Tell Me About Yourself: A Most Difficult Interview Question

difficulkt interview questionPossibly the most difficult interview question to answer is “Tell Me About Yourself?” And yet, if I asked your co-worker to tell me about you they could easily rattle off several things.

Why is this question so important to your job search strategy?

You must make a great first impression. Hiring managers have said they make a decision about a candidate within the first few seconds of a job interview. And an article in Forbes reports “[a] study by the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found 60% of interviewers know within the first 15 minutes if the candidate they’re interviewing is suitable for the role.”

And in most interviews, the first question asked is “Tell me about yourself?”

So to earn that job offer, you’ll need to overcome the stage-fright associated with answering this important question!

Why is This Difficult Interview Question Asked?

Recruiters and hiring managers usually ask this difficult interview question as an icebreaker. Keep in mind, they may not have had a chance to review your resume before you walked in so asking this question also helps them remember which candidate you are.

What Do They Want yo Hear?

The answer to this difficult interview question should help the interviewer understand why you are qualified and interested in the role and their company.

What they don’t want to hear is a long story about your career, nor personal information about your family. They want to know why you are sitting in that chair discussing the job opportunity they have available.

How Long Should it Be?

You have 60 seconds max! Your answer is just an overview of the most important and relevant information the interviewer needs to know right up front. You have the rest of the job interview to explain in greater detail the specifics. You’ll use STAR stories to answer questions.

How We Used to Prepare This Answer

So let’s look at how to confidently and concisely answer the question “tell me about yourself” by explaining who you are in less than a minute. First, create a script or list of bullet points of what you want to cover in 60 seconds or less.

You do this by:

  • Thoroughly reviewing the job description, looking for keywords, skills, and knowledge requested.
  • Referencing the research you’ve done so you can explain why you are interested in the company/role.

In the olden days, five years ago, my recommendation on how to answer this question was to complete these 4 key phrases:

  • I am a…(insert your profession, occupation here)
  • With expertise in …(2-3 key skills sets you possess)
  • My background includes…(list industry experience)
  • My unique qualities are…(2-3 memorable qualities)

But this needs to be refined a bit for 2020.

How We Prepare This Answer Now

The market is competitive which means you have to take the extra time and effort to research the company, it’s people and the role to truly understand what the company is looking for and what they need.

This is the advanced recommendation:

  • I am known for …(types of problems you solve)
  • With expertise in …(1-2 problems you have solved over your career)
  • My background includes…(specify industries, company cultures, and/or community experience)
  • One of the things I am most proud of is…(site an example something you were proud to accomplish)
  • Based on what I know about this opportunity, I believe…

But there’s another formula I’ve seen used. This is particularly helpful if you are changing careers or making a major shift in your career.

  • What your presently doing that relates to the opportunity
  • How your past qualifies you for the role
  • Why your interested in this opportunity/company

Practice Out Loud

Once you’ve outlined what you want to say, practice using it. Say it outloud. You want your answer to flow and the only way that can happen is if you practice saying it. You don’t want to sound like you’re reading from a script. So avoid using lots of technical terms or acronyms.

Also avoid using words used on your resume, but seldom spoken or sound trite. For example:

  • results-driven
  • solid history of…
  • proven leader/results/etc.
  • track record of…

Let Your Passion Show

Speak with enthusiasm. Let the best version of you come across to the interviewer. Put energy into every word, make eye contact and for goodness sake, smile!

Yes, you are probably nervous, but if you know exactly what you’re going to say to kick off the interview, that’s one less thing to worry about. The key is make it your own and know it completely.  That is best done by practicing!  If you have a webcam, you can record it and analyze it.

Don’t Dwell on the Irrelevant Past

If you are switching careers do not start your answer by stating what you used to do first. That confuses the interviewer. Focus on the skills that are relevant to the job first. And then you can explain how your background relates to your new career goals. If it doesn’t then explain your motivation for making the switch.

Always include information that is relevant and important to the interviewer. Your answer isn’t about explaining your work history.

Sample Answer 1

Here’s one solid sample answer for the “Tell me about yourself” question:

I’ve been working in project management roles for over seven years. Most recently I worked as a senior Project Manager for a tech company managing the launch of a new product and oversaw five project managers. I used Agile as well as my PMI certification to manage this project and now that the product has launched,  I’m looking to bring my project management experience into fintech, which is why I’m so interested talking to you about this opportunity. 

Sample Answer 2

And another:

I’ve been recognized for my analytical skills and ability to interpret data into actionable information. I recently completed my MBA which gave me the opportunity to hone these skills and develop data visualization skills. My experience in consumer packaging and customer service help me understand the customer’s needs and I use that knowledge to formulate new products and ideas. I saw XYZ company listed as a top innovator in the consumer goods space and I’m excited to learn more about this opportunity and how my experience will fit. 

At some point in your job search, this question is going to be asked. Be ready. Be confident!

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Hannah Morgan hiring prosAbout the Author: Hannah Morgan is a career sherpa, guiding new job seekers through the treacherous terrain of job search. If you are looking for no-nonsense advice, check out her site Career Sherpa. And follow Hannah on Twitter for the latest job search news and trends!

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