I have conducted more than fifteen thousand interviews in my professional career. Still, after so many numbers, I find the same pattern in people trying to answer the most straightforward questions during the interview. In November 2021, I organized a discussion with some prospective guys for a Head of Finance role in our company. We started with the usual chat initially and then quickly moved to the questions I drafted. The first three were easy to answer and with only a few words. I thought that everything will be fine and I can add this candidate to the shortlist I have had to present to our General Manager later the same week. He looked promising on his CV, and the first answers gave me some hope that he would be our candidate. But then I moved to the question, “Could you tell me more about yourself as a person and professional?” And here is where I understood that this person could not present himself in a way to sell his skills and expertise. The conversation turned into a slow-moving horror movie from that moment on. The candidate gave long answers while I tried to stop him and move to the next topic. Finally, he turned to share personal things and emotional experiences, and we got far away from the goal of our conversation. At the end of the meeting, I felt relieved that we were finishing and wrote NO on his CV.
After a day, I sat down and thought again about this case. Someone who is senior, but can’t correctly present himself. I had to reject the candidate, although his experience was exactly what we were searching for. I called a colleague, who had worked with the candidate, explained what had happened, and asked for her opinion. The feedback was very positive and made me think if I could somehow help the candidate through our process. I then contacted the person and shared with him my position. To my surprise, he agreed with everything and told me: “I understand that my presentation was weak, but in time I have always been struggling with the answer to the question, What can you tell me about yourself? There are so many things that I want to share. I do not know where to start and when and how to finish.”
That made me think again about how talent attracts people, and hiring managers to torture the candidates by asking so generic questions that people do not know how to answer. And at the same time, people are judged in interviews by their answers, without even knowing what criteria for evaluation of these answers are set.
This changed my understanding of the candidate’s presentation and made me re-formulate the Tell me about yourself question to allow all candidates to shine with their greatest strengths.
After that, I returned to the candidate and explained what we really want to hear as an answer to the question, “What can you tell me about yourself?”. As a result, three days later, this same candidate interviewed with our GM and is now a happy member of the company team.
What I shared with the candidate are three main pillars of the question to be answered. I believe that these pillars can help anyone prepare for and win the interview of the dream job they have always wanted. Here they are:
Limit the answer between two and four minutes
The answer to “Tell me about yourself” is a short overview of what you and the interviewer will focus on in the meeting. There is no need for many details here. You only need to pin several points that can help the further development of the conversation. The short overview in this part of the conversation is the prerequisite of the discussional part of the meeting. It aims to set the ground stage by showing who you are as a person, what you are most proud of in your profession as an achievement, and how you see the world or said, in other words – what values drive your behavior.
Start your answer with a story, not facts
According to Boston consulting group research conducted in 2019, people are twenty-two times more motivated to remember a story when a fact is shared during a conversation. People are not facts oriented. They want to connect what you share with their personal experience and understandings. Stories create space for factual and emotional comparison. They allow everyone to build their version of your account and compare it to the reality and the world they live in. That is why you need to focus on creating a compelling story.
Share only two strengths
While talking about ourselves, we want to present all the things we are good at. That is a huge mistake. No one is good at everything or an expert in every area. Our experience is mainly built on two to five strengths, from which two are essential and the others are supportive. If you can find your two fundamental forces and present them, you can easily create the impression of being focused and with solid self-awareness. The mistake I often see is that people try to talk to everything. And most of them make this mistake because of the passiveness of the interviewing person. With no intention to spot the interviewee, this person creates space for chaos and disruptions in the interview. That is why the interviewee should prepare in advance for the meeting. Check what strengths from the list he thinks is possessing are crucial for the role and focus on them to show himself as a successful candidate and a good option.
Formulate the answer to the question “What is in for me?”
You have started your presentation by answering the Tell me about yourself question. You talk about yourself, your achievements, how good you are with people, and how great you are with change management initiatives. And after the whole tirade the interviewer still asks questions you think you answered minutes ago. “Is he listening to me?” you ask yourself. The answer is YES; he is listening. But at the same time, you have missed sharing something important. With your strengths on the table and your astonishing short story, how can you solve this person problems and issues. There is a reason why a job is advertised. The reason is caused by a problem or challenges the organization has faced. And the hiring person sits opposite you because he is searching for a solution. Unfortunately, many candidates miss this part. And that is why many candidates fall out of the recruitment process sooner than expected. To position yourself as a successful candidate for the role, you must show that you are the solution for the pain points and concerns the company has addressed while advertising the position. This needs some preliminary research and asking question in the beginning of the meeting, but still you will need to focus on delivering solution than just selling yourself as the panacea for everything.
Show alignment with a company mission statement
Another weak point in the interviews for many candidates is that they talk about their values and align with the company values, talk about company culture, and see themselves as part of precisely such type of culture, but often forget to connect themselves with the company mission. Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that you will have to stop talking about these things, but they are just elements in the path of reaching the final goal – fulfilling the company mission. Organizations exist because of their mission. They seek contributors to help them achieve this mission. If a candidate wants to connect with an organization, they have to focus on aligning their mission in life with the company’s mission. The show up of how your mission in life is connecting with the long-term organizational mission is what can make or brake your interview. As close as your mission connects with the company’s mission, the more chances you have to be liked and hired quickly.
Many people underestimate the power of the simple question, “Can you tell me more about yourself?”. The sooner everyone realizes how important the answer to this question is, the more successful the recruiting process will be. So now, what are you waiting for? Grab a pen and paper or open your favorite notes app and start building your personal answer of this question.