It’s time for the interview! You are ready, you look professional, you have done your research about the company and have a list of questions to ask, you are poised and confident and then the employer say’s “Tell me about yourself.”
Suddenly, you feel hot, anxious and nervous and begin shifting in your chair and for about ten seconds you stare at the employer like a deer caught in the headlights of oncoming traffic. EEK!
Why does this question cause panic?
Simple answer…You weren’t expecting the question because you assumed that because the employer has your resume and that awesome cover letter you wrote, they wouldn’t ask that question. They should already know the answer, right? Yeah…no, not so much.
Why do employers ask this question?
Tell me about yourself (also commonly referred to as the “elevator pitch”) is generally the employers first question during the interview because it opens the conversation; however, it is also a way for the employer to weed out less than desirable candidates when they provide unnecessary information.
What do you mean by unnecessary information?
Tell Me about yourself is not about your personal life, i.e.; where you were born, where you grew up, when you got married, when you had children, how many children you have, your religion, your political stance, or what you do in your spare time! Providing personal information can be detrimental to you successfully landing a job, unless the personal details you are providing are relevant to the job you are interviewing for, such as; discussing your love for skiing when you are interviewing for a position as a ski instructor or your interest in nature when you are interviewing for a position as a photographer or if you are interviewing with a faith based organization then yes, your religion is relevant…In other words, keep personal information personal unless it is relevant and directly relates to the position.
What does the employer want to hear?
Tell me about yourself is about your professional and educational background for approximately the last 8-10 years including: your education, skills, experience and knowledge base. They aren’t looking for you to repeat your resume verbatim but they do want a short meaningful answer about your background and why your skills, experience, education and knowledge are an excellent fit for the position you are interviewing for.
The following is an example of a well crafted “Tell me about yourself” statement
Over the last 10 years I have worked in the grocery industry and held positions including cashier, service desk clerk and most recently was promoted to head clerk. These positions have enabled me to develop excellent communication and leadership skills and I have used those skills to assist staff and management with resolving customer concerns, cash handling and training staff on cash registers, as well as supervising front-line staff and creating staff schedules.
I graduated university in 2011 with a bachelor of commerce and am looking forward to utilizing my education in the field of banking. I am most interested in this position because it encompasses my experience in communication and leadership and I feel confident that my knowledge of financial markets including the Dow, S&P and TSX as well as my passion for numbers and consulting are the right combination for assisting people to make well informed financial and investment decisions.
The above example gives everything the employer needs to know and wraps up nicely with an answer to what may be asked next or later in the interview…”Why should I hire you.”
What if my professional/educational background doesn’t go back 8-10 years?
Great question! Maybe you are fresh out of high school, still in college or perhaps you are trying to change your career, whatever the situation may be, it is still important to discuss your background in a professional manner and share relevant information about yourself with regard to the position you are interviewing for. I am going to guess that you have been given the opportunity for this interview because the employer found something in your resume and cover letter that piqued their interest. Now, it is up to you to provide more information and remember when you are providing relevant information please be sure to include examples to back up your statements. Merely laundry listing things you can do or have done does not describe your background and will not impress the employer.
Here are some ideas for topics to discuss with the employer, whether entry level or changing careers…
- Experience with team work i.e.; sports team, band, choir, school newspaper, or student council
- Volunteer experience
- Community involvement i.e.; professional networking, clubs, associations & memberships
- Transferable skills, talents or interests related to the position
- Computer and administrative experience i.e.; Mac or PC, relevant software programs and/or Microsoft Office programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), filing, office machines (printer, copier, fax) answering phones, internet, data entry etc…
- Soft skills; problem solving, detail oriented, meeting deadlines, team oriented, ability to work with minimal supervision
Thanks for reading!
For more information about the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question, please feel free to see “Introductions and the elevator speech”