Be prepared. Practice your response.
I have helped a significant number of my clients prepare for job interviews. When an interview is on the horizon, we prepare answers to tough questions they may encounter so they will present themselves well and hopefully land the position.
Know what you will say
An important question to be prepared to answer is, “Tell me about yourself,” and so we spend time formulating an answer to this question. This is a difficult question because you have only five minutes to summarize everything you have done that is relevant to the job you are applying for.
“Tell me about yourself” is one of the most important questions because it is the first question many interviewers ask, and statistically, you either make or break the interview in the first five minutes. The job is still yours to lose after you make a good first impression, but it’s difficult to recover if you haven’t created a good impression early on.
Before a client will begin to formulate a response to the question, we discuss the purpose of the question. Once you understand that the question being asked is really, “Why should we hire you?” and not the more generic, “Tell me about yourself,” the information you will want provide in your answer becomes more obvious.
Tell them why they should hire you
The question is really, “Why should we hire you?” because the interviewer isn’t interested in learning where you grew up or what your personal interests are. They likely also don’t want to know if you relocated to the city to pursue a relationship or how many children you have.
The interviewer’s primary goal, in the first five minutes, is to determine how much energy they should invest in getting to know you. Said another way, their primary goal is to determine whether you are a good potential candidate for the position.
Share your professional history
The interviewer already has your resume, so you might believe they know a lot about your background before the interview begins. But don’t make this mistake. The interviewer may not have spent more than three minutes looking at your resume. And those three minutes may have been part of the 15 minutes they spent looking at the five resumes for the five candidates they are considering hiring. So, they may not recall much about you when they come to get you at reception.
To play it safe, you will likely have the best shot at landing the job if you tell the interviewer all the salient parts of your resume, with a strong slant towards how your professional experience fits the position you are asking them to hire you for.
Begin at the beginning
Tell the interviewer where you earned your degree, and then – and I emphasize this next point – tell them why this degree makes you a perfect fit for the job. Don’t have the degree they are looking for? That’s why you need to spend time preparing for the interview.
If you know your degree doesn’t fit the job, don’t ignore that fact. You might not raise this topic during the first five minutes of the interview – you might choose to gloss over your education as you tell them why you’re the perfect candidate for the job – but you do need to have an answer ready when they say to you, “I’d really like to hire you, but you don’t have the right degree.”
Don’t have a degree? Then have the list of relevant courses you have taken ready so you can sell your qualifications hard.
Work chronologically through your resume
As you tell the interviewer why you are the perfect candidate, work your way chronologically through your resume. Emphasize the things you have done that have prepared you for the opportunity you’re trying to land. If your experience is in another industry, you might avoid naming the industry so the interviewer won’t be drawn towards the conclusion that your background isn’t a fit.
I can give you an example of how someone I know handled in the past. When a colleague was interviewing for his first job at a clinic, he told the interviewer that he had led a multidisciplinary team of 20 people for two and a half years. What he didn’t share was that he had led this team on a software development project. Instead, he emphasized how he possessed the experience the interviewer was looking for, which was as a team lead.
As you continue working your way through your resume, you might want to not emphasize experiences that you haven’t enjoyed. For example, you might want to not put yourself forward as a team lead if you don’t want to find yourself in a position as team lead again.
Polish your script and practice it
After you have assembled your thoughts, you might want to write a polished script that outlines what you are going to say. A golden rule is to practice your final response to the question five times in front of a mirror. Go ahead and glance at your notes while you practice out loud. That’s why you created the notes.
Don’t be concerned if your answer to the question is seven minutes long during your rehearsals because your answer will naturally come out more quickly during the interview because you won’t hem and haw with the interviewer the way you will in front of the mirror.
You may not be asked the question
So, what if you don’t get the question in the interview? Will this mean you have wasted your time preparing a response?
If you are prepared to talk about yourself for five minutes, and you don’t get the question, “Tell me about yourself,” you will most definitely use at least 80% of the dialogue you prepared answering related questions you will be peppered with. After all, many of the questions you will get will be designed to solicit information about your professional background, and how your experience will enable you to contribute to the company you are interviewing to join.
You will be prepared
Clients tell me that preparing to answer this question, “Tell me about yourself,” was a critical component in the preparation they did for an interview. They tell me they went into the discussion feeling at ease as a result, which is a fantastic take-away.
If you’ve read this blog post, chances are you preparing for a job interview. I want to wish you good luck! I hope you get the position.
— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta