We’ve discussed some tough questions in this series, and we’ve seen how many of them can be quite a bit more general than we may like, and can lead one down the road of self incrimination without much effort. This next one is a bit odd when you really thing about it, though it seems so obvious. You walk in to the office, give a firm handshake and take your seat. You’re interviewer leans back and casually says with a smile “tell me a little bit about yourself.” It all seems so innocent… doesn’t it.
Don’t Get the Wrong Idea
There is something to remember when you walk into an interview, or any professional situation for that matter: Do not, under any circumstances, allow yourself to get too comfortable. The way you speak, the tone of your voice, your movements, and even the way you sit in the chair must never seem as though you are in a casual mode. Leaning back on your seat and throwing an elbow over the back of it as you casually wave your hands back and forth as though you’re out at a bar says to your potential employer that you aren’t taking this seriously. Being stiff or stand-offish says that you have issues with pressure. The attitude that you are looking to cultivate and display is one of calm professionalism and air of confidence that has been earned, not assumed. Your potential employer’s body language may be casual and there is unconscious desire at times to match it, but your not the boss… yet.
What They Don’t Need to Know
Your potential employer has just asked you what is perhaps the most open-ended question possible. You would think it’d be an easy question to answer and it is; perhaps a little too easy. When you’re on a date and someone asks you to talk about yourself you can and should say whatever you happen to feel. After all that’s the point of a date; to get to know each other. You wouldn’t necessarily think that you would need to explain to people that a job interview isn’t the place for that, but after having conducted hundreds of interviews I can promise you the line is less clear than you may believe, and people cross it more often than they should. Keep this in mind: who you are isn’t what your interviewer really wants to know. The fact that you’re a “good guy” or are “personable” or “outgoing” is not necessarily unimportant, but it is something that is better displayed by actions than spelling it out explicitly. Equally unnecessary are thoughts about your hobbies, where you’re from, or what kind of life you’re after in the future. Some of these things may come up later if your interviewer clearly asks you about them, but for now that isn’t a rabbit hole you want to go down.
As always it’s best to prepare yourself to answer any question that you may be asked as much as possible, but it is imperative that you prepare yourself for the questions that you know for a fact you’ll be asked. For this one you’ll want to think of a short list attributes that relate to the job that you’re going after. If you’re asked about yourself and you’re going for a sales position you will want to speak on your previous experiences in speaking and relationship building. If you are going for a more physical job such as construction or factory work, you want to have examples of both your physical fitness and your ability to be steady, and dependable. Always tailor your answers to the job, never give a rote response.
A True Life Example
We’ve talked a lot about what not to say and what not to do, but now let’s talk about how to bring it all together into the right answer to a question that has and almost infinite number of variables. Here are some ground rules for the ideal answer: Firstly, keep it short and sweet. You want to keep your answer down to three or four sentences. Next, choose one main quality of yours that you want to show; just one. This quality will dictate the overall theme of your answer. Lastly, think of a way to show your quality without saying it outright. The “I am awesome” approach will almost invariably come off as a boast, and so many people do it that you will only manage to blend yourself into the crowd in a wholly unimpressive way.
Here’s a real life example for you to consider:
Candidate: “Well, I’ve always thought of myself as someone that enjoys talking to and meeting new people. I enjoy building relationships that last and that I can utilize to build a network for myself. That feeling of creating a network and watching it grow, and knowing that my company is growing because of my efforts, that’s a really great feeling. I want to be a part of building something that lasts… something I can really be proud of.”
Stop! Stop yourself right there. For the moment you have said all that you need to say on the subject of “you.” Now if this sounds a bit corny on paper that’s because it can very easily come off that way if you rattle if off like a robot. But the above is exactly what I said to land a District Manager position for a cell phone company, when I had very little management experience, no upper management experience, and no experience in the cell phone industry whatsoever. I said it calmly, I said it with passion… and I meant every word. Keep in mind this is just an example. You have to find what works for you. You have to think about what you want to convey to your potential employer, and how you’re going to do it in just a few sentences. In closing, it should be considered that you may be asked to elaborate. The interviewer may ask you more personal questions than you prepared for. If that happens all you have to do is keep your cool, stick to the rules… and don’t get too personal. You’ve only got one chance at a first impression.