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A Strategy for Answering the Most Difficult and Important Interview Question

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When it comes to interview preparation, there is one type of interview question that can sometimes cause great anguish and anxiety for interviewees. This question is considered by most one of the more difficult questions to answer, yet it is also the most important as it is usually asked in 99.9% of the interviews and usually comes as the first question in the interview. We know this question as “Tell me about yourself.”

Like many other interview questions, there are multiple approaches or strategies one can use to best answer the question. However, there is one strategy that I find to be most useful when answering the big question “Tell me about yourself”. This strategy is especially helpful if interviewees are asked a two- or three-part question, such as “Tell me about yourself and why you are interested in this position.” The strategy goes as follows:

Part 1: Tell Me About Yourself

When answering this questions I recommend that you break your story into three parts: The Present, the Past, and the Future. Lets start with the Present.

Present: For this part you will want to include everything you are current involved with including, degree, field of study, institution, current work experience, current extra-curricular involvements, etc. From there you will transition into part two (the Past).

Past: For this you will focus on your involvements from the past 2-4 years (you don’t want to go too far back unless you are a career changer or mid-way through your career. Similar to the Present, you can include past degrees, work experience, and leadership or activity involvements. Once complete, now it is time to move on to part three (the Future).

Future: In this part you will focus on your short-term aspirations or career goals. One piece of advice is to try and tailor your goals to that of which is related to the type of position or organization you are interviewing with. These goals can and will most likely change, so I suggest mentioned your current career goals. Even if they do change, I promise that the employer will not come find you 5-10 years from now to inform you that you lied about your goals.

Part 2: Why You Are Interested in the Position/Company?

In case you are asked a multiple part question (Tell me about yourself and why you are interested in this position), the aforementioned strategy (Present, Past, Future) will allow you to develop a smooth transition to Part 2 of the question by simply stating after the “Future” part, “Hence why I am interested in this position.” Because your future goals will most likely be tailored to the position and/or company you are interviewing with, you can now use this phrase to lead into what specifically attracts you to their company or the position (depending on how they ask the question). For this part of the question I recommend using another strategy called “The Rule of 3”. This strategy can also be helpful if asked questions pertaining to Strengths, Skills and Qualifications, or personal Characteristics. Moreover, this rule is also applied to how many references is it recommended to list and the minimum number of questions you should have ready for the interviewer.

Rule of 3: Assuming you have researched the position and the company thoroughly, you will want to identify the three aspects of the position or company that you find the most attractive or of greatest interest. Make sure these characteristics are specific to the position or company and not generalized. For instance, these characteristics should signify what makes them unique amongst their competitors, or if relative to a position – what makes the position positively unique when compared to other similar positions.

As always, detail is your best friend; providing greater clarification and the opportunity to make a stronger impact during your interview. Oh…and one more thing, don’t forget to practice, practice, practice. Fine-tuning your response to this type of question takes time so be patient, reflect on your journey and go into the interview with the confidence that will knock their socks off.


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