You know it’s coming, but it still freezes you in your tracks like a deer in the headlights.
Maybe it’s right after you sit down in the visitor’s chair, across the desk from the interviewer. Or maybe it’s ten or fifteen minutes into your conversation, just when you start to think you might escape this time.
But then it hits you. The interviewer flips through your file, folds her hands on top of her desk, looks at you expectantly and says the words that strike fear in the hearts of every job-seeker:
“So… tell me about yourself.”
Do you start at childhood? Or do you fast-forward to high school and the time your science fair project won honorable mention in the the all-county finals? Or perhaps she’d like you to fast-forward to today and tell her all about your recent success at achieving a PR in the WOD at the local CrossFit box?
So many options… and so few of them are RIGHT.
In fact, in my 14 years as a hiring manager and then career coach, I would say there’s a 70 to 80 percent chance you’ll be asked this question in some format in your next interview. And there’s about a 90+ percent chance you’ll answer it wrong.
Those aren’t great odds!
But never fear. Once you learn how to frame your response, you’ll actually look forward to answering this question. It’s a huge gift, an opportunity for you to tell them exactly why they should hire you by demonstrating how you already fit what they’re looking for.
What are they looking for?
When a hiring manager says, “Tell me about yourself,” they don’t want a ten-minute discourse on your likes, dislikes, and your views on the latest episode of “The Bachelor.” Instead, they’re looking for information that allows them to intuit whether you’ll be a good fit at the company and in the particular role they’re interviewing for.
The better you can position yourself, the better your chances of standing out and making the interviewer sit up and say, “Heck YEAH!” (even if only in their head).
How to frame your answer
I advise my clients to use the “Present/Past/Future” framework. It looks something like this:
Interviewer: “So, tell me about yourself.”
You (smiling internally): “Well, currently I _________________________. (present)
Before that I ________________________. (past)
In the future I ________________________. (future)”
Interviewer: “You’re hired!”
Okay, okay. It’s not quite THAT effective, but it does work amazingly well. The key is knowing EXACTLY what your signature strengths are, and how those strengths are relevant to the position and company you’re interested in.
(NOTE: If you’re wondering what “signature strengths” are, and how to figure yours out, please check out the free course I’ve put together specifically for this purpose. I’ll walk you through exactly how to define your core strengths. It’s an essential first step in your job search so you can make sure you’re interviewing ONLY for positions in which you can apply your unique abilities and skills and really shine.)
Testing it out
Now that you’ve got a general idea of the framework, let me provide a specific example for you. Let’s say I’m a Human Resources manager interviewing for a position in Training and Development (I only have a little bit of Training and Development experience so this is a career change)
Interviewer: “So, Tell me about yourself?”
Currently, I’m an HR manager with ____ I’m responsible for the labor budget of around $7 million and all things people related. One of my my favorite things is work on training and development projects, for example I got to create a training program from the ground up to teach our leadership teams how to coach with a growth mindset. After we put it into practice we saw an average increase in productivity by 9% with the departments of all the leaders that went through the program
Before that, I worked with other companies in other types of HR management, specifically in global retention.
In the future, I would love to work with a company helping them improve their business by making Learning, Training and Development a real living part of their organization and culture. I’ve discovered that my favorite things I have done in the last 10 years are all in this area!
Why it works
You probably picked up on a few things I did in this example:
- I answered the question only with relevant information. I didn’t add extraneous information, no matter how impressive.
- I focused on what positions me as an expert. I talked specific metrics, such as reducing turnover 10 percent and managing a $7 million budget.
- I shared my passion. I didn’t say, “I’m really strong in blah blah blah.” I said, “What I love to do is this.” People assume when you love something, you’re good at it. So when I say, “I love getting buy-in on company-wide initiatives,” I’m actually helping them see me in the role.
Also, managers want to hire not just for competency, but for energy and engagement as well. Telling them what makes me excited shows them that I’d bring that motivation and energy to the position.
Now it’s your turn
So here’s what you need to do to next:
- If you don’t already know your signature strengths, check out the free course here.
- Write out your script in the Present/Past/Future framework, focusing on your strengths and the relevant portions of your story (as you interview with different companies and for different positions, you will need to customize this every time to what’s relevant for them).
- Practice sharing your answer verbally until it sounds natural. Test it out live in your next interview.