Why You Should LOVE the Tell Me About Yourself Question

You know it's coming. In most large organizations, an interviewer is going to take a glance at your resume that morning - if you are lucky it will be an in-depth look. They are going to plan a few questions and try to understand the role. And then you'll hear it.  

"So...tell me about yourself."

I've coached a lot of people who are transitioning careers and many of them dread the Tell Me About Yourself (TMAY) question. They feel it's too open ended and worry about sharing too much or too little. They don't feel like they know what the interviewer is looking for.  

The truth is that the TMAY question is a layup. You should CRUSH this question every time. It's a gimme. Here's why:

  1. You can prepare for it in advance.
  2. You can immediately connect to what they are looking for.
  3. You get the control to tell your story.
  4. You can set the stage for your close.
  5. You can see what resonates in your interviewer.

You can prepare for it in advance.

No one wants an over-rehearsed robot, but if you know the question is coming, you can put together a good 2-3 minute answer. There is nothing wrong with saying it out loud to yourself, to a friend, or to the nearest canine. Tim Ferriss (author of "The 4-Hour Workweek") practiced a speech in front of chihuahuas. Jerry Seinfeld rehearsed his first tonight show spot over 200 times. You may not be prepping to meet Johnny Carson and you are not up next to present at SXSW, but the point is that rehearsing makes you better. You can craft your message and get it right.

You can immediately connect to what they are looking for.

When you review a job description, you should be looking for the 3 legs that support the job. In any job, there are typically 3 main skills or experiences needed to excel. Once you find these key points, you can weave them into your TMAY answer. No one wants to hear, "I was born in..." at the start of an answer. Why not start with, "There have been 3 themes throughout my career that have been consistent." Then hit them with the X, Y, and Z that align their 3 things and your strengths. This lets you connect right away with their needs.

You get the control to tell your story.

Once you layout your X, Y, and Z, you can spend the rest of the answer building supporting evidence of the 3 points. As your career progresses, highlight the key accomplishments that directly align with the key points. For example, if you're talking about building a team (because it's a supporting leg and a strength for you), you can briefly touch on the teams you've built. In a TMAY question, you have the floor. You get to control where the story goes and you can focus your time building your case and connecting the dots.  

You can set the stage for your close.

When I was commuting a lot, I used to listen to the Manager Tools podcast. In one episode, they discussed the importance of closing an interview. I was floored. You need to close? It was new to me. When you use the 3 legs approach, you are setting yourself up for a great interview close. You've talked about the 3 themes and built supporting evidence throughout the interview. When you come to the end of the interview, you can restate your 3 keys and express your interest in the role. "I'm excited to take the next step and feel my experience with X, Y, and Z could deliver [insert goal or pain point] to [insert company name]."

You can see what resonates in your interviewer.

Of course, you are nervous.  And of course, you want to make sure you are making sense as you answer. But maybe, you can observe your interviewer at the same time. You can watch for body language - when they take notes, when they nod or smile, if they speak, or when they furrow their brow. These cues can let you know if your 3 keys are on track and signal what's important to the interviewer. If you pay attention, you can see where to follow up and what you might want to ask. If you know what resonates, you can stay on point. 

So the next time you get the TMAY, remember these 5 points.  Look forward to the question, take advantage of the layup, and score your points early.  

Do you love or dread the TMAY question? Do you have tips for others?  If so, share them in the comments section.  If you found this post valuable, please share it on the interwebs.

- Mike Sweeney, www.sabercoaching.com