"Tell me about yourself" is one of the most common interview questions, yet lots of job candidates draw a blank when trying to come up with a strong answer.
Though the question may seem straightforward, it's open-ended, and responding concisely and effectively is hard. Through practice and preparation, though, you can avoid common mistakes and make a good impression on your potential employer.
Chelsea Goodman, president and career elevation expert at Got The Job, says one rookie mistake candidates make when asked about yourself is giving away too much.
"More often than not, people are prepared with answers about their strengths and weaknesses, references from prior roles, yet when asked this question, they'll start talking about their kids or the activities they enjoy doing outside of work, and that's not the point of this question," says Goodman.
Instead, stay focused. Here are three points you want to cover when answering this question in an interview.
Goodman says your response should be a brief, like an elevator pitch. Avoid telling your entire life story. Instead, take a minute to pick out the most relevant details about you and your professional life.
Start by thinking about how your current role has helped you improve your strengths and weaknesses. If you manage a team, describe your responsibilities and include specific examples of initiatives or projects that you oversee on a daily basis. You want to emphasize the experiences that make you qualified for the role, so try to be more selective about the information you share.
"The impression that you make within the first couple of minutes during your interview is going to shape how that person thinks," says Goodman. "There are many people who don't start on the right foot and then they have to recover from that, all because they couldn't answer the easiest question, which is not meant to be a 20 minute spiel about your life."
Ideally, the role you're applying for will take your career to the next level. Mention where you see yourself in the future and how, if given the opportunity, the role will set the stage to help you achieve those career goals.
Come up with a few long-term goals and the time frame in which you hope to achieve them.
"You want to find out what you can about a company as it's important to you," says Berger. She suggests framing it your goals this way shows that this potential relationship could be mutually beneficial.
Say the position is looking for a candidate who is willing to work flexible hours, rather than a set schedule, or to take on various projects at once. Mention how and why your situation has made you well-positioned, and excited, to rise to that challenge.
"The employer wants to know what kind of value you would bring to their company," says Lynn Berger, a New York City career counselor and coach at Lynn Berger coaching. "The best way to do that is to give specific examples that are related to what the job is."
She suggests breaking down the job description before the interview, combing through each line, and coming up with relevant examples of situations where you produced positive results and how those results translate to the role you want to assume. In this instance, "Tell me about yourself" really means, "Tell me why you would be a good fit for this role."
Berger says your answers should always be honest but thoughtful: "The goal is to tailor your answers truthfully to match what the company is looking for."
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