Q: You know the scenario yourself – you’re just in the door of the interview, a few pleasantries and handshakes, and then, before you’ve got your breath, they ask you to ‘tell us a little bit about yourself’. I always find it a tough one to start with – where do you stop with a question like that? Your views would be greatly appreciated. (Sandra, email)
A: I feel your pain. It really can be a difficult one to kick off with – in fairness, the interviewer(s) probably think it is a handy one to start with, to settle you in, but, as you’ve pointed out, it has the potential to be a real marathon of an answer.
And yet, surprisingly, many people don’t prepare for this question. Our advice is to have the bones of an answer though through before you go in, so that you can use the opportunity to good effect.
The key thing is not to go into a boring A-Z of where you were born, reared, educated and hired. Instead, seek to make a quick impression by giving some biographical details in rapid-fire style (I’m from AN Other town, I studied ABC in XYZ university, and I have previously worked at 123 Co.). Ideally, this overview should last about 30 seconds.
Then, move into giving something that will help them to see you in their role. Tell them about a key skill – and by ‘key’, we mean a skill that fulfils two key requirements: 1. they are looking for it, and 2. you possess it.
So rather than going the full nine yards with this introductory answer, we would seek to use it to convince them of this key skill. The skill could be your ability to multi-task, if the role is an administrative one providing clerical/administrative support across a wide range of the organisation’s operations.
Or it could be the ability to develop and maintain key relationships if it’s a sales role. If you have looked at the job on offer from the perspective of the employer, you should have a list of key skills that they are looking for and that, hopefully, you possess.
An interview is a series of repeated ‘examples that prove’ and you should look on this opener as just one more of those examples.
Keep it short. That way, you won’t get bogged down in your first answer. It will genuinely help you to settle in. And, remember, when you are finished your answer, stop talking. Let them fill the silence with another question; don’t let your answer ramble on and on until they eventually talk over you with a question.
Answer. Stop. Be silent. Wait for their next question.
Many people are not comfortable with silence, and seek to fill it every opportunity, but in an interview, you should be happy to conclude your answer when you feel you have gone as far as you can with it.
This week’s top tip
When writing your CV, back up any claims with hard facts. If you say you’ve got ‘outstanding people skills’ – let them see the evidence.
It could be your role as staff or class representative. It could be your selection as captain of sports or debating teams. It could be your success as a salesperson. But it must be tangible: otherwise, the claim just sits there on the CV, neither proven nor unproven – and it is our view that unless employers are given concrete evidence, they will tend to be sceptical.
Prove, prove, prove – as best you can – in the CV, and offer more proof in the interview.
Sli Nua Careers (Watson’s Lane, Ballinrobe, Co. Mayo / Drum East, Bushy Park, Galway) tel 094 95 42965 /091 528 883, www.SliNuaCareers.com) help candidates get jobs by carrying out professional CV Preparation (face-to-face and online) and Interview Training (face-to-face and via Skype/video link-up).
Online CV Preparation and Interview Training services provided in Antrim, Armagh, Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Derry, Down, Dublin, Fermanagh, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Leitrim, Limerick, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary, Tyrone, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow