Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tell me about yourself

1. Start with the end in sight.
Despite the deceptive phrasing, the directive, "Tell me about yourself," isn't a polite request for your life story. What the interviewer wants to know is, "Why should I hire you?" Knowing this, your goal is to craft a convincing statement that will make the interviewer want to know more about you and what you can do for the company.
To prepare, you must develop a response tailored to the specific employer and addressing its interests, goals, and needs. You should revise, refine and rehearse your script until you can deliver it flawlessly -- with energy, enthusiasm and confidence.
2. Take the time to establish rapport.
When interviewers invite you to tell them about yourself, they're asking you to step into the spotlight, a place where extroverts and natural performers shine but where introverts can become anxious, tongue-tied and self-conscious.
If you don't feel comfortable in the limelight, look at the situation in a different way. Rather than delivering an oratorical performance, focus on establishing an emotional bond with your interviewer. Here's where body language can make a difference: Smile, make eye contact, lean toward and talk to and not at your listener.
3. Sketch the big picture.
Experienced candidates should focus on the big picture first so that interviewers will place later information in the proper context. Start by providing an overview that allows them to see your career in total. Example: "Why don't I start with the big picture? As you can see from my resume, I have more than 15 years of experience in sales, marketing and general management, primarily in consumer products. The majority of that time was in the food-and-beverage industry. Thanks to my experiences at ________ and _________, I have an in-depth knowledge of the domestic and international marketplace for the food and beverage industries."
4. Focus.
After you sketch the big picture, talk about specific experiences that are most relevant and interesting to an interviewer. Your research can pay off here. Learning as much as you can about the industry, employer and job (via the job description) allows you to zero in on your most relevant qualifications and experiences.
A senior communications manager experienced in marketing, public relations and event management knew that a prospective employer, a nonprofit, was well known in the Latino community for a successful annual conference. In previous years, major politicians and government officials had been keynote speakers.
While preparing her tell-me-about-yourself statement, the communications manager decided to focus on three major experiences:
· her success in marketing and promoting high-visibility events;
· her high-profile experience working on political campaigns; and
· her experience with the Latino community.
However, she didn't use a chronological approach since these experiences happened at different points in her career.
5. Showcase your communication skills.
Most interviewers observe how you organize and present information about yourself. If your recent experience is most relevant, detail your accomplishments in reverse chronological order, giving less emphasis to your first few jobs. Conversely, if your most relevant experiences happened in the middle of your career, you may want to start your description at that point.
Assume, for example, that your first love is training, but recently you've spent more time working as a general human-resource manager. When interviewing for a training position, your tell-me-about-yourself statement might start: "Since training is my first love and one of my core strengths, I'll start by telling you about my training experience and accomplishments. While I was working at _________, I put together a very successful management-training program that received rave reviews from participants..."
6. Highlight the benefits you'll bring to the employer.
A job search is a self-marketing campaign. Experienced marketing experts say to stress a product's benefits to the customer rather than its features, which could well be nifty but the customer might not need them. In a job search, you're the product. Toward that end, orient any discussion of your skills and experiences toward showing how they can benefit your future employer.
Example: "From the job description, it sounds to me like you're looking for someone who has strong project-management skills. My greatest accomplishment as a project manager was at _____________." From there you can describe the goals of the project, what you did to attain them and the subsequent results.
7. Spotlight the positive.
Never say anything negative about yourself or previous employers. If you decide to highlight earlier experiences instead of a more recent role, be sure to present all your jobs in a positive light. To do that, emphasize how and why your later experiences enhanced your abilities and scope.
For instance, after describing her training accomplishments, the HR executive might follow up by discussing how her success as a manager has given her a better understanding of organizational needs and naturally enhanced her credibility and performance as a trainer.
8. Provide details.
Don't expect interviewers to take your story on faith alone. Have specific examples ready to illustrate your skills. For example, to emphasize your problem-solving ability, describe a problem you faced in a past job, what actions you took to resolve it and the result of those actions. Whenever possible, choose a problem that's similar to those the prospective employer might face. To determine the type of challenge you might be asked to correct, refer to the job description or, lacking that, ask the employer to describe the position so that you can focus your presentation effectively.
9. Disclose personal information cautiously.
When it comes to disclosing personal information, there's no right answer. It depends on two factors: whether you feel comfortable using personal details and what you plan to accomplish by doing so. While disclosing personal information can be a good icebreaker and rapport-builder, it also can backfire. You never know how an employer will process that information. Will a hiring manager be glad to know you're a family man or worry that you won't be free to travel or work long hours?
Keep the purpose of the conversation in mind. Whenever possible, mention personal information strategically. For example, an executive who's interviewing for a job with a toy manufacturer might share anecdotal information about his children's experience with the manufacturer's toys. An executive who knows that a job requires extensive international travel could share about his or her personal travel experiences.
10. Finish strong.
When should you return the floor to the interviewer? Use nonverbal signs as your cue. If an interviewer seems restless and bored, ask for feedback about your presentation: "Is this what you want to hear? Or is there something else that you'd like me to focus on?" This allows the interviewer to change the flow of communication and establishes a two-way dialogue.
If the interviewer remains attentive, you'll have more leeway in how you wrap up. The best way to end your statement is to put the conversational ball in the interviewer's court by saying why you're interested in the company and position and asking for more information about current needs. Listen attentively to the response to determine what parts of your experience and accomplishments to mention as the interview progresses.
-- Ms. Hirsch is a career counselor in Chicago and author of several books on career issues, including "How to Be Happy at Work" (Jist Publishing, 2003).
"Tell Me About Yourself"

The Toughest Question in the Interview

By Don Straits, CEO and Dragon Slayer, Corporate Warriors
When you, as a job seeker, are asked the most common, and toughest, interview question, "Tell me about yourself," your answer can make or break you as a candidate. Usually job seekers will respond with their "30 second commercial," and then elaborate on their background. While almost every career book and career counselor will tell you that is the appropriate response, I totally disagree.
Many people fail in their job search because they are too often focused on what they want in a job including industry, type of position, location, income, benefits, and work environment. Their "30 second commercial" is centered around this premise. The commercial describes the job seeker's career history and what they are looking for. Too often, this is in direct contrast to what employers are looking for.
There are two dominant reasons why job seekers are successful in the job search. The first is focusing on the needs of the organization. The second is focusing on the needs of the people within that organization. In this article, we are going to examine how to focus on the needs of the people within organizations. This will assist in rethinking your response to that all-important question, "Tell me about yourself."
In order to learn how to respond to the needs of the interviewer, let's first learn more about ourselves. We can then apply that knowledge about ourselves to knowing how to understand and respond to the needs of others.
Most social psychologists recognize four basic personality styles: Analytical, Amiable, Expressive, and Driver. Usually, each of us exhibits personality characteristics unique to one of the styles. However, we also possess characteristics to a lesser degree in the other styles. To determine your unique style, you can take a Myers-Briggs assessment or go to the following site for a free Keirsey Temperament Sorter assessment test: www.keirsey.com
Here are the characteristics that are most commonly associated with each of the styles:
Analytical:
Positive Traits: Precise, Methodical, Organized, Rational, Detail Oriented
Negative Traits: Critical, Formal, Uncertain, Judgmental, Picky
Amiable:
Positive Traits: Cooperative, Dependable, Warm, Listener, Negotiator
Negative Traits: Undisciplined, Dependent, Submissive, Overly Cautious, Conforming
Expressive:
Positive Traits: Enthusiastic, Persuasive, Outgoing, Positive, Communicator
Negative Traits: Ego Centered, Emotional, Exploitive, Opinionated, Reacting
Driver:
Positive Traits: Persistent, Independent, Decision Maker, Effective, Strong Willed
Negative Traits: Aggressive, Strict, Intense, Relentless, Rigid
Gaining an in-depth understanding of your personality style has enormous value in your career as well as your personal life. However, our focus today is learning how to use this knowledge to make you more successful in your job search.
Once you have learned about your own style and have studied the other styles, I encourage you to have a little fun in trying to determine the styles of others. When you meet someone for the first time, try to identify his or her style within the first two minutes. You can often identify styles by observing a person's demeanor, conversation, body language, appearance, and possessions.
To demonstrate what I mean, let's take some examples from the business world. While there are always exceptions, generally speaking the styles fit the example.
Analytical Style: Financial Manager (or programmers, engineers, and accountants). They like systems and procedures. They are slow to make decisions because they will analyze things to death—but their decisions are usually very sound. They prefer working independently and are usually not very good in team environments, but they are also dependable. They buy cars with good resale value and great gas mileage. They are conservative dressers. At the party, they want to know why so much money was spent on Michelob when we could have purchased Busch. They come to the party with their laptops.
Amiable Style: Human Resources Manager. Very people-focused. They are dependable, loyal and easygoing; very compassionate. They will give you the shirt off their backs and the last nickel in their pockets. They are good listeners and value team players who don't "rock the boat." They are usually conformists and followers—rarely leaders. They avoid conflict and are not good decision makers. They drive four-door sedans or mini-vans to take the kids to sporting events. They usually clean up after the party is over.
Expressive Style: Sales Manager. Very outgoing and enthusiastic, with a high energy level. They are also great idea generators, but usually do not have the ability to see the idea through to completion. Very opinionated and egotistical. Money motivated. They can be good communicators. They prefer to direct and control rather then ask and listen. They drive red convertibles with great stereos; to heck with the gas mileage. They come up with the idea for a company party, but never help clean up. They are on their way to another party.
Driver: Corporate CEO. Intelligent, intense, focused, relentless. They thrive on the thrill of the challenge and the internal motivation to succeed. Money is only a measure of success; it is not the driving factor. They are results/performance oriented. They have compassion for the truly disadvantaged, but absolutely no patience or tolerance for the lazy or whiners. They drive prestige cars, not because the car attracts attention, but because it was a wise investment. They want to know why we had a party; what were the benefits of the party, and did we invite the banker?
Ok, now you are really getting some insight into your style and the style of others. It is time for the interviews. Throw out your 30-second commercial. Think on your feet.
You will be interviewing with the human resource manager, the finance manager, the sales manager, and the CEO. The first question each of them will ask you is: "Tell me about yourself." How should you respond? Remember the second reason for succeeding in a job search: focus on the needs of the people in the organization. Here are just a few examples of how to respond to that question:
"Tell me about yourself?"
Response to Finance Manager: "I have been successful in my career by making well-thought-out decisions based on careful analysis of all factors. I approach problems with logic and sound reasoning. I would enjoy working with you in developing the appropriate systems and procedures to make our two departments function efficiently together."
Response to Human Resource Manager: "My career has been characterized by my ability to work well with diverse teams. I seek out opportunities to involve others in the decision-making process. This collaboration and communication is what has enabled me to achieve success in my department. People are the most valuable resource of any organization."
Response to Sales Manager: "Throughout my career I have always adhered to the principle that everyone in the organization must be sales-focused. My department is always trained in customer service, providing outstanding support to the sales team and to our customers. Without sales, the rest of use would not have a job. I look forward to helping you drive sales in any way possible."
Response to CEO: "I have achieved success in my career because I have been focused on the bottom line. I have always sought out innovative solutions to challenging problems to maximize profitability. Regardless of the task or challenge, I always established benchmarks of performance and standards of excellence. I have never sought to maintain the "status quo." An organization that does not change and grow will die. I would enjoy working with you to help define new market opportunities in order to achieve the organization's goals."
In each instance, we responded to the "needs of the individual." It is almost guaranteed that, when you respond appropriately to the diverse needs of the different managers, you will become the standard by which all of the other candidates will be measured.
I challenge you to learn about your personality and leadership style, learn about the styles of others, and learn how to think on your feet when responding to questions. Whether you are seeking a job or you are gainfully employed, by understanding the needs of others you will become a more valuable person, employee, manager and leader.