At the panel last night, a student asked each of us to speak on questions that interviewees tend to flub. I won't go into all of them (I don't actually remember everything that was said, sorry), but here's my answer.
So, tell me a little bit about yourself. (Granted, it's not really a question, but a command, still, go with me on this.)
This is how I often start interviews. It's not a particularly deep question, and it really shouldn't be too tricky. However, recently, I have found that about three quarters of candidates can't string together an appropriate answer.
One point that came up multiple times last night (and which I have harped on in the past) is the need to have some sort of strategy or focus. In an interview (and in your resume) you are marketing yourself; you are branding yourself. You need to have some sort of idea of what you want to present to people making decisions about hiring. By asking you to talk about yourself, I am holding open a big wide door for you to shove your strategy right through. Tell me about yourself: I'm just begging for you to tell me all of your strengths, your desires, everything that would make you an asset to my company; all you need to do is offer up a semi-coherent value proposition.
But what do I tend to learn about:
- Your dog;
- Your family;
- That you raise horses in your spare time;
- Your ultimate frisbee team;
- That you're looking for a job; etc.
If, in telling me about yourself, you focus on your family life, well, then I know what you'll tend to be focused on during work hours. If you cannot maintain focus through the first five minutes of the interview, you have told me way more than you had intended.
It is important to prepare for this type of question. It doesn't matter whether or not anyone ever asks it. It matters that you are thinking about your strategy, that you are focused on your goal and that you are tailoring your answers to the impression that you wish to make.
Easy open questions like this are an opportunity for you to set the terms of the interview. You can set the framework by which your answers will be judged, you can set the foundation for other answers and you can (sometimes) lead the direction that questioner will take.
Goal. Strategy. Focus. These are important, not your dog.*
*Apologies to my dog, whom I am sure is a regular reader of this blog. Yes, Wembley, I always talk about you in interviews.