So, Tell Me About Yourself: A 3 Point Strategy to Answering This Interview Question
You did it: you landed the interview. You spent hours doing company research and crafting the perfect cover letter. You tweaked your resume ever so slightly to keep the most relevant information front and center. You checked out that insider info on that company on Glassdoor, but reading each review with a grain of salt. Hell, maybe you were super proactive and sought out some current employees on LinkedIn before you applied. You finally mustered up the mental and emotional fortitude to hit “Submit” on the application after triple checking every. single. box. Then, finally, a week and a couple recruiting phone calls later, you get the message, you made it to the in-person interview!
You get yourself ready with the biggest mood swings you’ve ever experienced, ranging from borderline cockiness to complete anxiety attack. And there’s no in-between. You finally get there, walk in, play the waiting game, and get in front of the person who will decide if you’re the “right fit” for their company, their brand, and their culture. And then you’ll be asked a question so simple, so non-threatening that you didn’t even think about it.
It comes in a few different forms, but most likely the exact question will be “So, tell me about yourself?” By the time I got my first big boy interview, the above was more or less my process for job hunting, but with a lot more bourbon and 5 hour drives to Connecticut. I spent hours, possibly even days, going over my extensive collegiate academic and professional experiences. I became a master at making a part-time internship look like I was a damn CEO and twisting a club presidency into a MUCH bigger deal than it really was. The perks of being a big fish in a small pond, but I digress.
What I wasn’t prepared for, and one that I had only partially thought about, was talking about just me. Or at least, that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. It really is something that most of us tend to gloss over when prepping for an interview when so many companies are looking at your personality, or sales numbers, or what internship you did last summer (and yes, you should have an internship under your belt by the time you graduate).
After a multitude of interviews, reading several LinkedIn articles, and consulting with some former professors and bosses, here is a solid way to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself?”
It is most commonly called the Present, Past, Future method, and it has seriously helped with how I approach the beginning portion of the interview. The basic premise is pretty simple: talk about yourself in terms of what you’re doing, what you have done, and what you’d like to be doing in the near future, presumably for this company you’re interviewing with.
This part of your answer, along with the Past, are more or less going to be a brief walkthrough of your resume but with some added details. This part is generally pretty easy to answer to anyone who is interviewing you. What are you doing currently? Maybe you’ve just graduated from college and you’re in the Job Hunt Jungle with the rest of America’s recent graduates. Definitely highlight anything relevant that you are currently involved in, which can be a range of things like finishing up classes or helping a new executive team transition into the organization you’re involved with. As an example, a lot of times my response for this part would be along the lines of:
“Well, right now I’m doing some traveling back and forth from New York to here in Connecticut for things like interviews and to do some apartment hunting. In the mean time I’m helping my academic program director out with transitioning the new leadership team of our Sport Management Club so that they can hit the ground running in the fall.”
Because I was so fresh out of college, I didn’t have much to currently show in terms of job performance, but that’s okay. I was able to highlight my experience in a leadership role in a club/student government organization, which was included on my resume but might be something that hiring managers overlook for more relevant items like internships or college attended or degree earned. Revealing that I’m currently apartment hunting shows commitment to moving to the area and dropping that subtle tidbit that I’ve been on other interviews says less of, “I’m a hot commodity” and more of, “I’m not a total loser.”
This is not, I repeat, NOT the time to talk about the time you did a 52-second keg stand at Sig Ep house last fall. We’re not talking about that kind of past, so just relax. Instead, this part of your answer is where you go over anything you’ve done in your last job or internship that has real and relevant applications to the position you’re applying for. The important thing is to really try to match some past experience with your prospective job. Employers love applicants with transferable skills, and they will love you as an applicant even more if you are able to communicate those skills during the interview. Sometimes, this might be a stretch, in which case, maybe dig a couple years in your work/internship history.
At the time I was interviewing every week in Connecticut, I was applying for a lot of marketing positions. I was able to tailor this perfectly to the previous summer’s internship as well as work I did as an undergraduate planning an event for a local sports team. Even though the jobs weren’t always in the sports field, the marketing experiences, and skills I learned from those experiences, were applicable to a wide range of jobs.
This is where you start to tie your present and your past in with where you want to go in the future. Make sure you immediately communicate to whomever is interviewing you that you see working at their company in your future. If you can tie your potential future employer in multiple short and/or long term goals, it will show that you have given employment at the organization some serious thought and that you would be committed to the organization. Assuming that you’re already pretty ambitious, I would definitely suggest mentioning that vertical moves within the company or organization (read: promotions) are on your mind and that you look forward to proving yourself in whatever way that takes place.
Personally, I would always mention my interest in leadership positions, unique opportunities outside of (what would be) my current job roles, and my willingness to adapt and improvise my skillset to match the goals of the organization. Because I was moving to the area from far away, I would also talk about how excited I am to get to know my new surroundings and finally find an apartment. This was a last attempt by me to leave no doubt in my interviewers mind that I was committed to relocating for this job. You may not need to worry about this, but if you do, it’s certainly a nice little strategy without being too overbearing about it.
So there it is! A quick three point strategy to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself?”
There are certainly other ways to do this, and I would encourage you to look up as many interview tips as possible, talk to old professors or bosses, and practice interviews with your friends and roommates as often as you can. Questions will always trip you up, but what matters is how well you think fast and adapt to the situation. Now, let’s go get this money, y’all.
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