As a college career counselor, I conduct mock interviews with students almost daily during recruitment season. To make the mock interview more useful, students must complete Interview Stream prior to scheduling their appointment. Therefore, it confounds me that students – and alumni – trip over my first question during the mock interview:
“So, tell me about yourself.”
This question is often used by interviewers as a breaking the ice question. Trust me on this – nothing about this question is simple, easy or breaks the ice.
Students often tell me they dread this question, however, this is a question all students should be prepared to answer. If you use it as an opportunity to showcase your accomplishments and skills, you should be on your way to acing your interview.
Here are some basics to keep in mind:
DO NOT provide only information that is on your resume. The employer invited you to interview based on the content of your resume. Stating, “Well, my name is Tom and I’m majoring in Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University” is not only boring but it does not tell a recruiter anything they do not already know.
DO use this as an opportunity to stand-out. Be memorable. Share something with the interviewer that will make them remember you. On that same note, make sure it is appropriate. “When I pledged my fraternity, they dared me to…” can only end badly – even if your interviewer just happens to be a member of your fraternity.
DO NOT “wing it.” Your answer should be thoughtfully constructed. Again, this question may seem like a harmless, break the ice type of question but by answering this question poorly and without direction, you are setting yourself up for failure. Preparation equals success.
DO prepare by identifying how your strengths match the position. By highlighting two or three of your strengths, you have the unique opportunity to focus the direction of the interview. When deciding which of your strengths to highlight, consider the skills the position requires. Be able to share a short, but detailed example of how you utilized those skills.
DO NOT tell your life story. Your answer should be less than 2 minutes and closer to 90 seconds. Two minutes is a long time to talk. Opening with, “I was born in Chicago but we moved to Southwest Michigan when I was three. I am the middle child and, to be honest, I’m the typical middle child,” does not intrigue your interviewer – at all.
DO tell a story – your story. This question is really about how well you know yourself. Be professional but be yourself. Show some personality.
So…just how do you answer the question? Take some to time to think about the following:
How can you be memorable?
Why should the employer hire you? How do your strengths match the skills required to be successful in the position?
What impression do you want the recruiter to have about you?
Write out your answer. Yes, I said WRITE IT OUT. Then practice it. Practice it with friends. Practice it in front of the mirror. Practice, practice, practice. While you certainly should not repeat it verbatim during the interview, you should be able to consistently and concisely cover your main objectives.