Mastering the job interview: How to answer the most cliche question –...

Mastering the job interview: How to answer the most cliche question – “Tell me about yourself.”

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You’ve just sat down at the interview and have barely placed your resume and portfolio on the table when you meet your first interviewer of the day. You’ve read up on them, and they’ve supposedly read up on you as well. They ask anyway:

Tell me about yourself.

You freeze, and then you think for a moment. If you’re a new graduate, it’s likely that there are any millions of things you could speak about, from your collection of baseball cards to the used car you’ve inherited from your parents.

Don’t get sweaty palms — we’ve got you covered.

What the Question Really Means

In reality, your interviewer might really like baseball cards and old cars, but in this situation, they are neither interested in those (at least for now), nor do they really care. The question is not as much a gauge on who you are as an individual like what you’d find in a dating profile, but rather an indication of how you describe yourself. Essentially, it’s the elevator pitch.

If you’ve forgotten what an elevator pitch is, we’ll remind you: It’s the amount of time it takes to introduce yourself succinctly to anyone in an elevator before either of you have to get off. It’s short, brief, and very much to the point.

Your baseball cards can be saved for the new-hire lunch.

How to Tackle the Question

Tackling this question comes down to a few key things:

  1. You know who you are
  2. You know what the job is
  3. You know why you’re here

The first and last bullet points are topics we’ll cover in future posts as they require longer explanations, but the second assumes you’ve done your homework and know what the job is. If you’re a senior marketing manager or a junior graphic designer, you’ll have lifted enough from the job description to adequately answer this question with a mixture of your own identity as well as your presence.

Here are some quick tips.

  1. DO NOT mention your name to start: We’re all inspired to say “Hello, my name is…” but the interviewer knows your name already. Lead with your intentions. For example, “I am a consumer marketing analyst…”
  2. DO NOT be overly detailed: Like we mentioned earlier, your interest in baseball cards is not relevant here, unless of course, you’re interviewing at a company that makes baseball cards. Hobbies are irrelevant in the interview process for the most part (and can be a question for later, which we’ll cover).
  3. DO state a background highlight: So you’re a sales whiz who helped your last company increase the bottom line by 52%? Great! Helped your company save $4.2 million dollars last fiscal year? Amazing. Find a way to word that into your statement after identifying who you are.
  4. DO state your intentions: You’re obviously sitting across from the interviewer looking for a new job, but what are the real reasons? What are your goals? What do you want to learn? Why do you want to learn, and why from this company? For this extra added benefit, it helps to know #1 and #3.

Closing Thoughts

Answering this question should take no longer than 30 seconds. For some interviews, it’s the way things warm up. Keep things simple and get everything off to a good start.

Good luck!

This was originally posted on Albert’s List.

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