Question:

How do I answer this interview question: “Tell me about yourself”? I struggle with that.

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Advice from Dana:

I think you are in good company. Most people approach this in one of the following ways:

  1. Babble on and on, hoping to say one or two things that interest the interviewer(s).
  2. Do a résumé walk-through. This is incorrect because the interviewer didn’t say, “Walk me through your resume.” That’s a different question.
  3. Stumble, hesitate and use too many filler words like “umm,” as if it’s the first time the question has ever been asked.

“Tell me about yourself” is concurrently one of the most common interview prompts and one of the most poorly answered. This question, along with others such as, “What are your strengths,” “what are your weaknesses,” etc., should all be scripted well before the interview.

I purposely wrote two chapters on interviews in my book, specifically on all of the things you can do long before an interview (and NOT the night before!). In the book I recommend writing out all of the most commonly asked questions and your short answers to them.

How short is short? Apply the “law of threes”: Three bullet-point length phrases. Say three short sentences, and then stop talking. I repeat: three bullets, then shut up!

So let’s practice with, “tell me about yourself.” Here’s a template for handling this one:

  1. First sentence: Your educational background
  2. Second sentence: Your work history
  3. Third sentence: Why you are making a career change and interviewing with them now.

Let’s put it into motion:

  1. I have a strong educational foundation with a bachelor’s of science in economics from the University of California at Santa Barbara and an MBA from UCLA.
  2. My sales and marketing work experience spans multiple industries. I spent seven years with IBM, 10 years with McKesson, and the most recently five years with Verizon.
  3. I am interested in expanding my career into international marketing and I am very interested in the global marketing role we are discussing today.

After you make your three fabulous statements, stop talking, smile, and let the interviewer ask the next question.

Here are the two most common fears people have with this recommendation:

  1. “I’m afraid I’ll sound scripted.” First, you won’t. Second, that problem beats the opposite, which is sounding like you don’t know your own background.
  2. “It doesn’t feel like enough.” Trust that the interviewer will ask you for more if they want more. Often, they are simply looking for your ability to distill a lot of information into a compact summary.
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