The #1 most common first question asked in a job interview is also one of the most deadly. Right off the bat the interviewer gives the person a long length of rope which the interviewee very often uses to hang themselves! What’s that deadly question?
“Tell me about yourself!”
The question sounds innocent enough, even friendly. Technically, it’s not even a question really. It’s a statement. So what’s the problem? MANY people answer very poorly, perhaps creating a first impression that they cannot shake the rest of the interview.
First, think about why the question is asked. There may be a variety of reasons:
- Often the interviewer is unprepared, and is asking a general open ended question simply to buy some time to peruse your resume to figure out what to ask next.
- Sometimes, knowing the question can be a minefield, they want to see how you handle it.
- They may want to hear what you deem important enough to describe about yourself.
- They are looking for cues to guide the rest of the interview.
- That’s the first question they’ve always been asked, so they just follow suit.
Depending on the reason they asked the question, they may not be remotely interested in the answer or even listen. If you see they are reading your resume while you’re talking, you may be able to recite the lyrics to your favorite song and they wouldn’t even know it… as long as you’re done before they’re done with your resume!
However, more often than not, people give answers that are either far too long, or irrelevant, or both.
It is NOT a license to tell them about your dog when you were a child, or your favorite flavor of ice cream. “That’s ridiculous!” –you may say. It is, but not terribly uncommon. And very often the answer begins with where they were born, where they went to school, about their wife and kids, and the ‘extra-curricular’ activities they enjoy most. While it might be interesting, it does nothing to help you get the job.
Secondly, it’s not uncommon for the answer to that question to go on… and on… and on! Even if the answer is relevant, the interviewer is likely to want to move on to other questions relatively quickly, and the longer you talk the more uncomfortable they become.
The question can be a great opportunity to begin steering the direction of the rest of the interview. And it can be a chance for you to begin the selling process, showing your value for the company and the role.
So how should you answer that question? Here are some points to help you prepare:
- The answer should be relatively brief, no more than 1 to 2 minutes.
- It should be strictly career related. It is not the time to relate personal ‘outside of work’ information.
- As much as possible, it should be related to the position you are interviewing for. Telling them about your background in Retail Management may not be appropriate if you’re there to discuss a position as an Engineer.
- It should include examples of successes you’ve had that are related to this role.
- It should be well prepared and sound natural. If you know this question will be asked, be ready! Write out your answer, rehearse it, hone it, and use words that come easily to you.
- Bring up points that you may want to emphasize about yourself for this role, but think might not come out in other questions.
- After a brief response, ask “Does that give you an idea… or is there something more specific you were looking for?”
Use the question to your advantage, don’t waste it, and don’t create the impression that you don’t know when to quit talking.
Preparation and practice in this question, just like any other will give you the edge over every other candidate. Put in the effort beforehand to shine when you get there!