Revealing the winning you: How to answer when they say, "Tell me about yourself"

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It’s usually among the first questions, if not the very first, that you’ll be facing.

For some, it is the most uncomfortable question during the job interview: "Can you tell me about yourself?"

Of course you can; who knows you better than you?


Fraught with danger

But who likes answering that question? Unfortunately, hiring managers and executive recruiters in the financial industry love asking it. It’s easy for them and difficult for you. Open ended, highly interpretive and fraught with danger; much like the industry itself.

So you have to be prepared for it because it comes up in formal interviews and at informal networking events. In an airplane, on an elevator or at that summer barbecue—wherever a likely or prospective employer or contact needs to gain an understanding of you, your skills and what you can offer.

You can attack this in a variety of ways. Here are a few options:

  • The summary: “Let me tell you in three words—Bing. Bang. Done.” You carefully choose your words here. This shows you can synthesize data and communicate the vital elements quickly and efficiently.

  • Third person: “People who know me well have said…” This shows that you are aware of your reputation and that their opinions play a role in your consideration process.

  • Tech-savvy: “I Googled myself. Here’s what I found…” Your response here demonstrates creativity, wit, confidence and suggests your reliance on research and data.

  • The testimonial: When you phrase your response with “The compliment I most frequently get is…” you can offer up endorsements from others that extol your strengths and show you in the best light.

But perhaps more than any specific answer, you need to understand what the question is truly trying to assess. Your interviewer has put you on the spot and wants to see how you respond. Are you confident? Are you up to the challenge? Can you hit a curve ball question like this?

The answer is less important than the ability to answer it

Your answer is less important than your ability to respond and your agility in reacting.

Speed is critical. Don’t pause, reflect or stutter on this one. Be prepared to follow with an answer—your answer. Make certain you keep it relevant; your response should be a bridge between you and the position you are seeking. Talk about yourself as if you are doing the job already.

The risk of being different

Giving unusual answers is a departure from the conventional and you have to be comfortable doing it. But this kind of risk—being “different”—is the kind that gets you noticed, remembered and maybe even hired.

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