A solid response will be sure to impress the employer and ensure that your interview goes smoothly.
Author: Erik Episcopo is a career and resume expert at resumegenius.com, an online resource for resume writers, job seekers and the unemployed.