Talking about yourself is something that should be easy, yet it’s not. How do you respond to this question in an interview.
So, tell me about yourself?
Do you find you are a nervous wreck when responding? If so, fear not, because you are not alone.
Interviews are such a pain.
People struggle during job interviews. For some reasons, we treat the interview as if something our life has to depend on. We fear failure, yet if we just relaxed, we might find that the interview could actually be conducted as if it were a normal conversation.
During a stressful time, a leader I respect once asked me, “Did anyone die?” He was able to immediately put things in perspective. This simple, yet powerful advice assisted me in a recent job interview with a Fortune 500 company.
Along with putting things into proper perspective, there are certain things we can do to ensure we are able to answer this seemingly simple (yet enormously difficult) question; a question typically asked right at the beginning of the interview.
So, how to answer tell me about yourself?
Most interviewees don’t understand the real questions behind “tell me about yourself”.
Jane Copland provides fantastic practical tips for success in landing your dream job. She remarks that in order to avoid the trap of freezing or rambling, we should study common interview questions and prepare our response to them. She encourages us not to memorize our answers, simply practice the key points. If we do this, we will find that we feel more confident and bring out our best. 
By following Jane’s advice, this interview question can be broken down into three subordinate questions:
- What is the underlying meaning to this question? Here they are really looking for the qualities you possess; for which you could immediately use.
- Why are they asking this question? They are wanting to know how you fit into their organization. This is where you need to demonstrate that you know what is important to them, not you.
- What response are they secretly looking for? Are you a “change agent”? Meaning, can you bring value to their organization and foster change. Can you hit the ground running and improve their bottom line? That’s what they really want to know.
Once we understand the real questions, we can then develop a strategy to ensure we don’t blow the interview with the first question.
Here is a quick list of things you should do… and those things you should never do.
Follow this process and find the perfect response.
I used this powerful 4-Step Method in a recent interview with a Fortune 500 company. By simply following these 4 steps, I was able to walk in the room with an unwavering high level of confidence. The following sections will break down each step, with tools and practical examples.
1. Spend more time on research.
The first thing you should do prior to the interview is to thoroughly research the company. To be able to answer the “Tell me about yourself question”, you must be able to customize yourself to the type of person they are looking for. Use these tools and demonstrate that you can improve their bottom line immediately:
- 80/20 Rule. Find the 20% of the items that bring in 80% of the company revenue. Make sure you are familiar with their critical 20%. This shows you understand the company.
- Know the financial health of the company and look for “opportunity areas” to attack. Do this by looking at their financial statements or quarterly reports. This will allow you to back up your assertion that you can make them money, because you can demonstrate how.
- The best way to prepare for a job interview is to read a book that is popular in your profession. Better yet, read a book penned by the CEO of the organization you are interviewing with. You will be amazed at how little people read, especially books in their own field. This simple act will put you ahead in your profession. I personally re-read The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt before a job interview in the process improvement world. I am able to grasp the books core principles. Typically, they think they are my creation.
- Read blogs from the professionals. I find myself reading the tips provided at Thepensters.com. This site offers phenomenal practical advice; which is what you are in need of right now.
2. Practice everywhere.
If you fail to attempt this step, then you might as well start scheduling your next interview because you don’t have a chance at this one.
- 80/20 Rule for preparation. Yes again, the 80/20 rule. You can also use this rule for preparation. You must have a Plan A and Plan B. Focus 80% of your effort on Plan A and 20% of your effort on Plan B. 
- Practice the art of Visualization. Visualize the entire interview in your head. Visualize exactly how you want the interview to flow and how you will control the interview. You will be amazed at just how powerful this technique is. I use this for everything I do… interviews, speaking engagements, even important phone calls.
- Practice with a friend or family member. Make sure you choose someone you trust and someone who will provide candid feedback.
- Use an analogy when attempting to learn the technical information about the company… especially if you are not familiar with what they do. An analogy is simply a comparison between two concepts for the purpose of explanation. For example, if you are in the medical field and are trying to learn a new science, such as epigenetics, you may want to use something similar to, “Genetics is like the blue prints. Epigenetics are like post-it notes on those blueprints (usually telling you to ignore that part).” – Justin Ma
- Use diagrams. Diagrams are a powerful technique and a great way to visualize difficult concepts. Don’t be afraid to use them.
3. Follow this powerful formula.
If you are looking for a powerful way to guide your interview and answer the question, “Tell me about yourself” then I highly recommend you use one of the following formulas (or a combination of them all):
- Present -> Past -> Future. You start with the present (where you are right now), then discuss the past (experiences you have had and skills you have gained), then finish with the future (why you are excited about this opportunity). For example, I might use: “I am currently a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, where I improve overall performance for our organization. Before that I commanded 170 people where I launched 15 improvement initiatives. While I enjoyed my time as a Soldier, I would really like the chance to develop a deeper understanding as a practitioner in process improvement. This is why I am extremely excited about this opportunity with you.” 
- Rule of 3. Since we can only hold a small amount of information at one time, it is important to understand and use the Rule of 3.
4. Work on your plans beforehand.
Use Implementation Intentions. These are “If-Then statements.” They are preplanned responses to make sure you are directing your internal and external behaviors toward the overall goal – in this case landing the job and explaining “Who you are.”
For example, I use the following Implementation Intention during my interviews: If or when scenario x happens, then I will perform y. More specifically: If or when I am asked to prove a principle (i.e. I can improve their bottom line), then I will respond with a detailed roadmap on how I can improve their bottom line. This means that I must have plenty of detailed roadmaps handy.
If you are trying to understand the critical functions of a company and you come across something you do not understand, try chunking the new information or idea. Think of a puzzle, simply break the term down into components, then break those components into further sub-components.
5. End it well and make sure you look good.
Lastly, make sure to follow-up with the interview panel. I highly recommend you send a personal “Thank You” letter. If you do not receive the job, ask them what improvements they suggest.
Don’t forget, when you are preparing for your interview, make sure you are dressed to impress. Don’t look like a bum! Finally, remember this advice when you are preparing for your next interview.
“If we all threw our problems into a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”
Hence, don’t forget to put things into perspective and remember that there will always be another interview.
Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com
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