“So, can you tell me about yourself?”
It’s one of the most ubiquitous interview questions, and often one of the most difficult. With such a wide breadth of possible answers, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.
Hint: If your go-to response includes a run-down of where you grew up or what you studied in college, you’ve probably already lost your interviewer.
While the hiring manager does want to get to know you, at this point they are only focused on figuring out if you’re the right person for the job — and your most critical task is showing them that you are, writes Skip Freeman, managing partner at executive search group The HTW Group (formerly Hire To Win), in a post on Personal Branding Blog and previously on LinkedIn.
To prevent hurting your chances before the interview even warms up, Freeman breaks down this question into a simple three-part response that will hook the interviewer without inundating them with unnecessary details. Here’s his technique:
- Part 1: Start with a condensed version of your career history. Try and keep it as concise as possible, Freeman suggests.
- Part 2: Next, give a brief summary of a specific achievement to capture the interviewer’s interest. “It must be an accomplishment that can easily be explained and/or illustrated,” Freeman says. “Plus, it must also highlight a ‘bottom-line’ impact for the potential employer.”
- Part 3: Conclude with a few definitive sentences about what you hope to accomplish next in your career — but make sure it’s relevant to the position you’re interviewing for, Freeman warns.
Here’s an example from Freeman of a good one-minute response:
“I am a five-year veteran of LAN/WAN administration and systems engineering, with substantial experience using a variety of contemporary business software systems.
“Recently, as a long-term contract employee at a local regional bank, I learned that the bank was about to install a particular software system and was planning to use an outside firm for the project. I let them know that I had done a similar installation at my last assignment, outlined how we could get the job done with in-house staff, and successfully completed the installation for $55,000 to $65,000 less than it would have cost with outside consultants.
“For the next step in my career, I would like to move away from contract work and find myself as a direct employee of a large firm where I can join a substantial IT team and be involved with a group that focuses on email and network security applications, while having access to the knowledge base that would come with a large, diverse IT group.”
Instead of giving the hiring manager a broad overview of who you are, show why you’d be a great fit for the position. “You will clearly and quickly brand yourself as a true professional, someone who knows the value of what you have to offer a potential employer,” Freeman says.
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