How to ace the “tell me about yourself” question

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Your interviewer will probably begin your next job interview with the standard opener: “Tell me about yourself.” How can you ace this question and make a great first impression with your interviewer?

By answering in a way that quickly proves that you are well-qualified for your target job and passionate about it.

The best way to achieve these goals is by crafting your answer before your interview instead of on-the-fly during it. The paradox of preparation for job interviews: The more you prepare and rehearse, the more spontaneously articulate you will sound.

Some guiding principles for crafting impressive answers to interview questions:

Your interviewer may interrupt and cut you off at any time while you are answering a question. So begin each answer with your best material — usually descriptions of your most recent relevant and impressive credentials — or you won’t be sure to get this information in.

Interviews are short, so don’t waste time by providing extraneous or trivial information that realistically won’t help you land your target job.

Until you are offered the job, your primary goal is to land a job offer — not collect information that will help you decide whether you want the job or negotiate the terms of the job. This means that, until you are offered the job, everything you say and ask should be geared towards impressing hiring managers. Only after you receive a job offer should you shift the conversation to your needs.

Your answers to interview questions (and the questions you ask interviewers) should reflect your knowledge of your target job.

Provided below is a rough outline for a potentially winning answer to “tell me about yourself”

  • Open with an attention-grabbing career overview or summary of what you offer that shows zest. For example, “I am an expert in XXX. I am passionate about this field because XXX.”
  • Summarize your current job.
  • Summarize previous jobs.
  • Summarize education.
  • Give an objective validation of your skills.
  • State you enthusiasm for the target job.

Notice that this outline frames an answer to the “tell me about yourself” question that would focus on your important relevant and recent credentials and interests — without digressing into immaterial biographical information, such as where you were born, that probably won’t help you nail the job.

Recruit trusted advisors to role play interviews with you. During your role-playing sessions, practice incorporating information from your canned answers into answers for questions that differ slightly from your practice questions.

For example, suppose the first question an interviewer asks you is, “Why do you want to work here?” instead of “Tell me about yourself.” You could answer this question by describing your enthusiasm for your target job’s mission and by explaining how your credentials jive with the demands of your target job — all information you could derive from your “tell me about yourself” answer together with your knowledge of your target job.

Also, during practice sessions, limit each answer to one-and-a-half minutes. If you’re not sure whether to keep talking while answering a question, ask your interviewer, “Would you like more information on this?”

In addition, encourage your advisors to provide you with honest feedback. After all, there is only one way to find out how you are coming across — and that is, by asking others, “How am I coming across?”

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Ask your career questions by email to lwhiteman@federaltimes.com or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is IGotTheJob.net. Ask your career questions by email to lwhiteman@federaltimes.com or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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