This question seems simple, but it most definitely is not. Don’t underestimate it… because the question is being asked for a variety of reasons:
- To discover how you view yourself, particularly in comparison with how your references and others see you
- To learn how you handle the question — do you view this as a marketing and sales opportunity? As a time to randomly think out loud? Or maybe as an opportunity to confess?
- To hear how well you understand how well you think you fit into this role at this company
Ultimately, however, the basic goal is to peel back your job-interview persona in order to learn more about the real you.
I’ve heard people fumble with this question, spending five minutes describing why co-workers, customers, and bosses describe them as “likable” and “easy-going” or “a good listener.” All great traits, of course, but unless those characteristics apply directly to job you’ve applied for they aren’t what an employer is most interested in hearing about you.
Here’s exactly how to answer the one job interview question you must get right:
Focus on the Characteristics Necessary for This Job
Your answer absolutely must match what the employer is looking to hire for this specific position!
Does the job require someone with excellent project management skills? Have been successful in project management? Share that term with a couple of short stories about how you succeeded in project management — obstacles overcome, deadlines met, expenses managed, and so on.
Does the job require someone who is creative? If you’ve been described as creative, give at least two examples; perhaps the great marketing campaign or mobile app you designed or how you took a unique approach to solving a problem. Again, talk about the challenge, what made the solution creative, and the results achieved.
Prepare Your Answers in Advance
Well in advance of your interview, think about how you are perceived, your recognized strengths and what you have accomplished. If you have received any recognition, be prepared to tell the story from the perspective of how it will benefit this employer. If you have copies of your performance reports from previous years, read them again. If you have gotten feedback from co-workers, perhaps in the form of testimonials on LinkedIn, consider including those in your answer.
Just as important: ask those people you are considering using as references, old colleagues and bosses and your mentors how they would describe you and your accomplishments. Their perspective, both objective and well-grounded is important as you form your answer.
Structure Your Answer Carefully
Finally, when answering this keep the following factors in mind:
- Keep your answer short — too much information and stories that go on and on can be deadly
- Understand there is no need to share your deepest personal secrets; the employer is most interested in your work, not your personal life
- Focus on your strengths — accomplishments, achievements, and other progress you have made (training, awards, recognition, etc.) — that relate to this job and this organization
- Very carefully address major negatives you think your references may share… acknowledge the situation, and share what you learned and how you will address similar situations in the future — without trashing anyone
As with every job interview question, this one is both an opportunity and a challenge.
- An opportunity because preparing to answer this question may turn into a valuable learning experience, increasing your confidence and helping you focus your job search on the jobs and employers where you will be happiest
- A challenge because the employer will rely heavily on not just your answer, but the poise shown as you deliver your answer
Take your time. Be open-minded. And learn more about you. Then… deliver the best possible answer!
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Work Coach Cafe!
About the Author: Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm, Susan is editor and publisher of Work Coach Cafe and also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.
A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a columnist on HuffingtonPost, AOL Jobs, and LinkedIn. Follow Susan on Twitter (@jobhuntorg) and on Google+.