By Paul Rivera on October 10, 2014
Everyone says that applying for a job is the tough part. But job interview questions are the worst. Talking about yourself should be easy, right? But just because it's easy doesn't mean you have the answers that recruiters want to hear. Job interview questions and answers can be tricky and none more so than the classic, "So tell me about yourself."
Recruiters don't want to know everything about you. They don't care about your life story—who your parents are, what they do, your religion and where you live. It's probably the most common mistake I see people making—spending too much time talking about personal information, rather than painting a picture of their professional background and career aspirations. Just because you are unemployed now doesn't mean you'll be unemployed tomorrow, or next week, or next month. It all starts with telling me about yourself.
If you answer this poorly, you set yourself up to get grilled by the interviewer. You'll be a nervous, rambling wreck. We've seen it many times and its entirely avoidable if you're prepared. By answering this question well, you set the tone for the interview and immediately begin the process of selling yourself to the interviewer.
The next time you face this interview question, make sure you cover this core theme in your answer:
How does your personal and professional background relate to you being an extremely good candidate for the position you're interviewing for?
Any information that doesn't make a strong case for you isn't important here. Your sales pitch starts here and the clock is ticking. A good answer shouldn't be more than 60-90 seconds and should cover these main points:
- Where you went to school (and what you studied)
- A very short summation of your career / background
- The last job you had, what that company did, key responsibilities and one important contribution or impact you made in that organization
- Why you're there interviewing for this job
Here's what I would say if I were interviewing for a call center agent:
Hi, my name is Paul Rivera. I graduated with a Political Economy degree from UC Berkeley and have spent the last 10 years working for and starting internet startups. I'm currently the CEO at Kalibrr. Kalibrr is talent matching platform based in the Philippines with global investors like Y Combinator and Omidyar Network. My key responsibilities there include management of strategy, sales, customer success, marketing, finance and legal. I spearheaded the raising of $2M in venture capital funding for Kalibrr in 2013, which was a record for a seed round for a Philippine startup. I've also directly managed product before creating a product team overseen by our COO. Though I enjoy the work I do at Kalibrr, I see a tremendous opportunity to leverage my skills and experience, especially with excellent communication ability, to be an outstanding call center agent at Accenture and that's why I'm here interviewing with you right now.
The best thing about this interview questions is you almost always know that it's coming. That means you get it so practice it, rehearse it, and memorize it so that you can start off your interview in control and with momentum. Your answer and how well you tell your story will drive the rest of the interview. In my opinion, the better you start, the better you finish.
What if you have no professional background and just graduated from school?
Not a problem. Here are the core points you should cover:
- Where you went to school
- What was your course and how is that going to be useful for you for this job
- Key coursework, an internship/OJT, or work experience and what they taught you
- Why this company + this job to start your career?
If I was graduating from Jose Rizal University with an HRM degree and was interviewing for a Recruitment Assistant job at Globe, here's what I would say:
Hi, my name is Paul Rivera and I'm a fresh graduate of Jose Rizal University. I studied Human Resources Management because I really enjoy working with people and I'm fascinated with the role of people in building and operating companies. Without the people, you don't have a business. While in school, I was an OJT during my fourth year at Jollibee Corp where I worked with their recruitment team and helped coordinate the interview of candidates for cashier roles at Jollibee restaurants. I really understood the role and value that recruiters create and how they help ensure a company always hires the best talent. I saw an opportunity on Kalibrr to be a Recruitment Assistant at Globe and after doing my research, I saw that Globe was one of the best companies in the Philippines and I feel my experience and work ethic will make me a valuable contributor at Globe.
So there you have it—a template for you to answer the 'Tell Me About Yourself' question. Write this down on paper and practice it until you have it memorized and can say it without looking like you've memorized it. Also make sure you customize it for every interview you do—so research the job and the company and really understand what they do and how you could add value to them.