The Interview Coach: “Tell Me About Yourself”

December 18, 2012 |

Job Interview Prep

Question:

What is the best way to answer the question “Tell me about yourself”? How far back should I go? I am applying to psychiatry residency programs and have a number of interviews.

Answer:

By doing some basic preparation, you can determine your uniqueness and where you should focus your attention. The first step in this process is to identify your five strengths. These strengths are the areas where you do very well. This may take some thought on your part. What are your strengths?

Think about previous performance appraisals – what was said or written about you? What would your co-workers or ex bosses say about you?

•       List the skills and experiences you have that would be required in the type of job you are seeking. For instance, a technical job would focus on programs, languages, and platforms, etc.

•       Give some thought to those skills in which you excel, those that are referred to as the “soft skills.” These skills can be viewed as transferable– you can take them with you to any job you hold. Examples of these skills are your communication and people skills, or your time-management and project-management skills, or your ability to build strong relationships, or your ability to influence others.

 •       Lastly, think of the personal traits that make you unique. Maybe you never miss deadlines, or perhaps you are willing to do above and beyond what is asked, or perhaps you have a great attitude. (Don’t dismiss these traits–many people have been fired for negative personal traits rather than for lack of knowledge).

When you have identified your five strengths, make a list of those strengths and some examples of when those strengths have helped you achieve results on the job. It will be essential that you can not only identify your strengths, but that you also have examples and stories of times when you demonstrated those strengths in the past.

The next step is to look at the job postings and ads. In fact, look at several job postings that would be of interest to you. Your goal is to find key words and phrases. For this exercise, don’t limit yourself to geographical location. Look at jobs of interest located anywhere.

When you have several postings, read each word and sentence carefully, taking notes as you do. What are they looking for? What words appear consistently in almost every posting?

 Now, take a piece of paper and divide it in half. On one side of the paper write, “What they are looking for,” and on the other side, “What I have to offer.”  Each time you apply for a position, it will be invaluable for you to know how you stand against what they are looking for. This exercise will help you see how close a match you are and where you should focus.

Your next step is to add your uniqueness to the “What I have to offer” list. Some postings will list additional skills required, which make it easier for you to see what is important to them. An example would be, “Must have excellent communications skills, strong organizational skills, and be a willing team player.” If these words appear in most of your posting examples, then make sure that these are a part of your focus. Can you work these words and your five strengths into the interview to demonstrate your fit — and then some? Some postings will be more vague about what it takes to get the job done and will require reading between the lines to determine what other skills are necessary.

In summary, by narrowing your uniqueness to these five basic points, you can guide the conversation to include this information. By focusing on five strengths, you will be prepared with examples of times when you have used these strengths.

Whenever possible, give examples to show how you have “been there and done that,” and can do it again. It will be necessary to demonstrate that you have what it takes, and then some, to be unique in this market.

When you walk out of that interview room, your interviewers may not remember all five of your points; but if they remember even two of the points that make you unique, you will be ahead of the game!

We have an automated program online to help you prepare your “Tell me about yourself” statement – it’s located at
www.jobwinningbrand.com – answer a few questions, push a button and your 5-point statement is ready for you to practice!

I wish you well in your endeavor. Thanks for posting.

Best wishes,
Carole Martin

Job interview expert Carole Martin has been a prime contributor to our Veteran Jobs blog, and offers her advice to veterans and service members who have questions, general or specific, about tackling the civilian job interview process. Send Carole your questions at interviewquestions@interviewcoach.com, and moving forward, we’ll feature her answers in this blog.

About Ho Lin

Ho Lin is an editor at Military.com. His interests include naval history, the New York football Giants, and loud rock music.

Comments

  1. Racine says:

    It is my understanding that President Obama eliminated those knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics when the new Federal Hiring Reform was created. Therefore, many applicants assume that those questions no longer exist. However, some employers skill may ask similar questions to determine whether or not the appropriate applicant is selected despite the best qualified method. Please post any comments to assist me in understanding employment hiring practices verses employment laws.