You finally got that long-awaited call inviting you to interview for your dream job. You are super pumped. You have researched the organization and likely know more about its history than many of its current employees. You have researched the most-common and most-difficult interview questions and practiced answering them in front of the mirror. You feel good about your planned response to them all, except one, “So, tell me about yourself.” For some reason, you keep coming up with a different answer to that question because you’re not quite certain how to balance your personal and professional attributes for the interviewer. They could be interested in a high-level summary of your professional and educational backgrounds only. Or they might be interested to know if you have interests outside of work like sports, cooking, crafting, photography, etc. because that shows that you know how to balance your personal life and work. Depending upon your interests, the interviewer may glean that you manage time well; are a leader; communicate effectively; and/or are a team player. With that in mind, you definitely want to say the right thing…and say it in a way that makes them think to themselves, “This is the person we want on our team.”
Well, I am here to put you at ease with my proven process for responding to this nerve-racking request. Some people suggest that hiring managers are only interested in your on-the-job performance and could care less about what you do when you are not at work…as long as it’s not illegal. Believe it or not, many hiring managers want to know that their employees are well-rounded and have outside interests that they pursue during their down time, away from work. Since interviewers typically make this request right out of the gate, to get the interview started, I recommend that you strategize by offering a proportioned response that provides a peek into the “away-from-work you,” while using the greatest percentage of your response to subtly set the tone of the interview by emphasizing how closely your qualifications match the requirements of the job. You can easily achieve this objective by applying my proven PEPI strategy for dividing my response to this request into four (4) segments: Personal – 10%, Educational – 15%, Professional – 65%, and Interests – 10%:
• Personal Details – While you limit discussions regarding your personal life during a job interview, you should not discount the value of relaying a couple of personal characteristics about yourself. For example, your conversation with the interviewer might lend itself to your sharing tidbits like what you thought you wanted to be when you grew up; the sports you played, or the school clubs you belonged to; the musical instrument you played in the band; your favorite food or restaurant; or something funny that your pet does. A few well-inserted personal characteristics make you more relatable. It also sometimes brings a bit of appropriate humor to the setting, which reduces stress and helps everyone to relax a little. Keep in mind that the interview process is stressful for the interviewer(s) as well because they are interviewing person after person, at the expense of productive time on their daily work assignments. Remember to steer clear of politics and religion, or controversial topics that are not suitable for discussion in the work environment.
Remember, you are interviewing for a job. So, your education and professional backgrounds play the biggest part in getting you the job. Below is how I recommend that you emphasize your qualifications, based on the number of years, and your level, of professional experience related to the job.
• Educational Background – Because your education plays a big part in your meeting the qualifications of the position, you want to mention your field of study. Although you definitely do not want to belabor it, if you have one year or less professional experience that is directly-related to the position for which you are interviewing, and your education is directly-related to the position, you should showcase your education over your professional experience. If you have completed additional directly-related training, and/or you are working towards a directly-related professional certification, you may need to spend a little more time explaining how your educational background relates to the position.
If you have five or more two (2) years or more of directly-related work experience, you will need to reduce the amount of time that you focus on your education. While education is undeniably valuable, hands-on experience trumps classroom education. You are in the most-advantageous circumstance when you have both the directly-related educational background and at least five years of relevant professional experience.
• Professional Experience – If you have five or more years of directly-related, professional experience, you want to showcase it by picking the top three-to-five most-impactful duty statements that were listed in the vacancy announcement and explain how your professional background has enabled you to develop the very knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to perform successfully in your position of interest, as a member of the employer’s team. No one should know your qualifications better than you because you are doing, or have done, the job. Most of us know our jobs well, but we sometimes don’t explain our professional history well. So, one of your goals is to become proficient at confidently expressing your qualifications. Typically, you begin with your current, or most-recent, related experience and succinctly explain how it has prepared you for this position that you want. You then further support your assertion by working your way in reverse order through your work history, like a verbal chronological resume, to explain what you have gained from each position that you have held played a role in your becoming the ideal candidate for the position. You should briefly describe projects that you have worked on, to show creativity, leadership qualities, time management, and implementation skills, which hiring managers place a high value on, no matter the career field.
• Interests – extracurricular activities such as sports, writing, and community involvement, can indicate that a candidate is a team player, is creative, and is civically engaged…concerned about their neighborhood, schools, etc. Just as with the personal details, you should share just enough to positively separate you from the other candidates under consideration, but not discuss potentially controversial topics.
Most people don’t approach the job interview as a business venture, but that is exactly what it is. You are your business, and your mission is to get the job of your dreams. So, you must outshine your competition to become the hiring manager’s selected candidate. Your success depends on a well-thought-out plan based on sound strategy that takes every available opportunity to emphasize your strengths as a candidate. This is precisely why you should practice answering interview questions so that you will learn how to market your qualifications in a non-pretentious, seemingly effortless, manner. Take it from the person who, in February of this year, held two attractive, signed job offers in hand, each with a highly-reputable organization. If you follow my recommended career search process, you, too could find yourself facing a similar set of fortunate circumstances. Stay tuned for my upcoming Career Search Rx e-course that will walk you step-by-step through the career search process, from developing the mindset of success to accepting an offer. You won’t have to go it alone. I’ll be with you every step of the way. Come on, let’s get your dream job!