Your hardest interview question
I was talking with our team earlier this week about the subject for our blog post. We work with professionals at all experience levels and functional areas. The one question that most job seekers fail is “tell me a little about yourself.”
Let’s explore the direct and indirect meaning of this question. We will generally prescreen candidates in advance of an introduction to the hiring manager. Acting as an agent for the hiring manager, we want to talk to you to find out if you have the basic qualifications for the position and gain an understanding of your career objectives. That is the direct intent of the question.
Indirectly, we are evaluating a number of characteristics:
- Do you communicate clearly? Are you easy to understand?
- Are you articulate?
- Can you organize your thoughts?
- Can you collapse a large volume of information (your entire career) into a brief, high level overview?
- Are you friendly and genuine?
- Are you open and honest?
- Can you communicate in ‘plain English’ rather than technical terms and industry specific acronyms?
- Are you passionate about your work?
- What do you think of your previous employers?
- Do you have a positive attitude?
WOW! That’s a lot of information to collect in a brief conversation. So how in the world are you going to make sure you deliver your answer correctly? Here are some tips:
- Write the answer down and then circle all of the acronyms and technical terms you’ve used. Replace these with words that your grandmother can understand.
- Prepare and rehearse the answer to this question in advance. Make sure you know your material, the information you want to convey as it relates to the position and dump the ‘junk’ words.
- DO NOT use slang or curse – EVER
- Time your response – it should run between 3-6 minutes. Any longer and you will lose the attention of the interviewer. We will absolutely ask follow up questions where we want additional information.
- Be interesting. We don’t want a monotone recital of your life. We want to know about your passions (professional), why you chose your career, what your proudest accomplishments are, why you left each of your positions and where you plan to take your career in the future.
- NEVER say anything negative about your previous employers – I don’t care how horrible your former manager was – DON’T DO IT (that’s why you need to rehearse – until you actually believe your own message).
- Select an organized delivery method. Either begin from college and move forward, or from your current position and move backward. Don’t jump around and expect the interviewer to be able to keep up. Remember, you know you – we don’t.
- Watch your cadence. Practice in front of someone. Make sure you speak clearly and at a pace that’s easy for the listener to consume. Remember that especially during a phone interview, your voice is all we have – so it’s important to speak more slowly than you would in person. If you have an accent this is even more critical.
- Smile! Your positive energy and enthusiasm will come through if you smile during the interview – yes, even on the phone. It works – trust me!
Remember, your objective during the initial screening interview is to get an invitation to the next stage. Please don’t worry about whether this is a good job for you – yet. It’s too early in the process to worry about accepting an offer. If you don’t nail the ‘tell me a little about yourself’ question, you really won’t have anything to worry about.
For more information on getting hired – and for a current list of job opportunities – visit us here.