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“So, tell me a little about yourself.” It’s often the first thing an interviewer will ask—and your answer may stick with him or her more than anything written on your résumé.Knowing how to talk about yourself in a way that conveys your strengths quickly, clearly, and professionally can set the tone for the entire interview. Some simple steps to address that not-so-simple question:
1. Focus on what the interviewer wants to know
This first question is the time to help the interviewer start to see why you’re the best person for the job—not the time to talk about your family history and hobbies. It’s important to focus on stories and professional experiences that will etch a memory in the employer’s mind, rather than give a run-down of your entire background.
Understand areas where you can “bridge” your previous experience to this job, and sell the employer on what they’ll gain by hiring you. Perhaps your résumé doesn’t have a flashy school or a Fortune 500 company on it, but you came up with a social media strategy that doubled your last company’s Twitter followers. For an employer looking to gain more traction in social media networks, this would be a valuable accomplishment to highlight.
Similarly, be relevant: if you extol your financial planning skills in an interview for a marketing job, it’ll likely fall on deaf ears. Make sure the answer you plan paints a picture of your skills for this job.
2. Think about what others say about you
If talking about yourself seems daunting, consider what your friends and family would say. Are you the one who always steps up to organise the office charity event? Or do your friends describe you as the best person to turn to in a crisis? Perhaps you can juggle many responsibilities well under stress, or you excel at organising large quantities of information.
Each of us has unique strengths, so don’t be afraid to talk about yours. Women tend to underestimate themselves in the work environment and downplay their talents. But that’s not going to land you the job!
3. Put some colour behind “go-to” words
Phrases like hard-working, detail-oriented, team player, and problem solver are all over résumés. And they’re not bad, per se, but what do they mean?
For example, if someone told you that she was a problem solver, would you remember that as well as if she’d told you that she drove her boss across town in a foot of snow to attend an important client meeting because he couldn’t get a taxi? Using buzz words in an interview should only be a jumping-off point for talking about a specific experience that will showcase your talents.
4. Keep it short
Your interviewer has other questions for you, and a 15 minute monologue is not the best way to get a conversation going. Pick 2-3 points to highlight in your “tell me about yourself” answer, and an example or two that lets you bring your experience to life.
Then let your interviewer talk. She may ask you follow-up questions, which is great—but give her the chance!
5. Practice makes perfect
Practice giving your answer clearly and concisely to a friend or colleague. You may also find it helpful to prepare by answering in front of a mirror or writing out your response. However, some live practice is invaluable: it’ll help you build your confidence and identify nervous habits or repetitive words you use.
Interviews can be gut-wrenching, but starting off on a good foot and confidently showcasing your accomplishments can help pave the way to success.