m-Pact Career Blog

from Marketing Talent Network

“Tell me About Yourself” – What to Say

For a deceptively simple question, “Tell me about yourself” may be one of the toughest questions to handle properly in the interview.  There is a tendency to do one of two things. 

First, some individuals will answer this question with an answer that goes on and on . . . and on . . . and on . . . and on.  This becomes a huge problem.  You are taking up valuable time in  your interview with your own monologue.  Which might be fine, except that this is not the Johnny Carson Show.  The reason you are in the interview is to answer questions, and not to give a speech.  And to answer those questions in a way that helps you advance in this hiring process.  Plus, there is a certain truth to the observation that the longer your answer, the more likely you are to get yourself in trouble.

Other individuals will answer this question with broad generalities, which also will not get you anywhere closer in your job search.  Don’t waste this question with an answer that doesn’t amount to much more than “small talk”.  You are not in this interview to have a chat.  You are there to get a job.

So how should you handle this question in an interview?  Well, several years ago, Lynden Kidd (a healthcare recruiter) outlined three steps to answering this question that can be applied to almost all industry segments, including marketing:

  • “Summarize your career in one sentence.”
  • “Next give a one to two sentence example demonstrating your accomplishments.”
  • “End your answer to this question with a one sentence statement about what you want to do next in your career . . .”

So, let’s take that three part outline and apply these steps to the next time you hear this question in an interview.  You will find that this interviewing advice is very similar to our advice about a crafting a summary statement for your resume.

Summarize your career in one sentence.  The first rule about answering this question is for each part of the answer to relate to the specific job for which you are interviewing.  This should not be a generic answer.  It should be carefully molded to the specifics of this interview.  For our example here, we will consider a position that involves significant development of new products.  Your answer might begin with a general statement such as:  “I’m a marketing professional with 7 years of experience including extensive work in developing products — from concept through development details such as product design and packaging to product launch.”  So, the first part of your answer is general, but customized to the specific job for which you are interviewing

Give a brief example demonstrating your accomplishments.  This is the part where we take the answer from the general to the specific.  In this stage of answering the question, you give specifics to demonstrate your success in handling this type of position in the past.  In our chosen example:  “In my last position, we introduced 3 major new products, plus a number of line extensions.  Each of these products exceeded sales expectations by between 3% and 17%, and one of them was the second most successful product launch in the company’s 37 year history.”  As with our example here, this should be limited to only a couple of sentences.  What you have done here is provide information to show how effectively you have performed this job in your career.

Conclude with a one sentence statement about what you want to do next in your career.  We shouldn’t need to state the obvious, but we will.  This conclusion needs to flow logically from the rest of your answer, and fit in well with the specifics of this company and position.  Using the example here, you do not want to say that you are really looking to add Internet experience to your resume.  Rather, your close to this answer might sound something like this:  “I love working with new products and am interested in an opportunity that focuses on this area, and a company where development of new products is a high priority.”  What you have accomplished in this sentence is to say I’m a marketing professional with 7 years of experience including extensive work in developing products — from concept through development details such as product design and packaging to product launch.  What you have done here is to say why you are interested in this opportunity, and why they should be interested in you.

So, your answer the question “Tell me about yourself” in an interview with a company looking for a Product Manager in charge of New Products ends up being something like this: 

I’m a marketing professional with 7 years of experience including extensive work in developing products — from concept, through development details such as product design and packaging, to product launch. In my last position, we introduced 3 major new products, plus a number of line extensions.  Each of these products exceeded sales expectations by between 3% and 17%, and one of them was the second most successful product launch in the company’s 37 year history.  I love working with new products and am interested in an opportunity that focuses on this area, and a company where development of new products is a high priority.

By following this technique your answer to a general question, a question that is typically one of the first ones asked in the interview, is neither general nor meaningless.  It immediately confirms that you are indeed someone that they should be considering for this opportunity.  And it establishes a solid foundation for the rest of your interview.

But, you say, I don’t think that I could come up with something like this off the top of my head.  You’re right.  You probably can’t.  Which is why we are going to give you three additional rules on handling this question in our next article.

John

May 31, 2008 Posted by | Tips - Interviewing, Uncategorized | Leave a comment