USAA Tips: How to handle 'tell me about yourself' in an interview

Content provided courtesy of USAA

Are you preparing for a job interview? By now you know that first interview question is the most recognized starter question for almost every interview, “Tell me about yourself.” Nail this and you can set the right tone for the entire interview.

How do you do this? Sometimes, people use this opportunity to tell their life story. After all, the question was about ME right?

Not so fast!

It’s not about you as much as being about what you can do for the company.

Here are three things you can do when answering this classic kickoff to the interview question:

1. Build a solid case for hiring YOU based on everything you’ve done up to this point that directly correlates to hiring YOU!

Everything that comes out of your mouth should tell the tale of what your past brings to the company’s future. Every example, every success, every obstacle you’ve overcome in the past should strongly support your ability to succeed in the future at this company. Choose your words wisely and make it the best response possible to this important question that sets the stage for the rest of the interview.

Here’s an example:

You’re interviewing for a position that requires you to train people on a series of brand new software programs.

“Tell me about yourself.”

“I graduated with honors from the University of __________ with a degree in IT. During my college years, I was active in an IT Innovation Club and held the offices of secretary and vice president. We met regularly and beta-tested nearly 100 software programs in 3 years. I’m certified in every system mentioned on your job description and scored 100% on the first try. Before this, I served in the military and managed a team of 12 software analysts and trained each person to meeting 100% first time success on their certification exams. I was hand-selected 2 times to represent my military branch at the Worldwide IT Conference and received an outstanding evaluation and recognition for a training program I developed, which I can show you now if you’d like.”

2. Draw a line from the job description to your experience.

You should do this ahead of time on actual pen and paper, but you need to be able to articulate this verbally and with proof. Read the job description and circle the things that jump out at you – all the things that you know you’ve done and can continue to do. Add specific examples of how well you understand the requirements of the job and back these up with facts, examples of your work, and measurable evidence of how well you did in these tasks and activities. Remember “Show & Tell”? Well, here you want to “Tell & Show”. Explain (Tell) specifics from the job description as they relate to your specific experiences. Then, ask if you can share some documentation or examples (Show).

“First, let me thank you for meeting with me to discuss this exciting opportunity! When I first read the job description, I felt this was the right fit for me and I’m glad we’ll get a chance to see if I’m the right fit for the company. Specifically, your job description lists 3 major areas I feel my experience can benefit you. For example,…May I show you some examples of my work?”

3. Tell hints of stories and give preview-type examples based on facts from your past.

Remember, you don’t have time to give an entire speech on your past and how great a fit you are for the job, you just need to hit the high points with a narrative that’s filled with pinpoint accuracy based on your being highly qualified for the job. Highlight only the items in your previous jobs that offer the perfect example of how great a fit you are. If you prepare your opening statement correctly, you can build upon your initial words by dropping a few “hints” of stories. Again, we’re talking about mentioning or dropping hints which plant the seeds for the interviewer getting an initial sense of what you bring to the job.

Using these three strategies will help you be successful at answering that very first question of your interview.