This week, Dana Maggi, Owner of Career Pain Relief, spoke to my chapter of Business Executives Networking Group (BENG). Actually, she facilitated a lively discussion on job search. My takeaway from Dana’s presentation is ‘know yourself’. This advice is always on point. It is very difficult to gain traction in your job search if you cannot clearly communicate your value proposition. You cannot present your value proposition; i.e. the reason you are best suited for the job unless you know your strengths, weakness, and accomplishments.
The discussion eventually moved to tricky interview questions and how best to answer them. One question caught my interest; the ubiquitous, “tell me about yourself.” The group was confused about the best way to answer. They were not clear as to the intent of the question, or how much detail to provide.
Well, how should you answer the “tell me about yourself” question? Do you talk about your personal life; your family, hobbies, or other interests? Do you talk about your career goals? Do you talk about your favorite boss or past employer? Or, do you convey your particular accomplishments, skills, training, and development? How would you answer that question?
My contribution was to remind the group of the big picture. Interview time is a limited commodity, so make it productive. Focus on why you are there. As a prospective senior executive, your communication skills are of great interest. They may be the most important aspect of the job in question. Directing a team requires clear communications. Convincing more senior executives to fund programs or projects requires effective salesmanship. Defending a budget, or a capital appropriation request requires persuasion skills. Presenting to the Board of Directors requires exceptional poise and finesse. As with each of these activities, interview success depends on your ability to present a clear message that resonates with the employer.
Personally, I’m not fond of the “tell me about yourself” question. It is too ambiguous to yield a consistently useful answer. I understand that it may be used as a conversation starter, but there is a better way. I prefer to ask the candidate for a 60-second, thumbnail sketch of their current situation and what they want to do now. This question is clear, requiring a focused response. I expect to hear the common themes of their career, including their particular skills and strengths. I want to gain an understanding of their plan for the next stage of their career. It is my first glimpse into the candidate’s ability to communicate. It is a more productive use of my time. If the candidate can present her experience, strengths, and skills in an effective one-minute presentation, she has my attention. I will move her forward in the process. It requires self-awareness.
From my point of view, the “tell me about yourself,” is a poor way to begin an interview. However, one must anticipate this question as it is so commonly used. Fortunately, it presents the job seeker with an opportunity to influence the direction of the interview. I recommend an answer that is focused on what you’re trying to accomplish now while presenting the strengths and experience you bring to the party. It should be a short answer, probably no more than one minute long. It will require a well-rehearsed presentation. The best response explains why you are the ideal candidate for the job. In other words, your elevator pitch. If done properly, your interviewer will ask follow-up questions that play to your strengths. Unless you are asked about personal interests, stay focused on presenting your suitability for the job in question.
During job search, you must communicate a clear and concise message to capture the employer’s interest. To craft this message requires self-awareness. Know yourself!
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Jim Weber, President
NEW CENTURY DYNAMICS EXECUTIVE SEARCH
- COO- Northeast-based Casual Dining Restaurant Company – New
- Operating Partners – Legacy Pizza Chain – New
- Director of Biz Dev, Atlanta-based B2B Professional Services Company: Completed
- Payroll-Benefits Manager, Atlanta-based Retail Company: Complete
- Senior Accounting Manager – Atlanta-based Manufacturer. Complete
- Controller – Atlanta-based Consumer Products – Digital Company – Completed
- Outplacement Assignment – Atlanta-based Manufacturer: Complete
Author of: Fighting Alligators: Job Search Strategy For The New Normal