You’ve scheduled the job interview and know the exact location where you’re going. You’ve researched the employer, are dressed for success and ate your Wheaties. Now you’re face to face in the interview and it’s time for the real deal.
Employer: “Thanks for coming in today. As I mentioned earlier, we have one position open and have been interviewing candidates all week. Let’s go ahead and start.”
“So tell me about yourself.”
You: “Thank you, I’m happy to be here. Well, ummmm, I’ve been married for 14 years and have 3 kids. I grew up in the Bay Area and really enjoy living in this community. We have 2 cats but I’m really a dog person. I’m pretty good at doing office stuff and like, helping people.”
Sound familiar? This opening question (So Tell Me About Yourself – STMAY for short) is intentionally open-ended. When broken down into manageable pieces, STMAY is not that overwhelming. In fact, answering STMAY efficiently and effectively gives you the opportunity to talk about your strengths, achievements and qualifications for the position. A strong answer can serve as a positive starting point for the rest of your answers, while a weak answer can quickly get you derailed from the beginning. Essentially, STMAY sets the tone for the remainder of the interview. A large reason why this is a commonly asked first interview question is because employers want to see where your head goes in your response – do you go personal or professional?
Obviously, the problem with talking about yourself personally is that you’re not there to chit-chat – you’re there for a job. There’s no need to waste your time (and your interviewer’s time) discussing your family tree, personal problems or favorite color. You’ve got a good 45-60 second window to present your professional “commercial” (aka elevator pitch) and really give the employer a highlighted snapshot of your best core skills and abilities that relate to the position. How do you do that? By keeping your STMAY answer strictly professional and covering 2 important areas:
1. Hard Skills
These are the types of specific skills that are industry-based and can be taught, learned or trained. They represent the minimum amount of proficient abilities necessary to do a job and are usually the first thing that employers use to screen and weed out unqualified applicants.
2. Soft Skills
These describe your core values and interpersonal abilities. They include work ethic, honesty and integrity as well as flexibility, cooperating with others (teamwork/team player), attitude, creativity and most importantly, communication.
If you take a good look at what most employers put in their job posts, communication is a consistent characteristic and ranks very high. Employers make a point of preferring candidates who “… have excellent written and verbal communication”. In addition to touching on your technical hard skills, mixing your communication abilities with other soft skills as part of your overall STMAY answer is vital.
Here’s a better sample answer than the previous one:
“I am an extrovert who interacts well with people. I like to set myself goals and keep them and I’m very persistent. I was the top sales rep at Savoy Company for three years running. Last year I sold over $1 Million worth of product. I want to continue in the pharmaceutical sales field because it’s an area where I can continue to strengthen my ability to create solid long term relationships with clients. I want to work for your company in particular because you concentrate on gastroenterology drugs, which is an area that I specialize in – and is growing at a rate of 20% per year. That gives you a solid base from which to introduce your new products. I’m excited about that and would love to contribute to your goals.”
Lastly, some folks may have a difficult time touting their abilities or accomplishments, thinking that they are being arrogant or prideful. However, there is a distinct difference between confidence and cockiness. Remember, it’s ok to brag on yourself professionally and mention specific moments that you’re proud of. If you’re not summarizing your best traits and selling that as part of your overall skills package when answering STMAY, just know that the candidates who interviewed before you did – so there’s no reason you can’t either!
About the Author: David Nicola has over 15 years of experience in the Human Services field. He currently serves as the Career Services Director at Laurus College, providing job search information and resources to college students of all ages. He loves to golf, spend time with his family and is a hard core San Francisco Giants fan! You can follow him on Twitter (@Capt_Careerist) and connect with him on LinkedIn and Google+.