Picture this: You’ve landed an interview for your dream position and have spent countless hours reviewing for it. Company history, job qualifications, salary negotiations — you’ve prepped for it all. The interviewer takes a seat, relaxes and asks nonchalantly, “So, tell me about yourself.”
You freeze like a deer in headlights. What do you talk about? Your family? No, they’d probably be bored by that. Your education? But they’ve already seen your resume and portfolio.
“Um…Uhh…Well,” you stutter.
Relax! Take a deep breath. This is the number one question asked by interviewers, and it’s an easy one. After all, who knows more about you than you? You’re being asked this because the interviewer wants to get to know you and to see if you’re a fit for the position and company. Now’s your chance to give them a picture of the person behind the resume.
When you are faced with this seemingly daunting question, here are three things you don’t want to do:
- Asking the question, “What do you want to know?” Don’t let this dreaded phrase pass your lips. Asking what the interviewer wants to know will give the impression that you didn’t prepare for this interview at all. They just said they wanted to know more about you. Remember, you’re here to sell yourself.
- An easy way to turn off an interviewer is to tell them every mundane detail about your life and hobbies. They aren’t particularly interested in what you did last weekend or how many pets you have. After all, research shows that 48% of employers will do online research on candidates. Keep your answer focused on your education and professional life.
- Along with oversharing, rambling will make your interviewer dismiss you as a candidate pretty quickly. Being anxious during an interview is normal. In fact, 92% of adults suffer from interview-related anxiety. But don’t let this show in your speech. Rambling shows that you are unprepared and don’t act well under pressure.
Your response should be clear and structured, so the interviewer isn’t left wondering what you were talking about. The average interview lasts 40 minutes, and it would be unwise to spend all that time talking about things other than the job.
Here are three things you can do to ensure your response to the question earns your interviewer’s seal of approval:
- Tell a story. A good way to engage the interviewer when talking about yourself is to use the Present-Past-Future formula as a framework. Begin by talking about your present situation and occupation. After that, talk about past experiences, like what lead you into your field. Consider picking one skill in your field that you excel at and emphasize how you got so good at it. End by addressing the future by giving the interviewer some information about your impressions of the company and why the job is such a great opportunity and fit for you. You don’t need to give them your whole life story, but be sure to touch on these three points.
- Keep it simple. Once you start talking about yourself, it’s easy to fall into the trap of elaborating too much. Your goal is to give the interviewer the information they’re looking for as concisely as possible. When talking about previous jobs and experience, be brief, and only highlight elements that are relevant to the position.
Avoid talking about your five-year plan as well, unless the interviewer specifically asks about it. If your plan doesn’t jive with the job, chances are, you will be passed over for the position. The company won’t want to hire someone they’ll have to replace in five years.
- Focus on what they want to know. Yes, they want to get to know you. But they don’t want to get to know your entire life. Just what interests them, which is what you can contribute to the team, what you’ve accomplished and that you’re qualified to do this job. Think of it like a movie preview – give them just enough to pique their interest and provide a storyline without going too much into the details.
- Leverage your elevator pitch. If all else fails and you still draw a blank during your interview, you can piggyback off your elevator pitch.
The goal is to keep it under two minutes. Start by identifying your goal(s), explain your career focus and bring up what makes you unique. Tie it together by flipping the conversation to the interviewer. Ask them a question related to your pitch or the job, like “How can someone with my experience fit into your organization?”
Want more help crafting your pitch? UC Davis offers a great worksheet to help you work through the process of developing an elevator pitch.
Oh, and one last thing: Do it quickly because 33% of interviewers know within the first 90 seconds whether they’ll hire you or not. No pressure.
Stick to these tips, and you should be able to ace this question with no problem. Just keep your answer simple and engaging — and remember to practice, practice, practice!
Have any other tips for how to nail this question in an interview? Share them with us in the comments!
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