So…… you have just landed an interview for the perfect position at your dream firm. You can feel it in your bones that THIS is the perfect job opportunity for you. Even more exhilarating, that YOU are the perfect candidate for the job.
Your skills and experience allow you to check off every box in the job description requirements (at last!! … Every. Single. One.). And you have also done your due diligence. You have researched the company thoroughly and can recite its mission statement verbatim. You are well versed on its key differentiators, company culture, and status in the marketplace. You have even Googled the hiring manager and found that you both share the same alma mater, hobby, or favorite volunteering cause.And, of course, the quintessential well-fitted, dark-hued suit that makes you feel simultaneously polished, confident and comfortable stands pressed and ready to go.
Oh, and you have even thought ahead and have the perfect response for the classic “What is your greatest weakness?” question. (Hint – if you don’t yet have that ready to go, finding something that is also easily converted into a strength, such as: “Over time, I have discovered that I identify as an introvert. This is sometimes interpreted as a disadvantage in the workplace, where the energy of extroverts is infectious and admired. But, with time and experience, I have learned that my introversion makes me professionally unique and attributes to my high-level of self-motivation and strong sense of autonomy. And, despite — or perhaps because of — my preference to think before I speak, it has enabled me to be a better listener and to intuitively ‘read’ clients and establish genuine, trusted connections.”
So, you’re ready to go, right? Well, you are at a very good starting point. But don’t let what will likely be one of the very first questions of the interview throw you off balance. It happens to the best of us.
We are asked: “Tell Me About Yourself” and our mind inexplicably goes blank. Strange, isn’t it? We know ourselves better than anyone, right? But, if you aren’t prepared to answer the question, it is easy to find yourself unexpectedly nervous and fumbling. On the surface, the question sounds so wide-open. How to choose exactly what to tell about yourself? You may find yourself unconsciously sorting through such thoughts as ‘Does this person – who I very much want to work for – want to hear about my family history? The marathon I am preparing to run? My nagging tennis elbow that hurts when I sit and type too long? My pets? Where I grew up? … What exactly should I tell about myself right now?’
What the Hiring Manager is Actually Asking to Learn about You
No need to be caught off guard and inadvertently overshare on personal tidbits. What is REALLY being asked is for you to tell about your professional self (not to detail how you spend your weekends, how many siblings or furry loved ones you have, or your recently perfected hobby of juggling, or kombucha brewing, or origami). This is all stuff to save for bonding over at the water cooler with your colleagues AFTER you land your dream position.
NOW is the time to elaborate on details of your resume with assurance and to articulate how you would contribute to the company’s success.
So, when you are (inevitably) asked “Tell Me About Yourself” during a job interview, prepare for and address the question like you prepared for the rest of the interview.
• RESEARCH – Circle back to that job description. Identify the key buzzwords for skills and requirements that determine success in the position.
• PREPARE – Take those descriptors and buzzwords and tie them into your past skills and performance. Identify your greatest relevant achievements (be it professional, educational, internship and/or certifications earned) and see which one’s mesh well with the position requirements. Focus on those to tell YOUR professional story. For example, in the Finance & Accounting industry, requirements may include varying technical skills, industry-specific certifications, and, without a doubt, several soft skills that are critical to professional success in most industries.
Technical skills may relate to bookkeeping, implementing current accounting practices, preparation of corporate budgets and financial statements, or collaboration with regulators and auditors. Specific software experience, such as proficiency in Excel (and all of Microsoft Office suite), and in programs such as Microsoft Dynamics GP, QuickBooks, Sage, SAP, etc., is likely required.
Industry-specific certifications may include certifications such as: Certified Public Accountant (CPA); Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA); Financial Risk Manager (FRM); Certified Financial Planner (CFP); Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA), etc.
Soft skills are likely to include: analytical skills, planning and organizational abilities, problem-solving skills, communication skills, the ability to work well under pressure and to multi-task, attention to detail, accuracy & discretion, and the ability to work well both collaboratively and independently.
• PRACTICE – Use the connections that you have identified between your personal skills and achievements and what you know about the company and job requirements and tell about yourself using these connections.
Write it out and practice talking about it (and yes, this is often the hard part … tooting your own horn while not actually coming across as tooting your own horn). Admittedly, it is a balancing act. But just remember to be genuine and honest and to keep it relevant.
E.g., “I received my BS in Finance from UNC in 2012 and was honored to graduate magna cum laude. During my final year at UNC, once eligible, I studied for and passed the CFA Level 1 exam. After that, I joined the XYZ company as a junior analyst where I became proficient in Excel, QuickBooks, and Great Plains. Most recently, I attended graduate school at the University of Texas, where I earned my MBA in Corporate Finance and was also honored to be accepted into the AT&T Financial and Leadership Development Program at that time. I gained many industry skills during this time and particularly enjoyed collaborating with regulators and auditors. In fact, I am excited by how well my collective experience has prepared me for this position. Next, I plan to begin preparing for the CFA Level 2 exam.
As you can see, with a bit of preliminary Research, Preparation and Practice, you can set the tone for the rest of the interview by answering the “Tell Me About Yourself” question with confidence and ease.
And, with any luck you will soon find yourself comfortably ensconced in the position you worked so hard for and perhaps even swapping kombucha recipes with your new colleagues at the water cooler.