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How to answer the opening interview question

Connel Valentine Jun 28, 2017
Job interviews can be scary. The nerves lead to fumbled answers, leaving you with a “Oh why did I say that? I should have said this”, as you obsess over the experience on your way home. To add insult to injury, its common knowledge that it takes an interviewer a few measly seconds to formulate a first impression of you.

But fear not! We show you how to prepare for that first ice-breaking question “Tell me about yourself”. Answered well, this common job interview question sets a positive foundation for the rest of the interview, establishing optimism and hope in the interviewer’s mind.

It’s important to understand why this question is being asked in the first place. A skilled interviewer uses this question to get a radar on your communication skills, the most common transferrable skill in job descriptions these days. The interviewer is also analyzing your unique response to understand what you put your emphasis on. Managers have a simple question ringing in their minds during the entire interview – “I have a problem, can you solve it.”

Start with your experience

Starting with experience will help the interviewer get a feel for your professional maturity. You could begin with “I have 3 years of accounting experience with the manufacturing industry.” If you’re applying for co-ops or internships, don’t sweat it – they don’t expect a high level of on-the-job professional experience, but your interpersonal skills with your school cohorts and professors, and school project will be the focus.

Hit ‘em with your strengths

Target a strength that you’ve developed over the years that they need for this role. Select a strength that stands out in the job description, which you should have thoroughly read as part of your preparation for this interview. If attention to detail is a needed strength you possess state it explicitly – “Over the years, I have developed a keen sense of attention to detail, which is very much needed in the financial role of credit control”. Taken right of the job description, you can’t go wrong here.

Throw in some beliefs

You have certain values that govern your work ethics. The hiring manager is also wondering if you will fit in with the team. Questions they are pondering over may be “Is this person a team player or believes in solo missions? Can this person handle stress or do they crack under pressure?” Once again, use the job description to guide you to the beliefs you should highlight. If working under pressure is a requirement, you could say “I believe in supporting the team during high pressure end of month deadlines. I know what it’s like to reach our collection objectives, and staying positive and upbeat is important to me especially during those times. It keeps the team motivated to perform.”

A major, relevant accomplishment

You undoubtedly have many proud achievements during your career. Unfortunately, you don’t have the time to list them all out during your introduction. Look at the responsibilities at the top of the job description – these are the most important aspects of this role according to the hiring manager. Find a story from your past that ideally connects the strength, belief and the responsibility to create a compelling story. “One quarter, the CFO unexpectedly increased our target by 5% at the last minute. The team was stressing out as it was the summer season, and targets were hard to reach. I volunteered to analyze the details of our most problematic clients so we could target them first as early as possible. During the final week I kept the team motivated by creating a light hearted atmosphere and we achieved our target. This is one of many examples where I’ve applied my strengths to accomplish our department’s goals.”

And the ice is broken! You will hopefully sail through the rest of the interview with a little more confidence.

Common mistakes

Most folks do not prepare their answers. As hiring managers, we can tell they are just adlibbing away their opportunity, or just outright lying. You only get one shot at an interview, and preparing your opening answer is the minimal effort required to prep for an interview.

Candidates also make the mistake of talking about their own personal credentials – I have a bachelor’s degree in this and that, and I have 14 certificates in every course you can think of – not important, as these details were covered in your resume and LinkedeIn profile already. Remember what we stated earlier, the hiring manager has one question in their mind – “I have a problem, can you solve it” – your credentials will not solve their problem, your personal strengths and beliefs and proof that you have applied them will.

Grab your phone and hit record

The next time you’re getting ready for an interview, analyze the job description thoroughly, and customize your Tell me about yourself answer in advance. Rehearse it by speaking it out loud and recording yourself on your smart phone, so you hear what the manager hears. Do this, and you will instantly calm yourself for the rest of the interview, and hopefully come away with your ideal job. Good luck!