If there's one question that is guaranteed in just about any job interview, it's the standard "Tell me about yourself." This is, by far, the most common way for interviewers to kick off the conversation. And yet, too many job seekers are ill-prepared for it. As a result, they offer lackluster answers that quickly veer them off course.
Those who want to make an immediate positive impression and set themselves up for a successful interview will be strategic in their response to this seemingly insignificant question. Here, you'll learn exactly what you should share -- and not share -- when prompted with "Tell me about yourself."
[See: 25 Best Business Jobs for 2017.]
Where Job Seekers Go Wrong
Without proper preparation, it's easy to get yourself into trouble with this question. Common mistakes include:
-- Talking for too long, trying to tell the story of your whole life
-- Sharing personal information, such as hobbies and outside interests, instead of discussing professional experience
-- Rambling in different directions without a coherent message
-- Discussing topics you'd rather not -- such as why you don't like your current job or how nervous you are about this interview
-- Going blank and stumbling to come up with anything at all
If you've ever found yourself facing one of these scenarios, you know how hard it is to pull yourself out of that ditch once you've fallen in! The best solution is to avoid the ditch in the first place.
Creating a Well-Crafted Answer
This question, or some variation of it, is so common, there's no reason it should catch you off guard. Before your interview, prepare for it ... extensively.
Here are a few things you should know first:
-- This question sets up the entire interview. It helps the interviewer understand who you are. Remember that your interviewer may not even review your resume until just a minute or two before joining you. Therefore, your response to this question provides valuable insight for the rest of the conversation.
-- This question is intended to be focused on you as a professional, not you as a person. Sure, if you'd like to add a little commentary about your character, that's fine. But don't waste a lot of time on details that aren't related to your work history and professional experience.
-- This question is just a starting point. You don't need to offer everything up front. The longer you talk, the easier it is for the interviewer to tune out. And that's not helpful for your cause.
With all of that in mind, a well-crafted answer helps build rapport with the interviewer, frames your professional history in a cohesive fashion and showcases your key areas of expertise as they relate to the role.
So, how do you do it? Here are some pointers.
Your response should sound friendly and comfortable. It should also demonstrate enthusiasm for the opportunity you're pursuing.
To start, you may choose to say something like, "Well, I'm really happy to be here. I've been a fan of your company for a long time and this role sounds like a great fit for my background." This sets a positive tone for everything else you have to say.
Frame Your Professional History Cohesively
Your primary job is to package your professional background succinctly. You don't need to go into detail about every role you've held -- that's what your resume is for -- but you should discuss the overall theme of your career and any major shifts that have occurred. As you do so, be sure to highlight your passion for what you do and how you do it.
For example, you may say something like this: "I started my career 10 years ago in web development, where I learned a lot about technology and user experience. But I quickly discovered that my talents are best used in product management, where I can act as a liaison between the business side of the work and the tech team. I've had a lot of success building exciting new software, especially in my last role at X Company. I love the challenge of identifying business requirements and working with technology to figure out how to meet them."
The idea here is that you're telling the story of what you do and providing an overview of your success.
Showcase Your Expertise
Finally, your response should identify some of the specific areas of expertise you possess that will be useful in this prospective role.
For example, the product manager referenced earlier might say something like this: "Over the years, I've become fluent in speaking both the language of business and technology. I'm able to quickly determine what's needed and break that down into technical specifications. In my last role, my manager referred to me as a 'master translator.' I've consistently led major product improvements that have resulted in profitable growth for the business."
In total, your response should take no more than about two minutes, but you want to use that time wisely. By sharing these key details, you spark interest in the interviewer and create an overall picture of yourself. From there, the interviewer has a lot to work with. As the conversation continues, you can flesh out some of those ideas with tangible accomplishment stories.
The next time you're preparing for an interview, don't forget this key question. Give yourself a leg up by planning your response and practicing it so it feels natural.