Job interviews can seem like roller coasters. You’ve nailed several questions in a row … you’re climbing … and then suddenly, the interviewer says something that sends you straight downhill. Something like, “Tell me about yourself.”
When you’re going 80 miles an hour and pulling Gs, it can be hard to answer quickly and capably. Who knows what the interviewer wants to hear? These tips will help you prepare for that inevitable question.
Asking the interviewer to be more specific or to explain what he or she wants to know is interview suicide. You should be prepared and confident enough to start a solid response. Asking a question is a stalling tactic that puts all the power back into the interviewer’s hands and makes you look weak, not clever.
The interviewer may sit back and give you a couple of minutes to fill, or he or she may stop you and tease out more information with leading questions. You must be ready to handle both situations with declarative sentences.
“Tell me about yourself” isn’t meant to be an easy question. It’s not as if everyone else but you breezes through this part of the meeting. The interviewer wants to see how you handle a massively open-ended question. This is your opportunity to show what you’re made of.
Chances are the interviewer doesn’t care if you eat Paleo, love American Horror Story, or spend weekends tinkering with your motorcycle. Just because you find something interesting doesn’t mean it’s important to your professional life or the job you’re applying for. Stay away from casual references and anecdotes.
While this isn’t a date, you should certainly strive to please the other person. You should always research a company before an interview and find out what values are most important to that organization. Then find a way to tie your own personal story into that of the company.
You might be dying to talk about your crazy-high score on the AP French exam. But if you’re applying for a job as a laboratory assistant in the United States, that success likely isn’t relevant. You might not be quite so proud of the volunteer work you’ve done at an animal rescue organization, but this information will be far more useful to the interviewer.
“Tell me about yourself” is usually used to open the interview and get things going. The interviewer is not asking for a recap of the last 20-plus years of your life, even if much of your history does apply to the job.
Consider that performers who audition for America’s Got Talent have 90 seconds or less to wow the judges (and audience). If you recall any of the show’s most fabulous or horrendous performances, you know that a minute and a half is plenty of time to make an impression.
Within 60 to 90 seconds, you’ll be able to convey quite a bit of information. Don’t believe it? Time yourself when you practice. Better yet, ask a friend—or your next date!—the same question, and see how much you find out in less than two minutes.
If you’ve won an interview, the interviewer has already seen your resume and probably has a copy on the desk. Repeating what he or she already knows is a waste of time and a poor way to sell yourself.
The best way to answer “Tell me about yourself” is to focus on your most recent experiences. Describe what you did at your last job and how it applies to this one. If this is your first job, describe volunteer and charity work and hobby and school experiences as they relate to the job. You can’t go wrong by tying everything to your sought-after position.
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