Interview Coaching: How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”
Congratulations. You were invited to a job interview. Out of 100-300 applicants, your resume stood out to the hiring managers and they selected you among 4-6 other people for the next step. People hire people, so in addition to strong career documents, you have probably followed up with the company by email or via LinkedIn, showing them your interest and being helpful and friendly in the process. Now it’s time to meet them and start the dialogue. One of the first things they may ask is “Tell me about yourself” – in other words, tell the employer why you are the right candidate for this role.
In this post, two experienced career coaches illustrate how to answer this question.
Tell me about yourself?
Do you remember going to an interview and thinking that you had totally bombed it? I do. It was my second interview, and I felt like I aced the first one. I felt pretty good about myself. In the second interview, when they started with “Tell me about yourself?”, I went on confidently for about 5 minutes (it might have been longer) about everything that had happened to me since high school. I think that’s when I lost my audience (interviewer), and the rest of the interview went downhill. I did not get the job.
I soon realized that that question (or statement) is like an icebreaker and that the interviewer is, subconsciously, looking for one of these three things: how will this candidate help me save money, make money, or solve a problem?
It would be best if you made it about them, not about you.
From the minute you walk into an interview, you should be thinking about “winning the room” – not the job – and building relationships. “Tell me about yourself” will set the tone for fantastic engagement, if done right.
Have you heard of the “elevator speech”? Well, this is precisely what it is. Keep in mind that for each interview, you will need to tailor your “mini-speech” to the job posting by trying to identify their pain points.
Always ask yourself: “Are they looking for someone to help them save money, make money, or solve a problem?”
Here’s a 4-step approach to get you started:
1. What do you do?
I have over ten years’ experience in business development.
2. What is your specialty, strengths, qualities?
I am tactical and focused on the bottom line. I have diverse experience in business development, and I excel in leading business turnarounds.
3. What evidence (accomplishment) do you have that demonstrates those strengths?
For example, I turned around a company in Canada. The result was a $9M bottom-line impact in the first year, which grew to $90M within two years.
4. What are you excited about doing in your next role? Where do you want to be next?
I am seeking an executive-level role or consulting role for a start-up or mid-size company like yours.
Let’s put it all together:
“I have over 10 years’ experience in business development, and my success is due to my focus on the bottom line. I have diverse experience in business development, and I excel in leading business turnarounds. For example, I turned around a company in Canada. The result was a $9M bottom-line impact in the first year, which grew to $90M within two years. I am seeking an executive-level role or consulting role for a start-up or mid-size company like yours.”
Now, that will grab their attention, and they will want to know more. Please don’t fall in the trap of giving your interviewer your life story (biography) or reciting your resume (they have the resume in front of them).
Make it about them, and you will set the tone for a great interview.
Esther Schvan, a Certified Professional Facilitator, recommends the following:
Very often, interviews start with the innocent-sounding question “Tell me about yourself.” Don’t be fooled! This is definitely not an opportunity to share your life story.
Rather, you will need to tailor the answer and present yourself in a way that zeroes in on what is important for the position and the company. To make things easier, you could imagine “as it relates to this position” at the end of the question.
This is your chance to confirm to the interviewer that they are interviewing the right candidate.
To do this well, you could:
- Research the job description in-depth. Only present those qualifications of your professional life that match the description.
- Start with “I am a …” This focuses the answer from the start, and helps you come across as a relevant and confident candidate.
- Provide the years of experience you have in the related field.
- Share area(s) of specialization or strengths.
- Present 1-3 key contributions and achievements related to the duties listed in the job description.
- Support your professional experience with educational credentials and training you completed.
The answer should not last longer than two minutes. Further questions from the interviewer can always expand on the information you have provided. No need to divulge it all in your first answer.
Here are some examples. Adapt them to your needs.
“I am a career counsellor with 15 years of experience, specializing in career transitions, resume writing, and interview coaching. In my last position at ABC Consulting, I have created a detailed system for client assessment, evaluation, and orientation, leading to a 75% job placement rate. In addition, I have formed over 15 employer partnerships through diligent program marketing and negotiation, resulting in a wider range of job placement opportunities for clients. Also, I am certified as a Career Development Practitioner in Canada.”
“I am an engineering management professional with 7 years of experience in project management, new product development, and reverse engineering. In the last project I was working on at XYZ Company, I identified the low yield root cause, negotiated corrective actions, and improved wafer sort yield from 40% to 75%, reducing company cost by $1M per quarter. I hold a Master’s in Engineering from McGill University.”
Your appropriate answer will get things off to a positive start, and you have set the right tone for the rest of the interview.
How to go about crafting the best possible answer?
- Organize and write down your statement well in advance of the scheduled interview
- Read it out loud
- Note the time it takes
- Practice, practice, practice
Remember that, despite the apparent simplicity of the question, it is not about you. It is about how you fit the position and the company.
Podcast episode: Thea Kelley on the elevator pitch, illegal questions, salary questions, and body language during interviews
Podcast episode: Thea Kelley provides examples of phrases to use to negotiate salary
In this podcast episode, to answer “Tell me about yourself” Wayne Mitchell recommends sharing (briefly, in 2 minutes max.):
- something about what you’re known for (your reputation)
- something about your work history
- something about your personal life
- something about your goals (all of the above as pertinent to a particular target role)
About the authors:
Joanne Savoie-Malone is a bilingual Certified Employment and Career Strategist, Transition Coach, and Certified “Passion Test” Facilitator. She has 10+ years of experience in staffing and offers career and job search consulting. www.powerplaycareercoaching.com
Esther Schvan is a bilingual consultant, career transition coach, and facilitator with 20+ years of experience in coaching executives, managers and team members. She is a Career Development Practitioner in Canada, and a Certified Professional Facilitator. http://estherschvanconsulting.ca/