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Out of all the interview questions you will ever answer, “tell me about yourself,” is the one you need to know cold… because it is going to be asked in pretty much every interview you will ever go through in some form or another—tell me about yourself.
Other ways this common interview question may be phrased include “Walk me through your resume,” “walk me through your background/experience,” or “tell me your story.” It should also be the easiest question to answer—for two reasons. One, it is your story and no one knows that story better than you do. Two, you absolutely without a doubt knew the question would be asked, so you are totally prepared.
It shouldn’t be a long story or your life story. It should be the story of why you want the job you are interviewing for, and how your education and experiences have prepared you for it. The most common mistakes people make are talking too much, over-sharing, shooting themselves in the foot by saying the wrong thing, being negative, and being inarticulate/unprepared. Here are my recommendations to really nail this question.
Keep it brief
A good rule of thumb is to keep your story to five minutes or less. Your total interview will probably only be about a half hour and you don’t want to find yourself talking for 15 minutes. It is important to leave the interviewer time to ask you what is important to them as well. Also, unless your story is super interesting and full of twist and turns, it can get a little boring (and not relevant).
Connect the dots
Make sure the way that you describe your different experiences build on each other in some way. ”I did X because of Y and then based on what I learned there, I knew I wanted to do Z, so…” Depending on your personal story and also the job, the response can look different each time. A common place to start is with your formal education but perhaps the industry you are focusing on has actually been a passion of yours since middle school. It’s different for everyone but make sure the things you mention are interconnected and seem purposeful (example below).
Tailor it to the job
You probably have lots of different elements to “your story” that you can speak to. You’ve likely done many things in your life and of course you won’t be able to address all of them in a 5 minute run-through. Think about the job you are interviewing for and what pieces of your story make the most sense to tell. Take a look at the image below. You’ll notice there are certain things that are part of your experience, but were cut out of “the story”. All this being said, if you’ve done something truly impressive, feel free to mention it even if it is outside the box. Perhaps the fact that you ran the NYC marathon doesn’t have anything to do with this job but it does show dedication and commitment.