Answering tough questions

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“So, tell me about yourself”

This question starts off 99% of the interviews out there, it’s your first opportunity to make a great first impression, and yet almost no one practices it beforehand. Possibly because no one told you how to answer it properly, and possibly because it’s a hugely open ended question about the #1 thing you might be most uncomfortable talking about…you!

So most people wing it…and it’s disastrous.

Why is it so important to get it right?

If you get it right, you immediately grab the interviewers attention and you establish a confident, prepared tone. If you get it wrong, the interview is off to rough start within the first 60 seconds, the interviewer may disengage, and it may be difficult to regain interest. Also, remember that in a digital interview your words matter. They could be analyzed in the same way words on a resume are so be mindful of your keywords and phrasing.

What not to do

  • Do NOT start off with a long chronological list of your work history (“I started here, then I went here, then I went here, then I went here…”). This is usually coma-inducing.
  • Do NOT ramble and be mindful of the length of recorded response. Keep it concise. You can keep a great well-conceived answer under 60 seconds easily.
  • Do NOT fill it with irrelevant personal information about your kids or where you grew up
  • Do NOT unnaturally pack it with clichés like “team player” and “results oriented” but don’t be scared to use those phrases and keywords in an authentic way
  • Do NOT launch into a canned elevator pitch

Think about it: this is your FIRST chance to make a great impression and employers will often use this as an opener question. What do you want them to know about you up front? You want your answer to summarize a few key things about you, subtly introduce your suitability for the role you’re interviewing for, and sound like natural conversation.

How you should answer it

There’s no one single way to answer this, it will be very specific to you and your situation. But I recommend you have maybe 3-4 key points you want to mention, points that are relevant. By having key points in mind, you can say them in any order you want, and if you know in your head you have to hit each of these points, it may come out a bit differently every time, which is good because it sounds natural.

Some of the points you could mention include:

  • Summarize your work history in a very brief statement including the relevant parts:

“I’ve been in Marketing for the past 9 years…”

  • Mention your most recent position (if it’s relevant. If it’s not, leave it out):

“Most recently I worked as a Marketing Manager with First National Bank where I oversaw all marketing, advertising, special events, and communications for their entire line of investment products.”

  • Mention your education (again, only if it’s relevant):

“I hold an MBA in Marketing from…”

  • Briefly highlight some specific experience or skills that are relevant to this opportunity:

“For 5 of those 9 years I focused strictly on new product launches, both in Retail and Commercial products. Two of those products have already reached #1 in their markets.”

  • Highlight something you know about the position:

“I know that you are looking for someone with experience marketing at the national level. I’ve been reaching new markets throughout North America my whole career. It’s one of the reasons I was so excited about this role.” 

  • Emphasize your interest in the role and why you think you are a fit

Putting it all together:

Just practice linking your 3-4 key points together, and even practice making them a bit different each time. You’ll end up with a well-prepared and well-though-out answer that sounds natural and spontaneous:

“Well, as you can see in my resume I’ve been in marketing my entire career. I hold an MBA in Marketing from XYZ University and I’ve won two corporate awards for my work. For the last few years I’ve been with First National Bank as their Brand Manager, where I’ve been leading the marketing campaigns for their entire investment product portfolio. I know for this position you’re looking for someone with expertise in new product launches. With First National, we launched three full lines of new products after we acquired a small investment firm, and in 9 of the 12 products we placed in the Top 3 within the first 2 years. In addition to my marketing skills, I think I also have a genuine ability to lead people, to bring out their best – in fact, a number of staff followed me to First National for that reason. That probably covers it for now, unless there’s something in particular you’d like to hear about [smile].”

And there are probably 10 different versions of this answer. Just ensure you hit the key points.

So practice your answer. Nail down your 3-4 points you want to touch upon. Keep it concise, aim for under 60 seconds (45 even better). Practice making it flow and sound natural. And don’t forget to smile and be personable in front of the camera – even if there isn’t someone live on the other side. Remember, the response will be viewed by a recruiter so present to him or her as if you were live!