Career satisfaction,  EQ,  Personal Brand

“Tell Me About Yourself” – Why It Is Hard and What To Do About It

Frequent flyers in the job market already know how this easy question could sometimes become quite daunting. During an interview coaching, I ask the clients to answer it first. Interestingly enough, even the expert interviewers have difficulty talking about themselves. Some of the common patterns are:

Pattern 1 – They walk through the resume chronologically.

Example: “I received my BS degree from the University of Kentucky, then I joined x company, worked there until 2002 as a junior software engineer, then I moved to y company and worked there until 2007, got promoted to a supervisor position. After that …” (At this point, my brain starts hurting )

Pattern 2 – They are pretty brief and deliver it with very little enthusiasm.

Example: “I have a BS degree from the University of Kentucky, then I work at the x company and then at the y company. I have relevant experience for this job, and I am very passionate about working in x area.”

When I ask them to evaluate their response, I usually get, “I was nervous,” “didn’t know what to say about myself,” and “it felt awkward.”

So, what would be a better way to answer this question?

It’s not a matter of giving them a perfect cheat sheet to memorize and practice. We need to take a deeper look at the underlying cause before working on the words.

Address The Underlying Issues

What are the limiting beliefs about your competencies and experiences? How much do you believe in yourself? If you don’t see yourself as a strong candidate, it leads to the “imposter syndrome.” For example, I was coaching a young woman who thought her diverse work experience was negative. That was enough to drive other self-sabotaging behavior even during our mock interview session. Another one I coached was feeling like a victim as she had to move for her husband’s job.

When I first came into coaching, I practiced my elevator pitch with my coach. She noticed my voice energy was very low when I said: “I am a coach.” Her feedback helped me realize the root cause was that deep inside, I didn’t believe I was a coach.

A good coach can address such issues by helping the client see the value of their background. It’s a development opportunity that may take time over multiple sessions and some internal work from the client’s side.

The truth is, life happens and very few of us has a “perfect” career story. If we focus on the imperfection, we make it far worse than it actually is!

Organize Your Delivery

So, what is the purpose of this “Tell me about yourself” question? The interviewer wants to feel how your experience can add value to their team. Make it easier for them to answer it for themselves. They are busy with their work; don’t assume they have already read and memorized your resume. The purpose of your answer is to make them curious to learn more.

Treat this question as a short essay about yourself. Give them a teaser to get curious but don’t bore them with too much details.

Here is a template:

  1. Introduction – Give a 10,000 ft overview of yourself, and use the words that will resonate with the requirements for this job.

I have a BS from the University of Kentucky. I have three years of experience in the development sector as a field worker performing XYZ at Care International, followed by two years as a program director and supervisor at We Rise Together, managing grants and budgets.

2. Body – Pick 2-3 points listed in the job description. Elaborate on them with your experience.

Throughout my career, I have gained broad experience, including

  • Understanding different phases of a Project – As a program director, I had the opportunity to understand better all the various stages, the stakeholders, and the complexities that can arise. I successfully delivered a project of $5M involving x and managed five field workers.
  • Skill/Strength/experience 2 – Elaborate on what role or project you experienced this
  • <add any relevant awards/recognition>

3. Conclusion – Say something about why you are passionate about this job and how your background helps you and them to be successful. 1-2 sentences.

I am very passionate about the development sector as it makes a difference in the lives of the less fortunate. I believe this program coordinator position at your organization would be an excellent fit for me as I can utilize my prior experience and get an opportunity to stretch and grow.

For each position, make sure to tailor it. As a preparation, write down, refine, and practice until you can say it naturally. When you practice, you may record it on your phone and then listen and refine it. You may also have a friend listen and give you feedback. Lengthwise, it shouldn’t take more than two minutes with regular pauses.

In this article, William Vanderbloemen, the CEO of the executive search firm Vanderbloemen Search Group, said,

“When you’re interviewing for a job, you’re marketing yourself.

“When I ask candidates to tell me about themselves, I’m looking for self-awareness. The standout candidates are the ones who also show me where their strengths lie, the kind of work they naturally gain energy from.” 

An interview is when you and the interviewer are having a conversation. So, when you prepare authentically, you are doing a service to both you and the interviewer. And if it doesn’t work out in the end, that’s ok. So eat some chocolate, self-care, recover, and then move on. Good Luck!

Another resource from Harvard Business Review: How to Introduce Yourself. If this resonates with you, let’s have a chat. Contact me for a chemistry call.

Image by Sue Styles from Pixabay

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