While it’s awkward, vague, potentially creepy depending on the style with which it’s delivered, there is no reason to shrink from the standard, “Tell me about yourself,” interview question.
In most cases, it’s simply a lazy interview intro wielded by inexperienced HR professionals or managers who simply don’t hire frequently enough to have a proper plan. In these situations there is no wrong answer as long as you project confidence and competence.
The real challenge is that savvy interviewers can also use the inquiry as a way to test your cultural fit and gain insight on key competencies such as organization and communication skills. Sharp interviewees prepare for the later scenario by following these rules:
- Keep It Brief: Avoid telling your life story. Instead of providing a complete job history, focus on the qualities you bring to the workplace and offer a proof point. For example, “I’m a strong communicator who enjoys developing others. In my last job I….”
- Stick to Qualifications: Assuming initial small talk was covered, focus on job-related wins and interests and how those can be leverage in the future for their organization.
- Ask Clarifying Questions: If you’re unsure of what the person is looking for, ask. For example you could say, “Happy to. I’ve been fortunate to work with, learn from, and lead a variety of great people on a series of projects. Is there a particular area of interest?” The interviewer’s response will help you identify whether he or she is looking for project proof points or causal anecdotes. Take the cue and run with it.
- Take Control: Once you provide the initial response, ensure the answer satisfied by asking if they need additional information on a particular subject.
- One More Thing: People are wired to appreciate the something extra. Before turning to the next topic, note how your interests, be they personal or professional, align to the job specs.
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