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Interview chronicles: surviving the 'Tell me about yourself' interview question

Interview chronicles: surviving the 'Tell me about yourself' interview question
I remember the first time I was asked the “tell me about yourself” interview question, and I know that I gave a terrible answer. Looking back on this experience, I now know that it was my interview performance that hurt my chances of a job offer.
After all, the hiring manager clearly liked my cover letter and my resume enough to invite me to the interview and spent her valuable time getting to know me. But I did not deliver. The interview did not go well, and I did not get that position.
Every interview starts with the question "Tell me about yourself", even if it's just a part-time job, or the easiest professional program to get into. Then how come that at the ripe age of 19 I had no idea of how to answer this seemingly simple question? Because there is no proper preparation for the professional interview process in our educational systems. Nobody warned me of the type of interview questions I will get; nobody taught me what kind of behavior is professional; and nobody explained what qualities are being assessed in a professional interview.
But these are all learned behaviors, something all of us acquire throughout our years in the workforce. It usually happens the hard way, by going to dozens or hundreds of interviews before you know how to approach the tricky questions and how to introduce yourself properly. But there is an easier way, and I am here to share it with you.
You may be shocked to hear it, but here’s the truth: the interviewer actually wants to know a little bit more than your statistics on paper. They will be working with a person, not a set of numbers and qualifications. “Tell me about yourself” is a perfect chance for you to demonstrate who you are as a professional and what drives you to come to work every day. This is truly a "we-want-to-get-to-know-you" question. They do not mean to trick you. 
With this in mind, here’s a simple 3 step process you can use to prepare for this intimidating interview question:
Step # 1
Use the ‘tell me about yourself’ interview question to make friends with the interviewer. That’s right, you want to become buddies with the interviewer in less than 2 minutes. Your interview is sort of like one-way speed dating. Hopefully you have had the fortune of skipping this humiliating experience, but the point is that you have very limited amount of time to say something memorable so that you go home with that date, right? The same mindset applies here – you have less than 2 minutes to say something so memorable that you get that job offer.
I remember I started one of my ‘tell me about yourself’ answers by telling the interviewer I am originally from Siberia – there aren’t that many of us here in North America – and that led to a fruitful discussion of the differences and similarities between the American North and the Russian North. This is just an example, but you see what I mean – I connected with my interviewer by revealing something personal about my journey. 
Step #2
Use the ‘tell me about yourself’ question to create a lasting impression. This question is a huge part of the primacy and recency effects. What do I mean by this? Your answer to tell me about yourself is what the interviewer is most likely to remember out of the entire interview! So even if some other questions do not go as well as you hope, your strong introduction will stand out in the interviewer’s memory. It’s sort of like with movies and music – the first song of an album determines whether you will listen to the rest of the album and even you won’t remember the rest of the album afterwards, you’ll still remember the amazing first song! Most people remember and love Smells Like Teen Spirit, but few can list the entire song list of ‘Nevermind’.
Step #3
The third important thing to remember is that your answer should map out the follow-up questions, which means you can take control of the interview. Whatever you include in the ‘tell me about yourself’ answer can become points of conversation later in your interview. So going back to the ‘tell me about yourself answer’ where I mentioned that I am from Siberia – this led to further discussion not only about geography and weather, but also revealed a skill that ended up helping me get that job – my fluency in the Russian language, though it was not a job requirement at the time.
But I have another example from the same interview – in my answer, I also discussed my hobby, which is murder mystery books. This little bit of information resulted in a follow-up question from my interviewer about why this is a literary genre I liked. This allowed me to outline how this, and other types of literature, help me develop analytical skills and critical thinking. It allowed me to discuss the skills I am very proud of.
Now I can even hear some of you thinking “Well, it’s easy to give this advice on paper – try to come up with a ready-to-go answer on the spot.” I see your point, I really do. The funny thing is, your first couple of answers to this question may be a disaster. But after practicing your answer in professional mock interviews you will be able to answer this question flawlessly, without memorization. Think of it this way: you may need to go to 10 interviews to get the answer to this question right, so instead use 10 realistic simulations! Practicing with professional interview mocks is like hearing back from every hiring manager that did not offer you a job, explaining what you could work on and how you can improve for the next time. Seriously, it’s a goldmine!
 Banner image credit: Image by Adabara Ibrahim from Pixabay

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