Trickiest Job Interview Question And How To Nail It

Published: Feb 06, 2014

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Trickiest Job Interview Question And How To Nail It Febuary 6, 2014

How To Answer The "Tell Me About Yourself" Interview Question

By Laura Smith-Proulx, Executive Resume Writer

Among the top interview questions you must be prepared to answer, "tell me about yourself" strikes dread in the heart of most job seekers.

Whether you’ve been on a leadership job hunt for some time, or this is your first job search effort in years, this query can throw you for a loop while you try to figure out the best response.

If this question always catches you by surprise, consider preparing for your interview with these three critical steps to increase your confidence and effectiveness:

1. Reframe the question in your mind.

One of the reasons this query is so difficult to answer is that it’s confusing. What exactly does it mean and why are they asking it?

Basically, "Tell me about yourself" almost always means "Tell me who you are professionally."

It’s a starting point to help the interviewer (who probably has a full-time job interrupted by your interview, and very little time to read your resume) figure out what you offer, and whether your leadership background aligns with the job.

2. Extract key points to answer this question.

Now, stop to review your background, reputation, and value-add for the job—otherwise known as your personal brand. What’s different about you as a candidate?
Where do you excel? What do you uniquely offer that’s evident to your colleagues and customers?

Start making a list of your competitive strengths and differentiators, aiming for four to six key themes and high points from throughout your career and rise to an executive role.

Depending upon your background and field, your list might include topics such as:
  • Degree from a prestigious university
  • Long-held passion for your career field
  • Unusually broad skills that distinguish you from other candidates
  • Career promotions relevant to the role you’re seeking
  • Personal philosophy behind your success thus far
  • Others’ opinions of your work and effectiveness
As an example, a candidate for the role of VP Information Systems would be able to list these personal brand element and key differentiators:
  • Degree from sought-after University of Massachusetts IS program
  • Interest in tech field, starting in high school
  • Career history in networking, IT operations, and applications development
  • Steady promotion into technical management jobs
  • Drive for satisfying business stakeholders
  • Reputation for whatever-it-takes approach to conserving costs
3. Form a short narrative around these points.

To answer the “tell me about yourself” question, form and practice a short story that incorporates your main personal brand themes, ending with a message of interest in the job for which you’re interviewing:
  • “I’d always wanted to work in a tech field after developing websites for local businesses, so I went to the University of Massachusetts for the Information Systems program.

  • My first job at CSC was as close to a distributed system as I could get, but after I worked in software development for a while at Bank of America, I learned that most businesses need solid infrastructure aligned with the applications platform for best performance.

  • Since then, I’ve worked my way through IT Manager and IT Director positions at ABC Company, keeping in mind that the business needs take priority and that we must contain costs. In fact, I’m called the "cost master" at work because of my focus on ROI in everything we do.”

  • “Your opportunity for a VP of IT piqued my interest, as I’ve led our teams in delivering both the infrastructure and functionality needed for rapid operations improvement, and I understand how manufacturing demands here at XYZ Company depend on the cost of automation.”
Now, spend some time getting comfortable with your themes and your response (plus the reasons you’re pursuing this new opportunity), rehearsing and readying your answer for “tell me about yourself” instead of dreading it.

As you can see, forming your response is less challenging when you break it down into specific talking points. Plus, you’ll remember what you want to say when battling a case of nerves!

In summary, taking some time to prep before walking into your interview will pay off in more job offers for leadership roles. In addition, you’ll learn more about yourself—and make the process easier when you’re called on to explain your value proposition.

About the Author

Laura Smith-Proulx of An Expert Resume is an executive resume writer and former recruiter who partners with CEO, CIO, COO, CFO, CTO, SVP, and Director candidates to win interviews at major corporations. A certified Professional Resume Writer, Online Professional Networking Strategist, Career Management Coach, Interview Coach, and Microblogging Career Strategist, she is a multiple award-winning resume writer and author of How to Get Hired Faster: 60+ Proven Tips & Resources to Access the Hidden Job Market.

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