“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” ― Oscar Wilde
Interviewing is a skill.
Your ability to interact with the interviewer and to convey your thoughts are just as crucial factors to landing a job as are the qualifications listed on your resume. Every interview begins with the inevitable question- Tell me about yourself. Often, this is the very first question and we all can agree that often the first impressions are the most lasting.
Let’s understand the intention behind asking this question so we can craft our best response to it. As a senior software engineer who has been an interviewee and an interviewer, here are some of my thoughts:
The hiring manager not only hires a candidate for their technical skills but also from the viewpoint that they are building a team. The hiring manager/ interviewers like to know and understand if the candidate’s personality and their career goals complement the team and how can the candidate fit/ enhance their team culture.
This is also a great ice breaker question and serves as a good starting point for the follow-up questions and conversations.
Therefore, a well-crafted response to this question should be:
It should not be a rehearse of the resume or LinkedIn profile because the interviewer probably has seen it.
Strategies for crafting your best response
There are parts of the response that stay generic and parts that are very specific for the role being interviewing for. A few things that can aid here:
1. The job description
The typical job description usually talks about the team, the role, and the skills required to be successful in this job. Begin with scrutinizing the job description like a treasure map and extract its secrets- Phrases like “required,” “must-have,” and “highly desired” are the clues to what the desired candidate is expected to be proficient with.
Carefully read through the job description to highlight a few of the prominent required skills and strengths which you possess. Pay special attention to items under headers like “What We Are Looking For” and “What We Need.” Those are direct hits on our treasure map. Using pointers from the job description can help to highlight your strengths to showcase in the answer.
2. Your experience
Depending on where you are in your career, you have some experience that can map to answer this question. The interesting thing here is that the experience does not just equate to total years of work experience but also the exposure one has to work on different projects, the nature, scale, and impact of those projects, the technologies worked on, and many other factors.
Moreover, it is a good way to showcase your interest in other workplace initiatives that do not confine to the day to day roles and responsibilities. For example, being an active volunteer for an organization whose cause you are very passionate about or an employee resource group at your company, participating in diversity and culture initiatives, etc.
3. Your WHY
When you apply to a position, there is something about the job description and/ or the company that seems very appealing. It could be the excitement of working on a large scale project or cross-functional teams, working in a company known for their culture or their super cool product, the impact in real-world, and a lot more.
Find a way to showcase this through your answer.
4. Rehearse and get feedback
We all know Practice makes Perfect. It stands true here as well. It helps to list down the points for your Tell me about Yourself question. Read it over and see if it feels genuine, succinct, and most importantly- engaging.
How does it portray you? Does it tell your unique story, your aspirations, and your experience? Furthermore, it helps gauge the timing of the response. Is it too long? Too short? Or just right?
Practicing this helps identify the gaps and refine the answer. Once you have a response that feels right, practice it in front of a mirror or with a friend/ family member. Another useful idea is to use a voice memo and record the answer. Play it over and see if you can do better.
The idea behind practicing is not to recite and memorize. But to refine your pitch, tone, and be more confident. Ultimately, your mind and mouth need to work in harmony to convey an idea through the response.
By utilizing some of the strategies listed above, ensure that you have matched the company’s brand, primary need, it’s mission and values with who you are and your personal story, all while answering the question directly.