“Tell me about yourself?”
People hate this question because it is so open ended and there are too many answers, however, it is probably one of the most asked interview questions, especially in phone interviews. Knowing how to handle this question can make the difference between advancing to the next stage or being told “we have other candidates that we feel are better fits for the position”—a nice way of being told “thanks, but no thanks”.
When you are asked “tell me about yourself”, ask the interviewer, “I’d be happy to, where would you like me to start?” This allows the employer to tell you what aspects of your background they want you to address and most importantly, keeps you from having a long-winded answer that isn’t what the employer wants to hear. They rarely want to know all about your youth and where you grew up. They typically want to know about your professional experience but typically won’t ask the question directly. Remember, this is sometimes used as a “trick” question. Often times interviewers ask this open ended question because they want to see how you will answer it; personally or professionally, or a combination of both. What they really want to know is how you can solve their problems? Remember, you are hired because you either make money, save money, or makes things go more smoothly.
Here’s an example for a sales person: “After graduating from college, I took a job as a salesman at the XYZ insurance company. I wasn’t experienced in insurance sales, but I worked really hard and became their Rookie of the Year. After only three years, I was promoted to a Sales Manager and my team was recognized as the “most improved” sales team in the Western Region”.
Here’s an example for an administrative person: “I started out in the insurance industry as a receptionist and policy clerk. I didn’t have my license so I studied on my own time and passed my insurance exam on the first try. My boss, seeing that I had a knack for the business, moved me into an Account Assistant role. I worked hard to learn the book and was rewarded with my own accounts in only 12 months; this was a record in my office. I have since moved up again, and now I’m a Senior Account Manager working with our most prestigious clients.”
Your answer to this question shouldn’t be more than 2 or 3 minutes long and should be concise and well thought out. Getting this one right will open the door to the next step; the face to face meeting.