TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF
Why is it that interviewers/companies still need this crutch question to begin their interviews• Some use it from habit, some because they didn’t have time to prepare, and some because they don’t know any better. But despite trying to prep our clients away from the dreaded opening interview question “Tell me about yourself,” we have never been successful in getting them to stop using this question. They use it, and we have resigned ourselves to this recruiting truth: Most interviewers/companies will start with some version of this opening question.
Fine, if they won’t stop using this silly opening question, then let’s make sure you are ready with a loaded gun for this question. If we, at EHS, prep candidates properly, we can make our candidates look prepared, confident, and focused right from the start of their interview. Furthermore, you will make a great verbal first impression.
Don’t think this is a big deal• Let us share just one story about this opening interview question that cost our candidate a chance for a great opportunity. It is a perfect illustration to make you understand why you must add this information to your interview process. The scenario was this: We recently received a Job Order for a General Manager of a high volume, full service restaurant. We located an ideal candidate, and our initial impression was that the job was perfect for her. Our client joked that when she came to the interview the recruiter should send her with an invoice for the fee because they, too, thought she was the perfect fit.
You can more or less guess how the story ended. To start the interview the candidate was asked the dreaded “Tell me about yourself” question. Thinking that it was an inconsequential icebreaker question, she retorted, simply intending to cause an opening chuckle, “Well as you can obviously see, I am 15 20 pounds overweight.”
The candidate was only joking! Yet, due to the impact her answer had on our client, for all practical purposes the interview was over. That “amusing” answer to what the candidate viewed as a seemingly harmless question convinced the client that this $60k GM had an image or low self¬-esteem problem. Despite our insistence that it was just a joke, our client declined to make the candidate an offer. Her retort was just a joke! But not really. It was to the candidate who didn’t get her dream job. This candidate attempted to humorously break the ice, but the interviewer misinterpreted her intentions and became convinced she was not their next GM.
The whole fiasco could have been avoided if the candidate had just remembered the simple formula for answering this question. Sure, we know this question is a stupid and unnecessary question with which to begin an interview. But because interviewers open interviews with this question, you need to know how to respond to it intelligently. The formula we teach has worked wonders for hundreds of our candidates over the years.
We at EHS know that most of our clients will open with some form of the “Tell me about yourself” question. The answer we’d ideally like our candidates to give would be a prepared and well thought out initial marketing statement of themselves and their skills, which are applicable for the open position. However, it doesn’t matter if the candidate makes $25k or $200k per year, the very best candidates will typically respond to this question by answering with “What would you like to know• ” Let’s get one thing straight: It is extremely poor form to answer the opening interview question with another question. But that is how most candidates will likely answer this question due to its ambiguous nature. We can prepare you to do better.
We need to teach you to answer this question with a Three Part preplanned marketing statement that can more or less be reused from interview to interview.
Part One of that three part marketing statement is always a one sentence summary of your career history.
For example, let us share with you a recent candidate’s opening sentence:
“I am a professional, hands on restaurant manager with 7 years experience in the full service and fine dining industry.”
You get the picture; your whole career needs to be condensed into one brief sentence that summarizes the most important aspects of your career, which you want to use as leverage in order to make your next career step.
Part Two of the pre planned marketing statement will be a one, maybe two sentence summary of a single accomplishment that you are proud of that will also capture the interviewer’s attention. It immediately follows your initial career summary sentence from above. This accomplishment should be one that the interviewer will be interested in hearing, one that is easily explained or illustrated, and one that clearly highlights your bottom line impact. When done correctly this will build interviewer intrigue about your accomplishment so that they inquire further, giving you an opportunity to further discuss your career success.
The above candidate’s accomplishment sentences were:
“Recently, as a General Manager I was transferred to trouble shoot problems at one of our locations. After serious analysis, I was able to increase sales 7% through marketing, reduce my food cost by 8% through portioning and waste control and build morale amongst the staff.”
The Final Piece on TELL ME ! The marketing statement is probably the most fluid piece. It needs to be a one sentence summary of specifically what you want to do next in your career. The reason this third part is difficult is that it needs to specifically address what you want to do next, AND it needs to change from interview to interview to make sure it matches exactly what our client will be interviewing the candidate for.
Continuing with the above example of one of our recent candidates, two of his final sentences, which were used for two different clients, follow:
“For the next step in my career, 1 would like to move away from privately owned concepts and focus my talents on corporately owned, high volume restaurants.”
But for a second client this ending was significantly altered because of the candidate’s multiple interests in differing opportunities:
“For the next step in my career, I would like to find myself as a General Manager with a growing company that will allow me to be promoted to any other position based upon my performance.”
These were two very different endings that perfectly match two very different client needs. Clearly you can see why the first ending wouldn’t t have worked for the second client or vice versa. With some simple revising, we made sure that each client heard from our candidate that he was interested in doing exactly what they were interested in hiring him for.
It will be apparent that you are a prepared and serious player right at the beginning of the interview when you answer the “Tell me about yourself” question with this memorized brief marketing statement which combines your career summary, an exceptional accomplishment, and company specific career goals as in this example:
“I am a professional, hands on restaurant manager with 7 years experience in the full service and fine dining industry. Recently, as a General Manager I was transferred to trouble shoot problems at one of our locations. After serious analysis, I was able to increase sales 7% through marketing, reduce my food cost by 8% through portioning and waste control and built morale substantially among the staff. For the next step in my career, 1 would like to move away from privately owned concepts and focus my talents on corporately owned, high volume restaurants.”
Clearly you can understand how a candidate who opens with this type of prepared response to the “Tell me about yourself” question will make a significantly better first impression than a candidate who responds to this question by answering “What would you like to know• ” or worse yet, “Well as you can obviously see, I am 15 20 pounds overweight.” A candidate who is prepared in this manner is confident at the interview’s start, makes a substantial and positive first verbal impression, gives a clear indication of their interest in making a career move, and forces the interviewer to get past the icebreaker questions to the parts of the interview that will help both parties begin the process of seriously determining if this is a solid match.
Escape the Pitfalls
by Carole Martin
It begins even before you say your first word in an interview. By the time the interviewer walks toward you, an opinion is already being formed. There you sit waiting to spew out your answers to questions you’ve prepared for, while you are already being judged by your appearance, posture, smile or nervous look. A study done at UCLA a few years ago revealed that the impact of a performance was based on 7 percent of the words used, 38 percent on voice quality and 55 percent on nonverbal communication.
Look back at speakers or teachers you’ve listened to. Which ones stand out as memorable? The ones who were more animated and entertaining or the ones who just gave out information? This is not to say you have to entertain the interviewer (no jokes, please), but it does mean the conversation should be more interactive. If you say you are excited about the prospect of working for this company but don’t show any enthusiasm, your message will probably fall flat. So smile, gesture once in a while, show some energy and make the experience more pleasurable for both sides.
Nonverbal Pitfalls to Watch For:
• The handshake: It’s your first encounter with the interviewer. He holds out his or her hand and receives a limp, damp hand in return — not a very good beginning. Your handshake should be firm — not bone-crushing — and your hand should be dry and warm. Try running cold water on your hands when you first arrive at the interview site. Run warm water if your hands tend to be cold. The insides of your wrists are especially sensitive to temperature control.
• Your posture: Stand and sit erect. We’re not talking “ramrod” posture, but show some energy and enthusiasm. A slouching posture looks tired and uncaring. Check yourself out in a mirror or on videotape.
• Eye contact: Look the interviewer in the eye. You don’t want to stare, as this shows aggression. Occasionally, and nonchalantly, glance at the interviewer’s hand as he is speaking. By constantly looking around the room while you are talking, you convey a lack of confidence or discomfort with what is being discussed.
• Your hands: Gesturing or talking with your hands is very natural. Getting carried away with hand gestures can be distracting. Also, avoid touching your mouth while talking. Watch yourself in a mirror while talking on the phone. Chances are you are probably using some of the same gestures in an interview.
• Don’t fidget: There is nothing worse than someone playing with his or her hair, clicking a pen top, tapping a foot or unconsciously touching parts of the body.
Preparing what you have to say is important, but practicing how you will say it is imperative. The nonverbal message can speak louder than the verbal message you are sending.
Finally, Spice Up Your Answers
Take a look at these typical answers and how you can make them more unique.
Typical: “I am a high-energy person.” This answer needs more detail.
Unique: “I am a highly energized person.”
Typical: “I’m a hard worker.” This is the most common phrase used. It shows no imagination.
Unique: “I do whatever it takes to get the job done, sometimes working 10-hour days.”
Typical: “I am a quick learner.” This is an overused phrase that has lost its effectiveness.
Unique: “I can hit the ground running and come up to speed faster than anyone I know.”
Typical: “I’m analytical.” This is a lackluster answer that doesn’t reveal much.
Unique: “I’m a wiz at analyzing data and transforming it into useful information.”
Typical: “I’m very organized.” This answer is understated.
Unique: “I am a person who can bring order to chaos.”
Typical: “I’m reliable.” This answer needs more information to get the point across.
Unique: “I pride myself on my record of never missing deadlines.”
Typical: “I’m good with customers.” The answer needs clarification.
Unique: “I build great relationships with customers; they always ask for me.”
Describing your personality is like writing ads for a product. What makes you unique? Are you the type of person who would fit into this organization? Your job is to convince your interviewer that you have the perfect personality for the position.
Make a list of personality traits that describe you. Determine the qualities you would like the interviewer to remember after the interview. Incorporate some of the same words used in the job posting.
For example, if the job listing reads: “Must have five or more years’ experience managing a diverse population of employees,” you might say to the interviewer:
“I am a person who values other people’s qualities and contributions. My employees would tell you that I am a fair manager who listens when they have something to say.”
The more specific you are with your answer, the better your chances of leaving a lasting impression. Interviewers talk to several candidates in a single day. What will make you memorable?