Very often the first question that an employer will ask in a job interview is “So, can tell me about yourself?” (or words to that effect). The way that this question is answered sets the tone for the entire interview. Unfortunately, many inexperienced interviewees answer in such a way that puts them immediately out of contention. They essentially just recite the information contained in their resumes, with which the interviewer is already familiar. That may suggest that they have some combination of timidness, lack of imagination, or cluelessness.

Few employers really enjoy interviewing prospective employees. The process can be boring, and the time it takes to interview is time they’re not devoting to performing their job functions (unless they’re in HR). And it’s a process that’s generally ill-defined but that requires a lot of focus and attention. So a key to success in responding to the “Tell Me About Yourself” request is to engage and impress the interviewer.

My Process

I coach my clients to respond by beginning with a little (I emphasize LITTLE) personal information: “I was born in Lima, Ohio and had a pretty typical childhood until I went out-of-state to George Washington here in DC, where I decided to major in finance, primarily due to an awesome professor I had freshman year. I was lucky enough to land a summer internship at Bank of America two years later, and that really hooked me.” Then I suggest that they pivot the conversation to what the interviewer really wants to know: “Is this a person we should hire?” The pivot can be accomplished smoothly by saying something along the lines of “But let me tell you what I think it’s most important for you to know about me.” The pivot suggests boldness, initiative, and efficiency: a no-nonsense approach that is pretty much universally valued.

SO what exactly should you pivot TO?. To your ability to meet and exceed the requirements of the job, supported by citing specific past examples of success. You will want to be sure that, to the degree possible you cite specific results. This may not necessarily involve numbers – though that would be ideal (e.g. “I landed $2.3 M worth of business) but should at least be somewhat detailed (e.g. “I was a key contributor to the decision to refine our target customer to CIOs of companies rather than COOs”).

Except in entry-level kinds of situations, don’t just talk about what you managed or were responsible for in your work history. Anyone, good or bad, who holds a particular position can claim with equal validity that they managed or were responsible for something(s)/someone(s). Talk about end results, achievements, accomplishments, demonstrating the value that you’ve created in previous jobs. And then make it clear how those past actions predict positive contributions to your prospective employer.