With the new year in full swing, Zora readers are doubling down on 2012 goals and searching for new opportunities. Whether you’re graduating this year, looking for an internship, or readying yourself to move on to your next job, interviewing will likely be a part of the experience.
Interviewing provokes major nerves in most of us. This is an odd phenomenon because most interviewers aren’t that creative and typically ask the same questions. This means that the interview experience can be conquered. With sufficient preparation, you may even find yourself enjoying interviews. That’s where this blog series comes in. Over the next few weeks, Interview Hotseat will provide relevant advice and tips to tackle the most commonly asked interview questions.
I’ve spend many hours interviewing candidates for various positions, both on the phone and in person. They’ve ranged from internship and college hires to full-time professionals. It is always evident, usually from the first few minutes, whether a candidate has sufficiently prepared. A good resume or recommendation is not enough, and many great-on-paper candidates have blown opportunities by failing to prepare for common questions.
We begin the series with what is not only a very popular question, but likely to be one of the first encountered:
“Tell Me About Yourself”
Before explaining how to answer this question, let’s first look at how not to answer. Typical but bad approaches to this question include:
- Rambling: Hopefully this won’t apply to you after reading this post, but one of the worse things people do when answering this question is to talk too long. Five minutes into it, the interviewer has completely forgotten who you are and most of what you’ve said. She’s probably thinking about what she’s having for lunch. Less is more!
- Talking only about yourself: No one likes a egomaniac and though this question ostensibly asks about you, interviewers are really looking for more. The point of the interview is to see if you’ll be a good fit for the company. Let that fact guide your answers. If all you do is talk about how great you are without any connection to the position for which you’re applying, you’re missing out on a big opportunity
Instead of the above, you should:
- Tell A Story: When the interviewer asks this question, she is definitely not looking for encyclopedic, biographical details. Instead, she wants information to contextualize you. Think about what happens after the interview: the company will have likely interviewed a few candidates and a committee may meet to discuss them. At this point, your interviewers will need to be able to clearly describe you. They’ll be pitting your 30 second “elevator pitch” against that of other candidates. What information do you want the interviewer to remember and recall about you if she only has 30 seconds? This is what you need cover in this question.
- Be concise: Because this question is so broad, it gives you the opportunity to craft your story and introduce its main points (see above) but you should not use it to go into detail. So while it may be fine to say “I’ve spent the past few years building my personal brand in the nonprofit sector,” you should not go into detail about your blog, all the things you’ve written about, responses to it, etc. There’ll be time later for that. The key here is to present a short, compelling story that leaves the interviewer wanting to know more.
- Be natural: While you should prepare ahead of time, do not memorize a paragraph about yourself. Do this and you risk coming off as uncreative, scripted, and annoying. There is an easy way to avoid this: DO NOT MEMORIZE A PARAGRAPH. Seriously, you will practice your interview questions until you’re comfortable answering them. In the process you may find yourself using the same key phrases, but you should avoid the urge to memorize
Prepare the specifics of your story:
The story that you tell in your answer to this question is key to the rest of your interview. You should spend some time crafting it. Everyone’s story will be different but at minimum, yours should:
- Provide an overview of your academic and/or professional background (e.g.,” I graduated from NYU and have spent the past few years as a producer at WNYC’s news desk. I’ve covered a range of local news stories from politics to education and social policy”)
- Explain why you are interviewing (“I’ve enjoyed working in radio and over time I’ve found that I have a passion for reporting on education issues which is why this position is so interesting to me”)
- Provide humanizing tidbits that reveal your interests and personality (“Writing is my first love so I’d love to return to a career that involves writing. Plus I probably spend more time than I should keeping up with edchats and educator meetups)
After crafting your story, the next and final step is to practice. Answer this question out loud to yourself while looking in the mirror. Better yet, have someone listen to and critique your answer. You’ll be an interview ace in no time!