Top Interview Experts Share The Best Way To Answer The Common Interview Question "Tell Me About Yourself"
Meticulous Preparation Is Key
As a job search strategist and interview coach, I’ve found that this typical first interview question gives people the most anxiety because it feels too open ended. Clients often stress over if they are sharing too much, not the right information or if they sound uninteresting. I’d like to stress that the key to answering this critical interview question is to anticipate the question before your interview and craft a thoughtful answer in advance.
A study done by Monster.co.uk showed that candidates are said to have just 385 seconds (a little over 6 minutes) to make a solid impression.
I asked some of the top interview coaching experts to share their best formula or response to this common interview question.
YOUR story is unique to you. Pick the formula or structured response that aligns with your brand and the organization you are interviewing with.
Answer briefly by providing some concrete facts such as position you held, size of the department you were in, and scope of work you performed.
Right after that, give an example of a professional success story by setting forth the story’s background, describing the actions you took, explaining the outcome, and citing who benefited from the outcome.
To follow up immediately on that—and in the same breath—ask the interviewer a question in turn, such as, What would the hired candidate be involved with in the first two weeks on the job? And based on the interviewer’s answer, give another story example that answers the need described, using the same format as in your first example.
If you are interested in seeing Alex perform this formula live on Broadway, check out this very helpful YouTube clip. (it’s generated over 200,000 views!)
A great strategy is this three-part formula:
Share 3 strengths related to the job
PLUS the value that results
PLUS a story to back it up. How? Review the job description (JD) and choose THREE things they want that you excel at.
Let's say you choose these three key words from the JD: *Disciplined/organized *Relationship-builder *Accountable
ANSWER: "The best way to describe myself is by the three things I do best. I am a relationship-builder, a disciplined organizer and an accountable person which creates unwavering trust in customers (value). FOR EXAMPLE… [share story where you demonstrate these three things to prove it]."
BOOM! This will get the attention of the interviewer because it's what they are asking for and you prove it with a story, while everyone else rambles on about their work history (yawn).
You need to ask yourself
1) What are the major requirements of the position and how am I qualified to meet them;
2) what struggles, or pain points, is the company experiencing;
3) how can I solve their problems?
Demonstrate your value. How can I solve your company’s problems should be at the forefront of an elevator pitch? Understanding this and addressing it within 30 seconds is key to a successful value statement—after all this is what the elevator pitch is. But value comes in different forms. Passion for the job and a desire to work at the company is first. Every employer wants to know that you are excited about the position and that you want to work for their company. You can make this abundantly clear by saying something like, “Thank you for having me in for this interview. I’m excited to tell you about my project management experience and how it relates to the position here. I’ve also heard great things about your company. Based on my research, your company is a key player in the uniform market.”
Next talk about your relevant accomplishments. Understanding that the position calls for someone who can increase productivity, you will give a brief accomplishment that speak to their ability to increase productivity. “I know that you’re looking for someone who can increase productivity. Where I last worked, I increased productivity 50% by creating a workflow process that utilized agile practices. '“
Why you’re a fit Based on your résumé, it’s assumed you can handle the challenges of the job. But, do you have the motivation and personality they’re looking for? This piece can’t be overstated. You must come across as a fit. “I assure you that if you ask my supervisors, they’ll say I worked as many hours as it took to get the projects completed. They’ll also tell you that I wouldn’t let a problem rest until I did my best to fix it. This is the type of attitude I will bring to your company.”
I've seen individuals experience success with a formula like the one below.
Story ➙ climax/intrinsic motivation ➙ capabilities ➙ current goal (there is a catch to this)
A leading neuroscientist recently spoke to me about a peak-end rule. According to that concept, what will make your answer stand out is a combination of the climax and the end – your current goal.
Here's why this formula works and how to make each aspect work for you:
Our brains are wired to remember stories. This doesn't need to be long, and remember, a story is essentially a recollection of the past. Keep it relevantly interesting, show your personality, and don't include information that would question your professionalism.
Story climax/intrinsic motivation
This is a great opportunity to add what drives you and perhaps a key moment in your career.
Evidence of your capabilities and not just your skills
Focus on sharing evidence to support what you want to do in your next role and not just what you do now. Capabilities are especially important if you're making an upward career move or a career change.
Current goal – Tie it to the corporate values
You can start this portion of your answer with something like, "At the moment," and end with why you're excited to be interviewing. To tie in the corporate values, mention one in your answer. Preferably, one that your research shows they're trying to improve on an internal and stakeholder level. Top companies hire based on capabilities, cultural fit, and likeability, so now, you can capture all three with your response.
And me, Sarah Johnston
The key to answering this question is having a concise, enthusiastic response that summarizes your big-picture fit for the job. This question is not an invitation to recite your entire life story starting with how you grew up on a farm in Georgia or even to go line by line through your resume. I also personally don’t think you should use this time to share your hobbies or family information.
A formula that I suggest to my clients is Passion-Present-Past-Future formula.
Start with the WHY or a hook. How did you get into your field? Why do you do what you do? Remember, people resonate with and remember stories.
Then move to the present—where you are right now.
Then, segue into the past—a little bit about the experience you gained at the previous position (it’s also OK to brag on yourself a little by sharing an achievement or two).
Finally, finish with the future or WIFM—why you are really excited about THIS SPECIFIC opportunity and this specific company. You have to imagine that the person sitting across from you is sitting there thinking “what’s in it for me” (WIFM) or how you will align with this opportunity. This is also a great time to tie in the mission statement of the company or department and how it aligns or ties in with your personal mission.
My grandmother used to say, “there is more than one way to skin a cat”, which is an idiom that essentially means that there is more than one right answer. The thing to remember is that you should not “wing” this interview question. Alex Freund says, “this question is a gift”— prepare.
In addition to preparation, all of the experts above agree that your response should be concise, natural (not robotic) and around 2-minutes long. How you say it is just as important as what you say so practicing this response is essential.