How to Answer the “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question, with Katherine Burik

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Transcript

Mac Prichard: Hi, this is Mac, from Mac’s List. Before we start the show, I want to let you know about my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. I’ve been helping job seekers find meaningful, well-paying work since 2001, and now I’ve put all my best advice into one easy-to-use guide. My book shows you how to make your resume stand out in a stack of applications, where you can find the hidden jobs that never get posted, and what you need to do to ace your next job interview. Get the first chapter now for free; visit Mac’sList.org/anywhere.

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host, and publisher of Mac’s List.

I’m joined by my co-hosts, Ben Forstag and Jessica Black, from the Mac’s List team.

This week we’re talking about how to answer one of the most popular job interview questions, “Tell me about yourself?”

Almost every hiring manager you meet in a job interview will ask, “Tell me about yourself?” It’s a simple question, but your answer offers an opportunity to stand out in the hiring process, says this week’s guest expert Katherine Burik. She and I talk later in the show.

Most of us will work into our sixties or even later, and one or more of your future jobs may not even exist yet. To prove the point, Ben Forstag has found a list of jobs today that didn’t exist ten years ago. He’ll share it with us in a moment.

You interview for a job but the employer chooses another candidate, and later you learn, according to the employer that you’re overqualified. What does this really mean and what can you do about it? That’s our listener question of the week. It comes from Andrew Cameron in Portland, Oregon. Jessica Black offers her advice shortly.

As always, let’s check in with the Mac’s List team. Jessica, welcome back. You were out of town for our last episode or two.

Jessica Black: Thank you, it’s good to be back.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, we missed you. We had a great co-host filling in for you, but it’s always good to have you here in the studio.

Jessica Black: It’s good to be here; thanks for having me.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, so our topic this week is a question we’ve all gotten in an interview. I think it’s a perennial one. And that’s when the interviewer says to you “Tell me about yourself.” Ben, Jessica, how have you two answered that question in your own job searches? What have you said, or what have you heard when you’ve interviewed people that has impressed you?

Ben Forstag: Well, I was born on a cold November morning in 1979.

Mac Prichard: It was a dark and stormy night, wasn’t it?

Ben Forstag: Perhaps. I don’t remember it.

Mac Prichard: Well, it was Ohio.

Ben Forstag: It was Ohio, so it probably was dark and stormy. I think…well I’m jesting there…I think one of the problems that people run into with this question is they go into their full biography and that’s not really what the interviewer is looking for. What I try to do is do a very quick, like within two sentences, summarize my professional career and then go right into why I’m sitting at the table talking to this person and what I hope to do for them and what I hope they can do for me as well.

I don’t actually ask this question when I interview people. I usually ask them a much more direct question which is, “What are you doing here today? Tell me why you’re here.” But it gets at the same idea which is, “What about this position and this organization interests you and how can you help me if we brought you on board?”

Jessica Black: I think you asked me, “Tell me about yourself.”

Ben Forstag: No, I’m almost positive I said, “What brings you here today?” or “Why are you here today?”

Jessica Black: Hmmm.

Ben Forstag: I can go get my notes.

Jessica Black: Memories are differing.

Ben Forstag: That must have been the other startlingly, attractive, brilliant person I interviewed.

Jessica Black: So true.

Mac Prichard: Right.

Jessica Black: Easily confusable.

Mac Prichard: Well, it sounds like you got that question either from Ben or another interview so.

Jessica Black: Well, I could have sworn it was Ben. But I don’t know, it has been almost six months so maybe my memory is fading. But yeah, I generally, like Ben said, try to keep it as brief as possible, but give a sort of robust profile of who I am as a person and how my history has brought me to the place that I am now. But I usually say, “I’m a born and raised Portlander” to kind of give a little bit of personal touch as well and then a brief little history of the common threads of my work history.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, I’m following the footsteps of you two. I break it into three parts: the who: who I am; then the why: why I’m interested in the job; then the third part is the how: how I think I can help this employer. If I can do that in two to three minutes, in a way that can spark a conversation while leaving an impression, I think I’ve done my job.

Jessica Black: Yeah, that’s good.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, well we’ll hear more about this from Katherine, because she is an expert on this question and she’s actually written a book about it.

Jessica Black: Wow, I’m excited to hear what she says.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, but first let’s turn to you, Ben. You’re out there every week, poking around the internet, looking for tools, tips, books, and other resources people can use in their job search. What have you uncovered for us this week?

Ben Forstag: This week I want to share an interesting list of jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago. And I want to give a hat tip on this resource to Hannah Morgan who was actually our guest way back on episode fifty-five.

She shared this on her Twitter account – you can follow her at https://twitter.com/careersherpa – and I happened to see it when I was working on my show notes last week and thought it would be a good resource to share with our listeners (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/06/10-jobs-that-didn-t-exist-10-years-ago/).

Mac Prichard: Great, well, what jobs are on the list?

Ben Forstag: Well, before I get there, I want to highlight one thing that I think happens a lot. I know when I was high school, we had our once a year meeting with a career counselor. And he or she would ask us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And we were supposed to have all the answers. And I feel like that’s something that repeats itself over and over and over again. Including, frankly, in interviews when people say like, “Where do you want to be in five or ten years?”

Usually my response to that is always kind of shrugging and putting my hands up. And the truth of the matter is our careers evolve and change and go in directions we don’t predict ahead of time.  Part of that is the economy itself and the opportunities that are available are constantly changing. Things that we couldn’t imagine ten years ago exist as good paying awesome careers now.

So, these are the ten careers that didn’t exist ten years ago, way back in 2007. Are you ready for it?

Mac Prichard: I am. I was gonna say, podcast host might be on the list, but I think podcasts have been around since ‘03 or ‘04.

Ben Forstag: I think they were like in their infancy, but they were around.

Mac Prichard: Okay.

Ben Forstag:

So here are the ten jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago.

  • App Developer
  • Social Media Manager
  • Uber Driver- I don’t think Uber was around five years ago at this point.
  • Driverless Car Engineer- that’s barely around now, but it’s coming.
  • Cloud Computing Specialist
  • Big Data Analyst/Data Scientist
  • Sustainability Manager- these are the people who make sure businesses are being eco-friendly and minimizing their ecological footprint.
  • YouTube content creators – I was barely aware that this was even a job, let alone two years ago, but people are making some big money doing this.
  • Drone Operators
  • And the final one: Millennial Generation Experts, and I actually know at least one millennial generation expert.

Mac Prichard: So, okay. That’s quite a list. What advice do you have for listeners who are thinking about this, “Well how do I prepare for jobs, for example, that I don’t even know might exist in five or ten or fifteen years?”

Ben Forstag: You know, I don’t think there is a way to fine-tune your resume for a job that doesn’t exist yet. I think there are certain skills that you work towards. Certain subject matter expertises, for example. Or just kind of general soft skills like communications, or writing, or things like that. If you’re a real tech expert for example, and you’ve got a deep proficiency in coding or some other aspect of the tech industry, you’re probably better placed than most when a new sub specialty with a tech base opens up. And I think that’s true for just about any industry. The key here though, is don’t try to build a roadmap for your entire career ahead of time.

And all these new opportunities are coming up all the time and so you just need to be aware. Stay informed. Stay read up on your industry, your passions, your interests. That way when these new opportunities do emerge you’re in the best position to take advantage of those opportunities.

Mac Prichard: Well terrific, Ben. Do you have a resource you’d like to share with us? Please write Ben, and we may share your idea on the show. His address is easy to remember. It’s (ben@macslist.org).

Now let’s turn to you our listeners, and Jessica Black is here to answer one of your questions. Jessica, what’s in the Mac’s List mailbag this week?

Jessica Black: Today we have a question from Andrew Cameron.

Andrew Cameron: “Hi, my name is Andrew Cameron. I’m in the Portland, Oregon area. I’ve heard feedback on a number of my interviews that I’m overqualified and so I would be really interested in your thoughts on what that means and what I might be able to do about that.”

Jessica Black: Alright. Thanks Andrew. That has to be a really tough answer to receive, that you’re overqualified. I assume it’s probably not being accompanied with much else beyond just the “Sorry, you’re overqualified. Goodbye” type of an answer. And that has to be tough as well, to get that dismissive sort of feeling and not have answers to be able to support you moving forward of how to position yourself well, because that doesn’t really help you move forward.

So I would actually, not knowing the specifics of your individual case, but I would recommend following up with those individual hiring managers or whoever it is that you’re communicating with, connecting with, and who is giving you that answer. Just respond with a “thanks so much for your response, could I ask for some feedback of specifically why?” And then sort of maybe move your goals around.

Again, not knowing your specific case, it’s hard for me to give you tangible advice. But I know that we did just cover this idea, briefly, a couple of episodes ago, so our guest expert that day may have been able to give some concrete…and Ben and Mac, you may be able to fill in a little bit more with your feedback.

Ben Forstag: So, I know we addressed a similar question a few weeks ago and so my advice is going to be  along the same lines that I said there.

I don’t mean to play into the job seeker insecurity that you’re not getting the straight answer, but the truth of the matter is, the term “you’re overqualified”, usually means something other than “you’re overqualified”. No employer will not take you because you have too many skills. That’s like saying, “You’re too awesome for this job; we can’t have you here.” I think in general what it means is they’re afraid that either, a) you’re gonna cost too much, or b) this isn’t really a job that you’re passionate about or want to be at. Or c) this is a job you’re taking just to get a paycheck, and as soon as you find something more in line with your qualifications and passions, you’re gonna head out the door.

No employer wants to hire someone twice and so I think oftentimes people get disqualified for over qualifications because they haven’t done a good job of framing why they really are interested in that specific job and why they might be willing to not be using all of their skill set because they want this specific job.

Jessica Black: Yeah, kind of demonstrate the passion for that individual job. Is that what you’re saying?

Ben Forstag: Yeah.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, I think that’s right. And I agree with you, Jessica; it’s always a hard message to hear, when you’re passed over for an opportunity. And particularly one that you may be really excited about.

Jessica Black: Yeah, sometimes you individually feel like it’s a perfect fit, and to hear that it’s not is a tough message.

Mac Prichard: Yeah. And so I love Ben’s advice here as well, just about thinking about the objections of the employer whether it’s about your qualifications or other concerns the employer might have, and finding a way to get ahead of them through a cover letter. Obviously Andrew did something really well in his cover letter and his application because he got an interview, but also in the interview itself. Sometimes things are on people’s minds and they’re just not brought up, and part of our job when we’re candidates is to try to understand what those concerns are and get out in front of them as much as we can.

Well thank you, Andrew, and thanks for those words of encouragement too, Jessica. If you’ve got a question for Jessica, please email us. Her address is also easy to remember; it’s (jessica@macslist.org)  Or you can call our listener line.  That number is area code 716-JOB-TALK. That’s 716-562-8255. If we use your question on the show, we’ll send you a copy of Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. We’ll be dropping one in the mail to Andrew this week, and we’d love to send you one as well.

We’ll be back in just a moment, and when we return, I’ll talk to this week’s guest expert, Katherine Burik, about how to answer that question that comes up in almost every job interview, “Tell me about yourself.”

Most people struggle with job hunting. The reason is simple; most of us learn the nuts and bolts of looking for work by trial and error. That’s why I produce this podcast, to help you master the skills you need to find a great job. It’s also why I wrote my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. For fifteen years at Mac’s List, I’ve helped people in Portland, Oregon, find meaningful, well paying, and rewarding jobs that they love. Now I’ve put all of my job hunting secrets in one book that can help you no matter where you live.

You’ll learn how to get clear about your career goals, find hidden jobs that never get posted, and ace your next job interview. For more information, and to download the first chapter for free, visit Mac’sList.org/anywhere.

Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Katherine Burik.

Katherine Burik is a partner at the Interview Doctor (https://jobinterviewcoaching.org/). She works with both job candidates and employers, and speaks frequently about career development successful job search methods. Katherine has published three books on job hunting as part of the Job Seeker Manifesto series. Her fourth book, Talent Search Marketing Plan (http://jobinterviewcoaching.org/talent-search-marketing-plan/) is in the works. She joins us today from Northeastern Ohio.

Katherine, thanks for coming on the show.

Katherine Burik: It’s great to be here.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, it’s a pleasure to have you. Now we’re talking about a perennial job interview question. It’s one that comes up almost all the time, and it’s “Tell me about yourself.” Now, Katherine, why do you recommend that people not wing this and actually have a strategy in place before answering what is a pretty simple question.

Katherine Burik: It is a pretty simple question. Sometimes I think that a hiring manager or the interviewer asks that question because it’s sort of like an ice breaker. Another reason why I think they ask it is because they’re looking to see how well the candidate is going to be able to respond. I always like for candidates to understand that interviews are not discrete events. There’s a flow and a rhythm to them, and it usually begins with “Tell me about yourself.” If a candidate has a really solid response to this important question, then they can set the stage and set the tone for the entire interview. They can even knock a hiring manager off of their preferred interview questions if they fill their response, this very short initial response, with so many interesting tidbits that the hiring manager will not be able to resist asking questions about what the candidate said. So you can’t wing that though; what’s going on in your head is usually very different from what comes out of your mouth.

In order to make this entire process a strategic event, you really need to plan it out ahead of time.

Mac Prichard: So it’s a huge opportunity and you don’t want to take it for granted, or as you say, wing it. How do you recommend, Katherine, that people prepare their answer to that question? What should they think about?

Katherine Burik: Since this is gonna be the full introductory section of an interview, and it’s such a big opportunity to lay the groundwork for potentially an hour’s worth of conversation….the way I recommend organizing this is by thinking about what it is that the hiring manager or the interviewer wants to hear. So what is the purpose behind the job? What are the important characteristics that will make the person who gets hired successful? And then filling this short moment with ideas that will appeal to the hiring manager, to the interviewer.

Now, I do have a methodology, because I think this is such a strategic opportunity. Do you want to hear about that? Should we talk about that?

Mac Prichard: Yeah, let’s talk about that. Because I can imagine our listeners are thinking, “Okay, that sounds great. I’ve got the interview coming up and I need to think about the employer’s needs and how I can address them. How do I do that?” So take us through that methodology, Katherine, because people love nuts and bolts advice on this show.

Katherine Burik: This is the way I do it, and this methodology comes from my own personal experience many years ago. I am a strong introvert, so what goes on in my head is not necessarily comes out unless I prepare. So I look at this as the opportunity to have five parts.

There are five parts to this response. All five of these parts need to come out in one minute. So it’s important to select your words carefully and practice in advance. So there are five parts.

The first part are a few facts. Now, when most people answer the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question they mostly give a few facts. I used to work here, I went to this school; those are the kinds of information or pieces of information that usually come out. And those are important pieces of information because they tell the story of your career. But we want to do this at the thirty thousand foot level, and not inside the resume. If they want to read the resume, the hiring manager has in front of them, and perhaps has read it in advance. so the few facts are: where you come from, your education, a bit about your work experience. This is not personal; we don’t want to know that you were born in a cabin in a woods somewhere, and we don’t care necessarily, (although it’s marvelous)…we don’t care that you have three children and they’re your pride and joy. We want to know a few facts about where you came from.

So for example, my few facts are: I’m born and raised in Chicago. The reason why I say that is because I live in Ohio and people in Ohio think that Chicago is pretty interesting. So it’s something that I could talk about for hours if that’s what they want to talk about. So I usually say, I’m born and raised in Chicago. I went to Northwestern University, and to Loyola University for my Masters degree in Human Resources and Industrial Relations. Then I usually tell people that I’ve been in Human Resources and Industrial Relations my entire career, almost always as a director or vice president. Pretty much those are the facts.

Mac Prichard: Okay, so where you came from, where you went to school, and where your career has been. So those three very simple facts.

Katherine Burik: Very simple facts.

Mac Prichard: Okay, step number two.

Katherine Burik: Step number two is an accomplishment you’re particularly proud of. We put it right here because we just talked about your career, and so it’s natural to talk about an accomplishment. So you say something like, “I’m particularly proud of…” just in the next breath. You don’t say, “and the next part is…” You just say, “I’m particularly proud of…” and you select one accomplishment that you think will just be irresistible to the hiring manager.

So if I was going for a job as a director, or vice president of Human Resources, in a company where they were particularly interested in talent development, I would pick a talent development story.

So I would say something like, “I’m particularly proud of the talent development program I implemented at my last company that resulted in a five basis point reduction in turnover.” It’s really high level and it’s really irresistible.

Mac Prichard: But it’s informed by the homework you did, because you know what matters to the person sitting across the table from you. The example that you give, I love, Katherine,  because it is very specific. You’re not only addressing the concerns of the employer, but you’re talking about the accomplishment in a measurable way, and that’s impressive.

Katherine Burik: You want them to say, “Really? How did you do that?” Because you know, in my case, in that kind of environment they’re struggling almost certainly with turnover and this could apply to anybody. If you’re engineer and you’re particularly proud of this thing that nobody else can figure out, then that’s what you say. And it compels the hiring manager to say “Really? We have that problem.” It’s based on research.

Mac Prichard: And that gives you an opportunity to discuss that further and how you handled that. So, point number three, Katherine.

Katherine Burik: Five words to describe yourself. It’s very important that you tell the person who’s listening what you’re like. Because, what kind of person are you? So five words without a description. I am, high energy, smart, pretty well organized, I like to solve problems, and I like to play with a team. If they’re listening to this and that does not fit the kind of environment or values that they have, then in their mind they’re gonna say, “Nope, this person will not fit with my team.” and I would say “Thank you so much.” Because I don’t want to work at a place that doesn’t value the kind of person that I am.

Mac Prichard: What’s your best advice, Katherine, about how you choose those five words? How do you see your clients doing this?

Katherine Burik: The exercise I often do with my clients is, I usually start with “What are the characteristics or competencies that are required to do the job that you want to have?” And so often, if the person is in the right career, which most people are, when they list those characteristics, and then I come back and say “Tell me five words”, they’re almost always characteristics that are necessary to be successful in the job.

So that’s how I suggest you select those words. But I also suggest that you’re honest, because if you’re a perfectionist and they don’t value a perfectionist, then you’re going to be uncomfortable.

Mac Prichard: Well, I want to move on to point four, but two quick things: I can just imagine our listeners saying, “Well gosh, Katherine, why five words? Why not seven, why not three?” Why is five the magic number here?

Katherine Burik: This is funny, because a long time ago a boss of mine used this question, and I was just so intrigued by it. Three words are really easy to come up with. Seven is too many.  We’re trying to keep this short. Five words demonstrate to the hiring manager that you really know what you bring to the table. You didn’t come up with five words off the top of your head.

Mac Prichard: Alright, it requires thought and preparation. I also love your point that when you share your five words, if you don’t get a positive reaction from the people that you’re interviewing with, it’s okay to move on. You don’t need to take any job or any offer. You need to be at a place where people are excited about the values that you share.

Katherine Burik: Yes, exactly. I mean a hiring manager is looking to hire someone who can do the job. “Yes I could do that job.” Who can love the job…brings passion, “Okay, I can bring passion.” But the thing about the third element is they’re trying to hire someone who’s gonna fit with the team. And as an outsider coming in, I’m not exactly sure whether I’m gonna fit with the team, so I might as well be honest. This is what I am. And if they don’t want a high energy, pretty smart person who likes to solve problems, work in a team, then they’re not gonna like me and I’m okay with that.

Mac Prichard: Okay, let’s move on to number four of this five-part formula. What’s the fourth thing that people need to do when answering this question?

Katherine Burik: Well, the fourth and fifth items are sort of related. The fourth item is what do you want? And the fifth item is why should they hire you? So they are kind of related and they are a little bit boiler plate. So for example, what you want should always be the job in front of you, without saying I want the job in front of me.

Because if you go into this thing and you say, “Well I’m thinking about retiring, or I’d like to move to Kalamazoo in three years,” that’s not what they want to hear. They want to hear that you are fascinated by the job that’s in front of them. So going back to my example of, as a VP of HR, focused on talent development, I would say something like, “I’m looking for a position on a senior staff where I can work on talent development problems so that the organization can be stronger.”

Now you might say that is really stupid; of course they think you’re gonna say that. But I have to say that the last time that I went for a real job, in the 2000’s, I said that. And it was about a talent development job and the president interrupted me and said, “Oh, thank God, that’s exactly the problem we’re trying to solve.” He did not think I was faking it. I was faking it, but he didn’t think that, because that is the problem that they’re trying to solve.

Mac Prichard: Well good. So know the problem and be clear about why you want that job, and how you can help them. So, Katherine, you find that people can hit all five of these points in just a minute or two? Is that your experience?

Katherine Burik: Yes. That is absolutely my experience. I could tell you mine, what I do when I work with clients is I time them and if you think this through ahead of time and you edit, you say it out loud and practice it, you absolutely can do this in a minute or less.

Mac Prichard: Okay.

Katherine Burik: There are certain folks that have issues. People who talk a lot, they’ll want to just talk and talk and talk. And so for them, they need practice in discipline…to select the right words, and say it out loud and stick to the script a little bit.

People who are really shy, they also need a lot of practice, because they need to make sure what comes out of their mouth is what they want to say. But yes, it’s absolutely possible.

Mac Prichard: Alright. So as with any job interview, you need to be clear about what you’re gonna do and say before you walk into the conversation and practice. I know you’ve got some resources on your website about how to do this, Katherine, and we’ll be sure to include them in the shownotes. I love this model and I love the practicality of it. Now tell us, what’s coming up next for you?

Katherine Burik: Well, we have a series of three books for job seekers, in what we call our Job Seeker Manifesto. We put this together because we wanted to share some of our clients’ experiences with folks who are out there in the marketplace. These books are available at our website (http://jobinterviewcoaching.org/), but they are also available on Amazon under my name, Katherine Burik. The first book is Job Search Marketing Plan (http://jobinterviewcoaching.org/job-seeker-manifesto/#jobsearch), which lays out how you set up your job search.

The second book is Resumes 3.0 (http://jobinterviewcoaching.org/job-seeker-manifesto/#resume), which lays out how you organize your job search materials. The third book is Tell Me About Yourself (http://jobinterviewcoaching.org/job-seeker-manifesto/#tellme), which is the topic  we were just talking about, which goes to how you are organizing all of your thoughts so that you can intelligently answer these kinds of questions that you’re likely to get.

Mac Prichard: Well great, we’ll be sure to include links to all three books, as well as your website in the shownotes and again, that url is http://jobinterviewcoaching.org. Katherine, thanks for being on the show today.

Katherine Burik: It’s been my pleasure, Mac. I really appreciated it.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, take care.

Well, we’re back in the Mac’s List studio with Jessica and Ben. What did you two think of my conversation with Katherine? Jessica, your thought?

Jessica Black: It was really interesting and I loved her point about…she gave the five steps which I thought were really fascinating. And then I loved that she said that if you organize your thoughts and your points that you want to convey, you can easily convey that in one to two minutes, no problem. Which I think is definitely something that people should hear, to really emphasize that point of hers that she made at the very beginning, of don’t wing it. And really come into it strategically, and it’s much more effective that way.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, and I think you’re right. A lot of people might hear that, Jessica, as you’re saying, “Gosh I can boil that down to two minutes? That’s gonna be hard.”

Jessica Black: It’s gonna be hard, but actually two minutes is a pretty long time.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, it is. Preparation makes all the difference.

Jessica Black: Oh, it makes a huge difference, yeah.

Mac Prichard: What about you, Ben? What were your thoughts?

Ben Forstag: There are two points that she made that I really liked. The first one was the idea of not winging it, which should be your rule of thumb for every interview question. You shouldn’t walk into that interview room without thinking through the questions that you know you’re gonna hear. There’s probably a half dozen questions that get asked in ninety percent of every interview. Just have prepared answers for those; there’s no reason to not have that. You’re just putting more pressure on yourself when you don’t have those things scripted out ahead of time.

Mac Prichard: And that’s been a theme on so many podcasts now where we’ve talked about job interviews, I mean, with Dan Miller and other guests in the past.

Ben Forstag: Yeah, and you almost get the sense like it’s a kabuki dance right? Like, where you know what they’re gonna say and they know what you’re gonna say, but you have to do it anyway. And sometimes that feels uncomfortable. But  really the easiest thing to do is just to play the game. Have everything scripted out and know what you’re going to do ahead of time.

The other item that she said that I really liked is stating that you want the job. And it’s amazing how often I’ve interviewed people who don’t actually have any interest in the job. And they never actually say they want the job in the interview and so the feeling I get is that the person interviewing them is like, “Why would I want to bring this person on? They don’t want to be here, they want to be doing something else.” And so grounding the very first response in why you want this specific position, I think that’s something you need to do in the first question, but also reiterate multiple times throughout the course of the interview.

Jessica Black: I think that’s a really point about stating…I don’t think that’s something that interviewees think about often…at least that’s something that doesn’t come often to mind for me of like, “I’m here, I’m interviewing. Obviously I want the job.” But I think that if you don’t say it, it’s not obvious, and I think that that’s a really good point that people should be reminded of.

Ben Forstag: And you don’t need to say “I want this job” or “I want you to hire me”. You can use other things like “What really excites me about this position is…”

Jessica Black: Yeah, that’s right.

Mac Prichard: Yeah, my business coach at my other firm Prichard Communications, he coaches me on getting new clients and he always says that you’ve got to ask for the order. To your point, Jessica, and you as well, Ben, you’ve got to make that ask. And it can be direct, but you just can’t assume that. Other candidates will do it, so you better do it as well and it will also help you stand out.

Well, thank you both, and thank you, Katherine for joining us this week. And thank you, our listeners, for downloading this edition of Find Your Dream Job.

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It’s often the first interview question you’ll get: “Tell me about yourself.”

While it seems like a simple prompt, it can make or break the rest of your interview. Mess it up and you’ve ruined your first impression with the employer. Ace the question and you’ll set the tone for the rest of the meeting.

The question is so important that job coach, Katherine Burik, has written an entire book on how to craft a winning answer. Katherine shares the “Cliffs Notes” version of her strategy this week on the podcast.

The foundation of Katherine’s strategy is to plan ahead. Think about what the interviewer wants to hear, and share ideas and experiences that speak to their needs. You’ve got to be honest, but you can shape your experience in a way that will resonate with the employer.

To ace the “Tell me about yourself” interview question, Katherine offers a five step approach:

  1. Provide a short, high-level overview about yourself.
  2. Highlight a specific accomplishment you are proud of–preferably one that is related to the position to which you are currently applying.
  3. Share five flattering (but honest) words to describe yourself, starting with “I am…”
  4. Explain why you are interested in this specific position.
  5. Tell the interviewer why they should hire you.

The trick is to communicate everything above in a concise and direct way. Your entire answer shouldn’t take more than two minutes. The best way to ensure you have a tight, well-tuned response is to practice, practice, practice!

This Week’s Guest

Katherine Burik is a partner at The Interview Doctor. She works with both job candidates and employers, and speaks frequently about career development and successful job search methods. Katherine has published three books on job hunting, as part of The Job Seeker Manifesto. Her fourth book, Talent Search Marketing Plan, is in the works.

Resources from this Episode