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"So, Tell Me About Yourself"

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Interview Discussion
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How can you effectively respond to this common interview prompt?

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How can you effectively respond to this common interview prompt?

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Career Resources

Interviewing

How can you effectively respond to this common interview prompt?

By Sarah Sutherland

"So, tell me about yourself."

It's perhaps the most dreaded interview prompt out there. Answering inadequately could be the deciding factor in whether or not you land the job. It doesn't require you to recite all of the statistics you memorized from the company's website or to summarize your full employment history, and truly, it doesn't feel like a prompt that you can study for. In all actuality, it seems more like something that would be said by someone on a blind date rather than a potential employer -- so why is this prompt so difficult for jobseekers to answer?

While most interview questions are open-ended, usually the interviewer words the question in a way that indicates what sort of answer she's looking for. However, when an interviewer says, "Tell me about yourself," the meaning is more up in the air. Does she want to hear about your work history? Does she want to find out more about your personality? Is she curious about how you spend your free time? Semantically, any of these interpretations could be valid. So how should jobseekers respond to this prompt?

Put yourself in the Interviewer's Shoes
"Prior to answering this statement, put yourself in the interviewer's shoes," suggested Heather Rothbauer-Wanish, PhD, owner of Feather Communications. "What does that person really want to know about you? Does he or she want to know that your birthday is April 12 and that your favorite color is purple? No, of course not. Does he or she want to know that you have a bachelor of science degree in marketing and have 8 years of sales experience? Absolutely."

Interview DiscussionTypically, you can't go wrong with focusing your answer on the position at hand. While you don't want to summarize everything that you already included on your resume, it's beneficial to tailor your response to the company and position for which you've applied.

"The best way to answer the 'tell me about yourself' question is to paint a complete picture of your unique power and edge -- in other words, your strengths -- for your intended audience," said Katie Christy, founder of Activate Your Talent. By describing your strengths related to the position, you can show the interviewer that you're both qualified and confident.

Organizational Fit
However, there is a reason that interviewers use this broad prompt rather than simply asking about your strengths. Many times, interviewers use this question to learn about the candidate as a person rather than a list of qualifications. Of course, they probably don't care that you like to drink green tea with your breakfast or that your favorite restaurant is right across the street. But they do want to find out how you'd mesh with the organizational culture.

"When we ask that question, we want to hear about who you are as a person," said Dana Case, director of operation at MyCorporation.com. "Your qualifications for the job are important, but oftentimes, it's almost more important to know that you'll jibe with the rest of the team."

For healthcare professionals who spend so much time working alongside other team members, this organizational fit is crucial. If possible, connect with a current employee prior to your interview to learn more about the workplace culture. During your interview, try to display your ability to fit into that culture when answering behavioral questions.

Answers to Avoid
While there are countless ways to respond to this prompt effectively, there are certainly wrong ways to answer it. "You must be careful when answering these questions," said Rothbauer-Wanish. "First, think of how this would sound: 'My name is Heather and I have a 12-year-old son. I am very actively involved in his school and try to volunteer as much as possible.' What does the potential employer hear? 'My name is Heather and, by the way, I may miss a lot of work because I do a ton of volunteering at my son's school.'"

Additionally, it's important to avoid any topics that could be controversial. Politics and religion should be left out of your response -- unless, of course, either is directly related to the position. Simply put, be careful to only paint yourself in a positive light.

Although a number of answers should be avoided when responding to the "tell me about yourself" prompt, you should always be truthful with your answers. Be honest about your experience and qualifications because with today's technology, it won't be difficult for an employer to figure out the truth.

Relax
Regardless of the anxiety that inevitably accompanies interviewing, jobseekers shouldn't fear the "tell me about yourself" prompt. When it's used, it almost always comes up early in the interview -- and not for the interviewer's benefit.

"I've consulted on hundreds of hires and asked that question any number of times myself," said Barry Maher, public speaker, author and consultant. "'Tell me about yourself' is a softball question, designed to help the applicant relax and get comfortable. But it's also a question that gives the applicant a chance to shine."

So next time you're asked to tell an interviewer about yourself, don't panic. Take a deep breath, relax and remember that the question only gives you another opportunity to show why you're the perfect fit for the job.

Sarah Sutherland is a staff writer at ADVANCE. Contact: ssutherland@advanceweb.com


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