“Tell me about yourself” is a very common start to an interview but also a deceptively difficult opening for most of us - especially for individuals who do not speak English as a native language.
Over the years, I have found that the vast majority of people I meet will pick a point in time - mostly around college - and then ramble through jobs and life events. Often, people tend to start talking and then speed up and keep talking. People will often overshare about bad decisions or difficult moments in life. If you can imagine for a moment an EKG or seismograph, you would have an accurate depiction of how this type of presentation might sound to the interviewer… we are admitting to having life push and pull us around with rarely a plan in place.
Honestly speaking, very few of us did have a plan in our younger days and life did kind of unroll before us.
However, the person on the other side of the table would ideally like to hire someone who is active in determining their life and does not simply take the path of least resistance.
So, how should you reply to the “tell me about yourself” opening?
Simply take your life story which looks like an up-and-down seismograph of random events and straighten it out to look more like a staircase. Here are some points.
Group similar positions into one stair and speak about them as a block.
Make short-term work or positions which aren’t relevant into smaller stairs and spend less time on them.
Talk about what you learned from each step and why you made the transition to the next step.
Tell your history with a purpose as though you had been building your career with intent all along and that your steps are leading you someplace with meaning.
If you imagine that this job you are interviewing for is the next step on your staircase, then you have hopefully described how your previous education, work experience, and life wisdom have made you the perfect candidate for that role. Here is an example of how to improve the answer.
“I am currently a Senior Manager with 3 staff. I used to have 7 staff but the company cut some people. I am looking for a job where I can use my previous experience. I learned English at University in the Vancouver. I was married to a Canadian and worked there but I got divorced and moved to Singapore in 2015. I couldn’t find a job right away and I didn’t like the first job I got, so I left after 9 months and joined my current company.”
“I am originally from Singapore but I attended university in Vancouver where I studied Marketing as well as English. After graduating, I joined a local marketing agency for several years where I learned more about Western Marketing and Branding.
I returned to Singapore in 2015 and briefly worked at a domestic agency where I learned the Japanese business language and practices and how to apply my experience in the local Tokyo market. Soon after, I had an opportunity to join my current company where I have been for the past 7 years. I am currently a Senior Manager with 3 staff. I am happy in my current role, but I learned about your opportunity and feel that my Marketing abilities, as well as my understanding of both local and Western business, will make me a great fit. I am really excited to learn more about this opportunity and how I might add value to your team!”
I hope that this tool is useful as you review your resume and prepare for your next interviews!
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