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It’s often the first question asked in a job interview, and it’s one that many people struggle to answer. “Tell me about yourself.”
Job candidates go wrong on this question in several ways.
1. The first is by providing too much information because you don’t where to start.
When we hear “tell me about yourself,” most of us think about where we grew up, where we went to school, all of our past jobs…and on and on.
However, what employers are really seeking is “Tell me the things about you that make you a good fit for this role.” They want to know your relevant work experience as well as how and why you became interested in this specific position. What are you bringing with you that will be of value to the employer.
If this position is in line with what you’ve been doing in your current or previous job, explain the amount of experience you have and why you are excited to bring your skills to their organization. If the role is a new field for you, explain why you’ve decided to change industries and how you’ve prepared for the role.
And if you are a career changer, this is a great opportunity to highlight your transferable skills and help the employer understand how your skill set fits the role, even if it a role you have not worked in before. If you need help identifying your transferable skills, check out this blog post about it.
2. The second way job seekers get this interview question wrong is by rambling, or focusing too much on irrelevant information.
If you follow my simple, 3-step system of preparing for job interviews, you’ll already be on your way to answering this question correctly. That’s because you will have prepared an answer ahead of time that succinctly describes both your experience and your excitement for the role.
The best way to do this is to develop what some people call their 30-second commercial or elevator pitch. While it doesn’t need to be exactly 30 seconds, it is best to keep it fairly brief.
Here are two examples of how to answer:
For the career advancer:
I’ve worked in marketing since graduating from college. I began as a marketing assistant for a small agency, which helped me build a strong foundation of many general marketing skills from copywriting and proofreading to account management and building client relationships. Since then, I’ve found that I really enjoy marketing in the online space, so I earned a certificate in digital marketing from a local community college, and in my current position I handle our email copywriting and distribution, SEO strategies, and all online paid advertising. What excites me about your company is …. and I’d love to use these skills to serve your customers.
For the career changer:
For the last 10 years I’ve worked as a realtor and sold both private and commercial real estate. While I’ve enjoyed this career field, I’ve found what I enjoy most about the role has been meeting and interacting with new people, and creating the online listings to advertise my properties. For the last 7 years, most of my clients have come from my efforts in marketing on social media, and I’ve realized I’d like to manage social accounts full time. To further hone these skills, I have taken a few online classes in social media marketing, and I’ve volunteered my skills with local organizations to create an online portfolio. I’m interested in your company because…. and I love to use my skills to represent your brand and build relationships with customers online.
3. A third way I’ve seen job candidates get this question wrong is to probe for more information before answering. I’ve especially seen this with those who are new to the workforce. They will reply with something along the lines of “I don’t know. What do you want to know?” It’s not an interview killer, but it definitely portrays you in a more professional manner if you have a short synopsis about your experience ready to share.
Yes, your short summary may touch on topics you will be asked about later—perhaps worded as, “What interests you about this position?” or “Why are you the best candidate for the job?”—but that is okay. You will want to expound on these later anyway by providing more details accompanied by strong examples. And something in your answer may spark a more probing question from your interviewer, which is a great way to keep the conversation going more naturally and allow you to share more of your qualifications.