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Tell me about yourself

Gone are the days when interviewing was a matter of explaining what you did in your current job or last job or answered questions arising from your resume. To be successful at preparing for an interview in the decade of 2020, the shift has moved from discussing two-dimensional facts and trying to find out about people through questions that were like trying to manage yourself through a minefield at night with no moon (e.g., tell me about a weakness and a strength). Interviews for most organizations focus on describing your behavior.

My clients have a range of job levels to interview for. Several have provided me with examples of the interview format to be used in the interview.

In the past three years, every single client I’ve rehearsed through an interview who completed the actual interview provided the same feedback: the prospective employer wanted to hear [paraphrased by me] their stories. Before we get to this, let’s start at the beginning.

So...Tell Me About Yourself

You’ve arrived at the employer site, you’re in the waiting room or met at the elevator by one of the people who will be participating in the interview, and the first thing they say after greeting you and shaking hands [or fist bump if the pandemic is still a factor] is “tell me about yourself”. What you say next is called the elevator pitch, the 30-second pitch, or as I call it, the fast ball. I coach my clients that they need to smack that ball out of the ballpark and leaving nothing to doubt about the home run.

Why? For starters:

  • Other than a firm wrist handshake, and a professional appearance appropriate to the company and the job you’re interviewing for, this is your third opportunity in 5 seconds to make the first impression. The next words that you speak can’t be taken back.

  • If you’re doing an online interview, you’re down to your appearance as the only precursor to answering this question/making an impression.

  • If this is going to be a panel interview, this statement is the one that could gain you an ally—from the hiring company—before the interview really begins. I’ve had two interviews (for a job) and one for a contract (for my employer) where I saw how this ally made the interview superfluous. The interview for a contract for my employer was with the global CIO of a major airline. She called in the entire HR department for the second meeting, and that was a done deal before I ever began to speak to explain the project. I hope this example has made the point. No? The other two interviews were program management roles managing projects that were over $10million. Looks nice on a resume. Both times, the ally did a lot of 'selling' of my qualifications and why should I be hired on my behalf!

You get the point by now, and there are other reasons you can think of that make getting this right so important. You need to set the tone for the rest of the interview. You need to make the prospective employer want to hear more. You need to make them excited to have you interview.

So, what’s the pitch?

An example of what not to say: I had a client who had been in the US for many, many years, migrating to the US as a child, old enough then to remember the move and growing up in a different place from what she remembered before. When we rehearsed the elevator pitch, the first thing she said was, “My family and I migrated to the US when I was a child, and I’ve been here for …”.

So, is that the first thing you want someone to know about you if you’re not interviewing for a job in migration or customs or similar?

An employer really wants to know about what you do that relates to what they need, and do you like doing it, and do you do it well. How you answer that takes on a variety of ways to respond.

One example of what to say: I had a colleague once hand me an answer for my own situation. We hadn’t worked together for several years. We met up at a client event where we were on the same project but different aspects of it. We said hello, and one of the people on the project with me introduced themselves to this man and said, “I’m [her name] and I work on the project as an analyst, and I’m taking advantage of Linda being my coach.” My old colleague friend looked at me and said, “You just can’t help yourself, can you? Someone always under your wing to leave the project in a different role than when they came into it.”

Well, yeah. Coaching is what I DO, always have, in any job and on any project, even before my consulting business. There isn’t much more rewarding than seeing people who want to reach higher, do something more difficult, willing to put in the hard yards to learn it, and land on their feet successfully, grown a bit more, doing more, positioned for their next step on their career ladder. I’ve seen people do amazing things and contribute substantially more because someone took the time to coach them.

No one wants to hear that I’m from a small town in Ohio, lived overseas for a few years raising my family, moved back overseas to live and work for many years, etc., etc., etc.

So, my own answer in this example, to ‘tell me about yourself’ goes something like:

Coaching and mentoring is why I’m excited to be at work each day, it comes naturally to me, and basically, I can’t help myself. If someone stands out as having the potential and drive to do more. It doesn’t feel like work. I always enjoy it. That’s why the job as a career coach that you advertised got my attention.

I’d quote something from the ad that resonated with me in my answer, and then state that I’m excited to learn more about the job and share information about my expertise because I believe there’s a fit for us both.

Answer the question about yourself sharing with the prospective employer what’s in it for them to learn about you and ultimately hire you.

There are lots of resources and examples online for this. Do an online search for it. I’ve found resources like Inc., Forbes, LinkedIn are helpful.

Next chapter: Behavior Interviews

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