Recently I was at the IITs on the invitation of the placement cell. They wanted some grooming tips on facing interviews. Running the workshop for 300 students was fun! One of the questions which needed the most preparation was the seemingly innocuous question: “Tell me about yourself” .
Interviewers often ask this question at the start of an interview. Or ‘’Walk me through your résumé’.
This is a fuzzy question, and can disorient the interviewee if he is not prepared. Don’t gasp for help “Ummmm…what aspect exactly do you want me to talk about?’ Plunge in and cope.
1. The purpose of the question
There are several reasons why this question is asked:
• It checks your ability to assimilate data and present the salient points. From the mass of information presented in your bio-data, do you have the perspective of picking up the key milestones? You can use this to your advantage by mentioning those areas where you are the strongest.
• The interviewer wants to go beyond the resume, and get a sense of what you are, what drives you. Resumes use ‘cut and paste’ language, and the idea is to know the ‘real you’.
• The reality is that the recruiter may not have had the time to read (or reread) the resume just before you step into the interview room, and looks for a quick refresher. He uses the opportunity to pick on a particular area and take it forward subsequently.
The importance of the question
• It forms the first impression, and gives you an opportunity to steer the interview in the direction most comfortable to you.
Dos and Don’ts
• Keep it brief. This is an opening conversation, and not the entire interview. Some candidates tend to ramble and mention every bullet point of their resume into this response, which ensures that in the first 5 minutes, the interviewer has lost interest.
• Prepare your answer in advance; this will avoid providing a clumsy and scattered response at the spur of the moment.
• Scrutinize the position you are applying for. Mention only those aspects which are relevant from a career prospect (Do not for example say I like dancing and music, hanging out with friends, make friends easily, etc)
Start with a brief personal background. (I grew up in the small town of ……, where I lived for 17 years. My father is in government service/ school teacher/ business, etc.)
I was excited to come to BITS / IIT/ your college…many opportunities to explore
In your institute…what were your key interests, strengths you discovered…. (you could structure it into subsections of : academics, internship projects, sports, positions of responsibility you have held)
2. The Preparation
You have a diversity of skills, abilities and attributes. But to be able to present and articulate them will require introspection. Preparation is based on having a clear sense of who you are and what you have accomplished, as well as what you are accomplishing right at this moment. It depends on your skills on communicating what makes you unique and interesting in the eyes of those you want to impress.
Take stock of your strengths and successes. Think about and answer these questions:
• Can you name five of your most important achievements? Think along the lines of
Initiated a project or got an internship assignment
Handled a difficult situation
Persuaded someone/ group of people to come around your way of thinking
Managed an event
Handled a difficult project/ challenge
• How does your achievements and projects show your unique strengths?
• Why did you choose to do what you are doing?
Though it is well known that a crisp and concise answer is preferable to lengthy and vague ramblings, many of us are unable to apply this principle in interview situations partly due to nervousness and stress but mostly due to lack of clarity on what future employers really want to hear. Hence, we end up reciting a whole laundry list of thoughts/achievements/experiences, hoping some of them will be relevant to the interviewer. The final result? The interviewer is likely to be put off with your digressions, and your talents and qualities won’t register in his mind.
Make sure that your experiences, traits, skills, etc make a mark on the recruiter even after the interview. Write down your skills on a paper. Practice in front of the mirror or with friends. Keeping some standard answer is perfectly fine but make sure that they do not sound rehearsed.
3. Examples of attributes which the interviewer looks for:
Break Through Thinking
Drive for Excellence
Application of theoretical knowledge
Knowledge of ….. Sector (telecom/ construction/ cement etc)
Career/ Personal-goals. Long term vision