It seems like the most harmless of all interview opening lines: “So tell me about yourself.” The question is simple enough, but the truth is that most of us have flubbed a response to this opening line at some point in our careers because it's open-ended and appears to lack an agenda or clear purpose. So think of this as your chance to seize the interviewer's agenda -- and keep your response focused squarely on the job for which you're interviewing. Remember that an interviewer doesn't want to know where you grew up, the names of your children, or your favorite author. She really wants to know why you would be an asset to the company and what you can contribute. Before the interview, refine your answer and practice it ahead of time, so you can rest assured that you’ll set a promising tone for the rest of the interview.
Review the job description with the precision of a surgeon before the interview. Highlight the key requirements of the job and the skills and attributes for which the employer is looking. Preparation is vital, so take the time you need and don’t rush your review process.
Exhibit your enthusiasm for the job right from the start. As soon as you hear, “So tell me about yourself," pause only briefly and smile to set the stage for your “perfect” answer. You might begin by saying, “Well, I can tell you that I’m very enthused about this position. From the description, it sounds as though I could hit the ground running and make key contributions right away. Here’s why...” With the ground properly set, continue planting those seeds.
Segue to your most recent work experiences, underscoring the direct parallels to the position. Focus on your key accomplishments. You might say for example, “I developed key strategic partnerships with more than a dozen businesses in less than a year -- and I’m confident I can do the same for you.” You also might allude to the revenue these new partnerships generated for your employer. By being specific and positive, you also are quietly establishing yourself as a can-do person – just the kind of person who would be an asset to this company, too.
Link your personal attributes to the job description in a deft manner. Be conversational and humble, but look the interviewer directly in the eye to convey your confidence. You might say, “I agree that it looks good on paper, but the other key to developing these partnerships is working with people. And I pride myself on prompt follow-up, attention to detail and being a resource for my clients.” By now, the seeds of optimism should be sprouting in the mind of your interviewer, so water and fertilize them for a winning finish.
Wrap up your answer with an optimistic statement of how your career objective matches the position for which you're interviewing. You might say, “I want to be part of a team that understands that the best strategic alliances are forged with a focus on fulfilling a customer’s needs -- and this is why I’m especially enthused about the challenges of this position.”
Follow your gut instinct -- and if you feel sure that you have retained the full attention of your interviewer, allude to your references. You might say for example, “By all means, please feel free to contact my references. I think they would fortify what makes me tick as a professional.” Either way, bask in the knowledge that you’ve taken what appears to be a harmless interview line and turned it into a bouquet of reasons to hire you.
- Practice your answer so that you properly cover all the high points but still sound personable and conversational – in other words, not rehearsed and robotic.
- Always send a thank-you e-mail -- or personal note -- no more than a day following an interview.
With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.