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Good Interview Answers for 'Tell Us About Yourself'

by Ruth Mayhew

Responding to an unclear, ambiguous question leads to an answer that probably won't satisfy the interviewer's curiosity about you. That's why your response to the inevitable, "Tell me about yourself," interview question must be well-constructed, engaging and brief. You needn't tell the interviewer your life story, nor should you. Talk about your profession, where you've been, where you're going and what you can do for the company.

She's Just Not That Into You

When a recruiter or hiring manager asks the No. 1 question many job seekers dread, she doesn't want to know everything about you. She's not interested in your family, where you lived or how well your job search is progressing. When you answer this question, give a well-rehearsed, fluidly spoken answer that concludes with the reason why you're sitting across the desk from her. Gauge how much the interviewer wants to hear from the type of demeanor she exhibits – whether she's the strictly business type or if she's interested in hearing a brief story about why you're in this field.

Keep It Short, Seasoned Workers

Job seekers who have been around the block – professionally speaking, that is – may have a lot to share about their experiences. But the interviewer isn't going to be enthralled by a soliloquy and doesn't want a complete recitation of your career. Your resume sums up the highlights of your career and the employment application contains the details of your previous jobs. If you've been in the workforce, say, 30 years, divide your career into three stages: early, mid-career and senior level, that you are at the pinnacle of your career.

All Work and No Play

Although employers like to hire well-rounded employees, when the hiring manager says, "Tell me about yourself," she's interested in knowing how good your performance is and what you bring to that organization's table. She doesn't want to know about how you spend your weekends or whether you love to play on the company softball team. Those topics will eventually come up in the normal course of conversation either later in the interview or during a subsequent meeting. In this case, stick to your professional accomplishments unless you are involved in volunteer or community activities that are related to your professional expertise. For example, you could say, "I've been practicing law for eight years – mostly trial work – which I love. My client base is comprised of small tech businesses with approximately 25 to 50 employees; many of them are involved in litigation over patents, trade secrets and other matters concerning software and mobile apps development. Once a month, however, I spend several hours working with law students judging mock trial competitions at my alma mater."

Craft an Elevator Speech

If you're good at professional networking, you never know when you might encounter someone who's a hiring manager or who can recommend you for a job. For networking, you should prepare a 30-second elevator speech, which is similar to your answer to the least-favorite interview question. An elevator speech is a summary of your professional qualifications, what you're seeking in a job and what you have to offer. And it's short enough to share during a brief elevator ride. An example of an elevator speech is, "Hello, I'm Jane Doe. I'm looking for opportunities in medical device sales after spending the first 10 years of my career in pharmaceutical sales. My ability to cultivate great relationships with clients is what's contributed to my success – for the last three years, I've exceeded the company's revenue goals by 130 percent. I'd like to stay in touch – do you have a card? Here's mine."

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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