Career Tip of the Month

Tell Me About Yourself

"Tell me about yourself?" is one of the most common, and most difficult, interview question job seekers will face. An employer will often use this question as an "ice-breaker" during the initial minutes of the interview, but remember that this is NOT a social question. So please don't tell them about your relationship status, what movies you saw, or what hobbies you enjoy. What the employer really wants to know is if you have the educational background, skills, and work experience that they are looking for in a candidate.

The "Tell me about yourself" question is a test - test of your preparedness for the interview and of your ability to summarize your educational background, relevant work experience, and personal abilities to the employer. Ultimately, it's a test of how well you can sell yourself. The problem is that most students, when faced with this question, are often totally unprepared and usually end up stammering, "Uhhhh ..." (not the right answer).

The answer to "Tell me about yourself," just like any other answer provided during an interview, should always be focused on your education background, your skills and knowledge, and your past experience - and, ultimately, on how these will benefit the employer. In other words: work and school. The proper response is to provide a summary of where you are in your educational career, a few highlights about your strengths or qualifications, and any other tidbits of information that will round out your desirability as a candidate.

Let's look at some examples:

Poor answer: "Well, I just turned 21, enjoy sky diving, and have over 600 friends on Facebook." While this may be is a great answer in any other social situation, it unfortunately tells the employer absolutely nothing about why they should hire you.

Better answer: "I will be graduating with a bachelor's degree in communications with a minor in web design from Famous State University this May. During my fall semester I completed a 20-hour-a-week internship at XYZ Communications in which I designed and maintained their social media website."

In this example, the response provided the answers to:

1. Who you are and your current situation.

2. What you have accomplished.

Become comfortable with certain talking points, such as:

* What you know about the industry and the company, and how it relates to your education and experience.

* The aspects of the potential new job that you're excited about.

* How your skills will fit the position.

* Your ambitions and accomplishments in a relevant manner.

* And anything about your personality that is applicable to the job (leader, team player, enjoy research, etc.).

Here's a good example of a well thought-out response:

"I've been interested in chemistry since high school. In college I was able to work with Dr. Lazarus in his research on polymers. In my internship with Idea Corporation, I was able to successfully take what I learned in the classroom and apply it to my laboratory projects. I enjoy team projects and have successfully led some of these projects. Everything I've read about your company and what I've learned about the position during this interview has only reinforced my desire to work here. I'm very focused and I believe I have what it takes to be successful in this position."

This response has now provided the perfect invitation for the employer to ask in more detail about your internships and past training.

Avoid opening the door to any shortcomings. Don't use statements like, "I've learned from my mistakes...," or "After I struggled with my previous major..." Statements like that will only lead to uncomfortable follow-up questions that may put you on the defensive.

Most people either have a hard time coming up with a list of accomplishments and skills, or underestimate their abilities and accomplishments. I usually ask students to make a list of what they've accomplished since they've been enrolled in college. Another good exercise is to ask yourself how your friends might describe you - are you a leader, team player, smart, creative, detail oriented, organized? These are all good words to describe what you can bring to the work setting.

Ask your friends or family to help you create your list by asking them what they like best about you. You'll find that other people will have no problem rattling off your accomplishments (and your strengths and weaknesses). You may even receive some surprising answers. Whether you like (or don't like) what you hear, someone else's perspective is crucial to helping you move closer to viewing yourself through the eyes of an employer. You may also begin to realize what you do have to offer and how valuable you really are!

Once you have constructed a solid answer that describes who you are as an emerging professional, you can use that statement in an intereveiw, when talking to recruiters at a job fair, in a Summary statement on your resume, or in your LinkedIn profile.