This question’s been haunting job seekers since the dawn of interviewing. The truth about it is that it’s not actually a question — it’s a starting point. A way to put the conversation into perspective, for you to give a brief explanation of the events that have led you to this meeting. Think of it as a way to lay the groundwork for the conversation.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds. The key to not bombing it? Saying just the right amount — not too much, not too little — to paint a broad picture of where you are, where you’re coming from and where you’d like to go with your career (in approximately 90 seconds).
Here’s how to crush it:
- Take The Lead
Since you’re bound to be asked about your skills, your employment history and maybe where you see yourself in the years to come, use your response to this open-ended query (it typically comes early in the meeting) to address other key points and to set the tone. Avoid regurgitating the stuff on your resume. And don’t bother trying to lay out your qualifications—the very fact that you’ve been invited in means that the hiring manager thinks you’ve got the cred.
- Tell A Story
Instead of describing your top qualities or your greatest professional attributes (“I’m a fast learner. I’m detail-oriented. I always meet deadlines”), tell a story that demonstrates these things. How can you show your passion for problem-solving in this field? What are examples of times you utilized your sharp attention to detail to benefit a project?
- Express Interest
While you’ll probably have other opportunities throughout the interview to show you’ve done your research on the company, now’s a good time to discuss why you’re motivated to work there and what you believe you bring to the table. How can you say something meaningful about yourself and establish a connection with the company’s product or mission? By tying in details you’ve gleaned about the organization in this answer, you’re setting yourself up well to further demonstrate your understanding of the company and the valuable role you’d play.
Once you’ve gone over what you want to say and how to articulate it, practice. Again. And then again.
Don’t just read your carefully crafted response to yourself; read it aloud in front of a mirror, or better yet, with a partner. It’s going to feel awkward, but it’s an important step. Interview preparation is a huge part of acing this part of the job search process.
That said, you don’t need to necessarily memorize your answer to this classic question. You don’t want it to come out sounding canned. Practice a few versions of how to respond and remember that the most crucial part of interviewing is to be yourself.
“Ask A Career Coach: What’s The Best Way To Answer, “Tell Me About Yourself?” was originally published on The Muse.