Job Search Tip of the Week – 10/27/2016


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, you (should) know the subject matter through and through – 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 question, 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, wondering “Well what exactly do they want to hear?” 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.

So if you:

  • Stammer awkwardly, squirm uncomfortably, laugh nervously, and/or use avoidance (“I don’t like to talk about myself.”) or “buying time” (“Well, what do you want to know?”) tactics;
  • Respond with a one-liner, or a story that rivals “War and Peace”; and/or
  • Regurgitate your resume 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 conveying yourself as an unfocused, inarticulate job seeker with weak interview preparation and conversational skills and a lack of 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.

Should You Strategize & Structure Your Answer?

YES! Some job seekers end up clamming up or rambling on when asked to talk about themselves, not because they don’t know what to say, but because they’re unsure about how to organize their response. Some ideas:

  • Elena Bajic, founder & CEO of, an online career resource, proposes approaching your response as if you were creating a movie trailer, and choosing “selected snippets of action that leave your audience hungry for more.” Explain the logic behind your career progression (how one job was related to the other, and so on) that has led you to the employment opportunity in question.

  • Kathryn Minshew, founder & CEO of The Muse, an online destination for job seekers and career professionals, recommends the Present-Past-Future formula. Start with where you currently stand with your career (the present), then segue into what experiences you’ve had and skills you acquired during your most recent position (the past). Finish with why you’re passionate about the particular opportunity you’re interviewing for (the future).
  • Recruiter turned “The Job Search Guy” Joe Turner advises starting with a unique selling proposition (USP), also known as a personal branding or value-added statement. In one sentence, describe who you are, your biggest asset, and what benefit the interviewing company can derive from it. Doing so grabs the interviewer’s attention and opens the floor to discussion about what you can do for the hiring organization.
  • Life coach and “Name Tag Guy” Scott Ginsberg emphasizes the importance of speaking creatively, and opening with unexpected and memorable phrases such as “Can I show you, instead of telling you?” and “Well, I Googled myself this morning, and here’s what I found…”. His other eight conversation starters can be found by clicking here.

  • The Personal Branding Blog suggests including a six to eight sentence summary (one or two lines to descriptions each) of: your career trajectory, one relevant accomplishment, your professional goals that are applicable to the position you’re interviewing for, and your plan to contribute to the company. The idea is to provide not a simple autobiography, but rather a response that targets the job and organization at hand.

That being said, 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 functional and cultural fit in the organization, and what value you can bring. It should take you at least a minute to respond, three minutes at the most.
  • 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 stories. Your resume’s already on file; what the interviewer needs is to know more about you, 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, an interesting introduction to the field or hiring company, or a 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 talk bring up your likes/dislikes, your political or religious views, your 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 professionally that’s relevant to the role and organization you’re interviewing for. Once you’ve delivered your response, get the hiring manager talking about what areas of the business require improvement, and then position yourself as the best person to fill the void!

Sound Off: What should we know about you?

    Knowing why interviewers ask certain questions can give you a leg up on your job search. That’s why we’re making our way through the 19 most common interview questions to reveal the meaning behind them and walk you through how you should respond, so bookmark CareerJuice and keep checking back! In the meantime, test your ability to think like an interviewer by tackling some of the other most common – yet difficult – interview questions:

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