'Tell me about yourself' response is important
Q. I am actively looking for work, and the great news is that I am getting interviews. However, when the interviewer turns to me and says, "Why don't you tell me about yourself," I break out in a cold sweat and get heart palpitations. I never know exactly what they want me to talk about. I haven't had that exciting of a career. Frankly, I think I'm kind of boring. Sometimes I look over as I am talking and I can tell the interviewer is zoned out. Can you give me some help here?
A. Sure. This question is not meant to stump you, I assure you. Most interviewers ask it just to get the conversation going and think they are asking you something relatively easy to answer. However, I think your response is very important and can set the tone for the rest of the interview. I urge all readers to give your response great thought and practice, practice, practice your delivery.
I would start by focusing your answer on business-related activities with the exception of an interesting background fact that may help the interviewer remember you even after the 10th interview for the same job. For example, "I was born in Alaska but have lived in Boston all my adult life." The fact that you are from Alaska is quite unusual and will stick in the interviewer's mind. Other interesting factoids might be "After serving in the Peace Corps for four years, I moved to Boston." "Since I am one of eight kids, I learned very early how important self-sufficiency is." "I am originally from Guatemala so I speak fluent Spanish, but I also speak French, German, and of course, English."
Plan on one to two minutes to present your answer. That may not sound like enough time, but believe me, it is plenty. In this age of sound bites, you will be lucky if you keep someone's attention for the full time. The interviewer will go back to the points she wants to hear more about. Focus on presenting the interviewer with a snapshot of your career to date. Add your education if it makes you a stronger candidate for the job. If it does not add value, leave it out. Remember, if you don't think you are interesting, how will the interviewer? Talk with good energy and enthusiasm. You are selling you as a candidate so put a smile on your face and make good eye contact.
Here is a possible response for a "tell me about yourself" question from a banking representative interviewing for a branch manager's position:
"I grew up in Roxbury and had my first job at 18 as a teller at the neighborhood bank. I worked 30 hours a week and went to UMass Boston at night for my bachelor's degree. I realized I was really good with the customers. I remembered their names, and many started to ask for me whenever they came to the bank. I liked to problem solve with them if they could not balance their checkbooks or figure out their statements. My boss recognized that I was really good at my job and after two years, promoted me to banking representative. I liked that job a lot because I could get to know my customers really well and made recommendations about other products that I thought would be a fit for them. After a few months, a lot of the staff would come to me to ask questions because they knew I would know the answer. I left the bank when I had my first child, but now I am ready to return to work, and I am very excited. I am ready to take on the next level of responsibility which would be to manage the branch, and when I saw this ad, I thought it sounded like a perfect fit."
This is a fairly short response but it tells the interviewer a lot of information. First, she has relevant experience and was promoted twice in a relatively short time period. Second, she is good with customers and was seen as knowledgeable by the staff. Third, she is excited to return to work.
Obviously, if you have been working over 30 years, you want to highlight jobs that are relevant to the current job you are interviewing for. The "tell me about yourself" presentation is an important step in gaining the interest of the interviewer if it is done thoughtfully, crisply, and with good energy.
The key is to plan and practice ahead of time so your delivery sets just the right tone. And don't forget that all important eye contact. It is a must.