Interviews can be a nerve-racking experience for candidates of all ages and experience levels. After all, there can be a lot riding on the outcome, so it’s important to get it right and be prepared.
One recurring problem area is how to describe yourself at a job interview. This is a task that comes up time after time and can throw candidates off track just as frequently.
Luckily, we’ve put together this handy step-by-step guide to help you handle the pressure and ensure your CV remains at the top of the pile.
The “tell me about yourself” interview question
One of the standard-issue questions any candidate can expect to hear from their interviewer is the seemingly ever-present line, “tell me about yourself”. Open-ended and deliberately vague, this single utterance can stop any momentum dead in its tracks, crippling any caffeinated confidence you may have gained from that pre-interview coffee.
However, if you do stumble at this early hurdle, this isn’t a cue for you to exit stage left, abandon ship or drive off the edge of a cliff “Thelma & Louise” style – get a hold of yourself! This is the perfect opportunity to get your interview off to a flying start – if you know how to handle it.
Keep it professional
“So, tell me about yourself…”
While it might be tempting to unleash a verbal recitation of your Tinder profile, it’s important to remember that your interviewer is, in all likelihood, referring to your professional history – so keep the weekend references and pub tales to a minimum.
This does, however, provide the perfect window to shed some light on your previous employment and career achievements thus far. Sell yourself, don’t be modest and be proud of your professional accomplishments: this is the ideal opportunity to tell your would-be employer exactly why YOU are the one for job.
A strong opening
Knowing where to begin can make or break an interview; start off on the wrong path and you could quickly wind up off the beaten track, in the middle of nowhere. Irrelevant ramblings have no place here.
To get the ball rolling, try opening with a notable fact about your work ethic. This is a fool-proof way to get this verbal personal statement off the ground, while it’s also a great line to segue seamlessly into your work history.
Relating your experience to the role
When recounting your previous roles, be sure to include career details that will impress, such as notable achievements and positions of responsibility you may have earned. Facts and figures can provide helpful support, so don’t be afraid to include a stat or two to back up your claims.
Give examples of how you have contributed and made a difference, relating these experiences back to the job you are pursuing. This shows that you understand the role being offered and have the proven ability to excel in that position.
Putting it all together
So, you have the blueprint in mind, now to put it into practice. Luckily, this process can be a lot easier than you may think.
For a salesperson, this could sound something like:
“I truly excel when I’m selling a product I believe in. During my three years as Head of Sales at Chocolate Teapots Ltd, sales of chocolate teapots increased by 40%. Prior to that, I was consistently top salesperson in my team at Inflatable Dartboards Inc, regularly outselling my peers by as much as 180%. I’m really impressed by the products you have and your new ice fireguard is an exciting concept. I’m confident I could use my skills and experience to significantly boost sales of such a great product.”
While the products in that example may have a few minor design flaws, the fact remains: a solid opening line, backed by career facts/stats that are related back to the job at hand can make a great first impression, setting you up for a positive dialogue to follow.
The “what makes you unique” interview question
Another hallmark of many interviews is the equally bewildering query of “what makes you unique?” An ace up the sleeve for any employer looking to weed out the unsuitable, this question is a common stumbling block for many candidates and can cause even the coolest of heads to feel hot under the collar.
Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, the best defence is a good offence, so be prepared to come out fighting with a great response. “How so?” we hear you ask – read on…
While, on the surface, this very statement can seem somewhat belittling (particularly depending on the tone it’s said/read in), it’s actually a very valid question. Among all the other candidates being considered for the role, just what does make you stand out from the crowd?
Now, to be clear, this isn’t an opportunity to break out a party trick or unveil an ill-advised tattoo (although both of those options would surely qualify as memorable); it’s actually the point of the interview where you can explain, in no uncertain terms, why you’re the top prospect.
Digest the job description and reacquaint yourself with exactly why you applied for the role in the first place. Pinpoint what you bring to the table and why your skills match the task at hand. Again, this is another great point to revisit your past achievements and back up your claims with real-life examples.
Try to highlight your overall compatibility with the role and how your talents can help benefit the company. Simply put, let your interviewer know that, not only are you worth employing, they can’t afford to let you go elsewhere.
The “describe yourself” interview question
As we’ve seen above, interviewers love to hear their interviewees present a verbal personal profile. Not only is it a good way to gauge confidence, it’s also an effective method of testing inaccuracies on a CV. Best of all, it allows the employer a chance to hear a candidate’s own self-assessment, straight from the source.
Another variation on this is the “describe yourself” task. Depending on the industry and the job you are applying for, this is a great opportunity to insert a few choice buzzwords that fit the bill. It may be worth revisiting the original job ad for inspiration; from there you can easily hone in on standout phrases that are integral to the position and relate them back to your own experiences.
Words like “reliable”, “productive” and “flexible” can be music to the ears of an interviewer, conveying a candidate that isn’t afraid of work and can be trusted to get a job done when it needs doing.
Similarly, terms like “professional” and “conscientious” imply that you conduct yourself in a positive manner befitting the workplace, while also painting you as someone that takes pride in their work and will represent a company well.
Additional terms, such as “co-operative”, “friendly” and “sociable” can also serve you well, indicating that you are a team player who can transition well into a team environment. Naturally, these phrases can be particularly useful if you’re applying for a job that involves working closely with others.
However you choose to label yourself, it’s important to remember that there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance; tripping over that line could land you in hot water and quickly turn your interview into a damp squib. Hyperbole and superlatives can backfire dramatically, so use sparingly and only when you can back it up.
Many of the questions and answers above are widely interchangeable, so you should never be at a loss for words. Whichever question your interviewer throws your way, nothing screams “indifference” quite like “I don’t know”, so avoid these fatal three words at all costs. Think of it as the professional equivalent of calling a first date by your ex’s name – it’s an instant turn-off and the chances of a call-back are slim to none.
On the other end of the scale, dishonesty is another interview faux-pas that’s high up on the list. Confidently selling your skills is one thing – fraudulently exaggerating your ability to the point of fiction is another entirely. Lying to your interviewer is inevitably setting yourself up for failure and embarrassment, whether it’s later on in that conversation or further on down the line.
Finally, it’s also widely agreed that cliché answers are an instant eye-roller at interview. Even if you really are a “team player” that “thinks outside the box”, it may be worth keeping idioms and worn-out phrases at arm’s length.
That being said, if it means avoiding the dreaded “I don’t know”, don’t be afraid to grab the low-hanging fruit and push the envelope with the odd phrase, if it helps your cause.