Excelling in job interviews is all about strategy and preparation. There’s a careful balance between being versed in how you’ll respond to the questions you expect and not sounding overly rehearsed.
Some people default to “winging it” during job interviews because they don’t want to sound robotic and rehearsed or drawing blank if they lose track of what they had planned to say.
That is a defensive strategy, and it is less likely to result in achieving the outcomes you’re aiming for -- to get invited back for subsequent interviews and ultimately to receive a job offer.
I recommend a different strategy -- one rich in insight, data gathering, and preparation -- that allows you to be mentally prepared to easily tackle the inevitable questions you were not expecting. After all, it’s impossible to predict every question you’ll receive. That makes it doubly important to set yourself up to handle some unexpected curveballs, last minute changes, and even the occasional intentional disruption to test how you respond under pressure.
How to Answer the Dreaded "Tell Us about You" Question in a Job Interview
Let’s take the most common interview question under the sun: “Could you please introduce yourself and tell us about you and why you’re interested in this position?”
There is absolutely no benefit to winging an answer to this question on the fly.
After all, people are generally more uncomfortable talking about themselves than other topics. This question is one of the more personal you will get during an interview, AND it’s generally the first question.
Do you really want to answer this question feeling uncomfortable, unsure of what you want to say, droning on waywardly for 4 minutes before you realize you’ve spoken twice as long as anyone expected without having answered the question?
Why set yourself up to fail?
4 ways to prepare yourself to answer the personal introduction question:
Thoroughly review the position description. What are the core functions of the position? How do those functions relate to those that you excel at? How strong is the alignment between the skills they are looking for and the skills you have?
Research the organization. What are they about? What excites you about what they do? Why are THEY an organization you are highly considering for your next move?
Learn what you can about the organizational culture in advance. How do they run their operation? What type of organizational culture do they foster? How does that relate to the type of environment where you want to be?
Consider your career arc. What are you trying to accomplish with your career? What’s the impact you want to have? The outcomes you’d like to be part of? The professional contribution you’d like to make? How are your goals advanced through taking on this position with this organization?
Preparing each of these and integrating them into your response can set you up well to have a clear and concise answer that resonates with the people interviewing you.
Consider a previous personal introduction I’ve used in the interview setting, which hits all the bases noted above, given the position I was applying for:
My name is Christina. I am an urban planner by training with about 10 years experience in personnel and program management. I graduated from Allegheny College with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and Environmental Studies, and earned a Master Degree from Tufts University in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. I’ve spent the entirety of my career doing mission driven work in the non-profit sector, and I want to use my career to build stronger, more resilient and accessible communities. I’ve worked in matrixed environments requiring significant community and stakeholder engagement for a medium-sized and a start up non-profit. Serving as the Director of Livable Communities with your organization fits squarely into my vision of doing meaningful, mission driven work that serves people at the local level. I view this as an opportunity to have a genuine positive impact with the next step in my career.
It is missing one piece, however, that can take your answer to the next level: the self-assurance of rooting your answer in the context of strengths.
If I were in that interview again, here’s what I would say:
My name is Christina. I am an urban planner by training, on a professional endeavor to build stronger, more resilient and accessible communities. I have 10 years experience in personnel and program management, which I excel at by being a pacesetter, having flexibility and a sense of resourcefulness, and the ability to build strong relationships that can help a team excel and make it greater than the sum of its parts.
I’ve spent the entirety of my career doing mission driven work in the non-profit sector, which has benefited greatly from my blend of intensity and drive to solve complex problems and deliver innovative solutions, my thorough and conscientious approach to navigating risks, and my desire for social depth and transparency to enable teams to succeed.
I’ve worked in matrixed environments requiring significant community and stakeholder engagement. This is work that I truly love, as I am able to leverage my acute awareness of the needs and unvoiced concerns of others, alongside my ability to forge connections and create consensus, allowing people with vastly different perspectives to work together productively.
Serving as the Director of Livable Communities with your organization fits squarely into my vision of doing meaningful, mission driven work that serves people at the local level, allowing me to make a demonstrable impact with the next step in my career, doing what I do best.
See the difference?