It is highly likely, if not inevitable, that at some point in your work life you will be sitting across from a hiring manager for a job interview and you will be asked to start off with some version of the prompt: Tell me about yourself.
“Walk me through your history,” “I’d love to hear more about your experiences,” and “Share a bit more about your background,” are also similar ways an interviewer might make the same directive.
Often the goal behind this question is that it is an obvious way to break the ice and get the conversation going. However, the most useful interpretation, in order to best prepare your approach to answer it, is to consider this request your interviewer’s way of testing your ability to effectively communicate an overview of your work history. They want you to give a brief introduction to your professional life that conveys why you are a fit for the job, and why they should want to work with you.
Here are some useful tips to create a compelling story about who you are during a job interview.
Prepare Your Response in Advance
Your response to this prompt is also your first impression, which will set the tone for the rest of the interview, so it is important to get this question right. This is not a question that you should expect to give an adequate response to spontaneously or thinking on your feet in the moment.
Though the question seems simple, a well-communicated reply demands the complex skill of distilling years of your life into a concise narrative. If unprepared, it is easy to ramble at length, go off on tangents, lose the interviewer’s attention, or bore them by mistakenly reiterating your resume. It is safe to assume that your interviewer has already read your resume.
Another important reason to craft your response in advance is to make sure your narrative has an arc. The most relevant points in your history should be organized with a beginning, middle, and end. Maintaining a coherent arrangement is the foundation of effective storytelling, and takes careful thought to put together.
Keep It To One-Minute
However intimidating constructing an appropriate response might sound, know that your answer need only run the length of one minute. Consider this guideline as an advantage. There is only so much information that can be effectively communicated in sixty seconds, and happily, this time constraint streamlines the preparation process.
Know that an intelligent, focused response can be captured with a straightforward formula comprised of three basic questions.
If you answer the three basic questions outlined in the formula below, the sum total of your responses will provide you with a story - about the length of one paragraph - that you can practice and perform with ease and confidence even under intense pressure.
Where are you now?
Identify your current title, your major functions and/or extent of your role. If possible, talk about your own unique approach to handling your work. Close this section off by offering up a major accomplishment or two.
What did you do?
Talk about how you got to your current job. Identify a previous job/training/study and the scope of that work that led you to where you are now. Identify any special talent or skill that you acquired. If fitting, round out this section by highlighting an achievement.
Why are you the best fit for the job?
This is your opportunity to explain your reasons for applying for the job that you want. It is also an opportunity to offer specific reasons why you want to work for this company in particular. In this section, draw directly from the language in the job description. Identify your strengths and skills that tie directly to those job requirements.
The order suggested in the formula is the most straightforward way to organize your work history, but it is not the only way to construct your story. It is completely fine to add your own creative spin and play with the order of the sections in the formula. You can, for example, begin your answer by talking about a prior job, that led you to your current position before you segue into your pitch for why you are the best fit for the job you want. Sensible organization is important, but it comes secondary to your ability to explain how your work past and present convey that you have the right qualifications for the position you want.
It’s More About The Company Than It Is About You
Another guideline to remember as you approach each section of the formula is that the “tell me about you” question is really more about the company and the role than it is about you. Every phrase in your response should be tailored to convey something of relevance or value to the company you want to work for and the role you are seeking.
Now that you have crafted your professional story on paper, time yourself performing your answer out loud. Get the feel for giving your answer within the parameters of a full minute as it may feel different than what you expect then, make the necessary adjustments to meet the time limit. Record yourself and play the audio back to hear how you sound. Your aim is to sound natural and confident, not as though you are reading a memorized script. Practice in the mirror. Practice with a friend.
Nailing the “tell me about yourself” question is not as complicated as it seems if you take the time to understand what a good response requires, prepare for it, and practice. Good luck!