“Tell me about yourself.”

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Q: I recently interviewed for a job with a competitor.  I arrived to their office on time.  I was dressed appropriately.  I even brought a few extra copies of my resume to the interview.  Then, it happened.  The dreaded question.  I think I did ok, but I am not sure.  How does a candidate ever answer this dreaded question: “Can you tell me about yourself?”  I am not sure if I was too long-winded.  Help.

A: This question is an opportunity to summarize who you are as a candidate.  You should not review every detail of your background.  Think about your experience and skills, specifically which ones are most relevant for this particular role.  It is an opportunity to showcase your skills and experience and maybe reveal something memorable about you as a candidate.

I am currently a Compensation Analyst for ABC Company.  I work with leaders at ABC Company on compensation challenges, including benchmarking our internal roles to the external market.  I enjoy analyzing survey data. Currently, I am working extensively on compliance with the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act.  I also do quite a bit of work interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act and determining if a role is exempt or non-exempt. In the next few months, we will be working on our profit-sharing plan too. Our ultimate goal is to pay our employees competitively and attract, retain and motivate talent.  Our turnover has been 7% annually, which is well below the industry average.  I have about 10 years of compensation experience in biotech, pharma and medical devices.  When I reviewed the Compensation Business Partner role with your organization, I thought there was overlap between my current role and the role you had posted.  As a native Bostonian, I am also a faithful Red Sox fan.
In this sample response above, I have shared what is most meaningful and relevant with the interviewer.  I didn’t recite an entire life story and I didn’t read every bullet from my resume.  Instead, I tried to highlight the most relevant skills and experience.  I also shared one personal piece of information, which hopefully makes me a memorable candidate, in a positive way.  One warning: when sharing a personal detail, be careful of discussing anything that could generate a debate or controversy.  Avoid topics like sex, religion and politics and stay PG-13 or cleaner!

Remember this question is an opportunity!  If you are well-prepared, you should be able to use this question to your advantage.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.