Job Search Tip of the Week #17 (2018)

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How to Ace Your First-Round (or really, Just about Any) Interview

Think Like an Interviewer – Q11



“Tell me about yourself.”

It’s a four-word request that seems simple enough – after all, who knows knows you better than you? – but it’s perhaps the one inquiry out of the 19 most commonly asked interview questions that can make job seekers sweat the most. Why? Because it’s such a vague request, there are so many places you can take your response – and consequently, so many ways you can go wrong.

So before you take center stage, you need to know:

What interviewers are really asking – and watching out – for

Most job seekers struggle with knowing where to begin and how much to reveal. When an interviewer asks you to talk about yourself, he or she evaluates your interpretation of the request in order to:

  • Gauge your confidence level and communication ability,
  • Get a better sense of how you prioritize and who you are,
  • See whether or not you recognize the question as a marketing opportunity.

This is your moment to shine and show off all of your interview preparation and conversational skills, so if you:

  • Stammer awkwardly, squirm uncomfortably, laugh nervously;
  • Employ stalling (“Well, what do you want to know?”) or avoidance (“I don’t like to talk about myself.”) tactics;
  • Respond with a one-liner, or a story that rivals “War and Peace”; and/or
  • Regurgitate your résumé or cover letter, or give a general summary (“I just graduated with a degree in computer science. I’m looking for a frontend development position because I want to get more professional experience in the field. I’ve interned at X, Y, and Z and like the health and wellness industry.”);

…you’re presenting yourself as unfocused, inarticulate, and lacking in self-awareness and confidence. Exit stage left – and don’t count on a callback.

How to captivate your audience

A job interview is akin in so many ways to an audition – you need to know who you’re performing for. No successful entertainer goes into an audition without having researched the role and the casting/production company and used said information to tailor their presentation. Likewise, no successful job seeker goes into an interview without having practiced and prepared their responses to address the open position and organization at hand.

As such, when crafting your response you should:

    • Give a targeted overview. Focus on addressing what interests the interviewer the most: whether or not you’re a cultural and functional fit, and what value you can bring. It should take you at least a minute to respond, three minutes at the most. Follow the present-past-future formula; start with where you’re currently at in your career (the present), segue into your experiences and skills you acquired during your most recent position (the past), and finish with why you’re passionate about this opportunity with your prospective employer (the future).
    • Highlight your accomplishments. Choose to spotlight only the ones most relevant to your past and current goals, and the needs of the prospective employer. Avoid giving a laundry list of feats and instead give brief, concise descriptions (answering who, what, when, where, why, and how whenever possible) of how you applied your skills and experience to achieve results.
    • Leverage the power of storytelling. Remember, your interviewer can access the information on your résumé whenever he or she pleases. What the interviewer needs now is to learn more about you than what’s on paper, and offering up personal information builds rapport and makes you memorable. Just make sure whatever you share is relevant to your professional career (perhaps you have a funny anecdote about lessons you learned on the job, your interesting introduction to the field or hiring company, or your unique background or outside passions that would benefit your prospective employer), and…
    • Stay professional. This question is typically one of, if not the, first asked, and your response sets the tone for the rest of the interview. Don’t bring up possibly your controversial likes/dislikes, political or religious views, spouse/kids, or anything else that can introduce legal risk or hiring bias. It helps to put yourself in the interviewer’s position: if you were the one asking the question, what would you want – and not want – to know about a job candidate?
    • Create a dialogue. Ending your response with a question about the position’s responsibilities and role in the organization allows you to 1) obtain more information on the business’ needs, 2) demonstrate that you’ve done your research and are knowledgeable and interested in the company’s activities, and 3) launch into a pitch about what your ideas are for growth and how your skills and expertise can help them meet their goals.
    • Be observant. Leave room for the interviewer to ask follow-up questions, and watch for non-verbal cues (lack of eye contact, lip biting, stretching or scratching the neck or shoulder area, and slight head shaking) that indicate he or she wants to redirect or move on from the topic.

…and then of course, write it down and practice, practice, practice to make it a pitch-perfect delivery!


Remember: Prepare and practice a well-organized, succinct description about who you are that’s relevant to the role and organization you’re interviewing for. Once you’ve delivered your response, get the hiring manager talking about which areas of the business require improvement, and then position yourself as the best person to fill the void!


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