Q: During an interview, please give me guidance on how to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself.” I find this question perplexing and overwhelming. I don’t want to start with where I was raised, my academic schooling, where I live, etc. How should it be answered?
A: Great question! First, start with an overall summary of you as a professional, but tailor to the position of interest. One possible response might be: “I am a seasoned project manager, who enjoys both the strategy elements of project management as well as the tactical parts of project management. I like bringing projects to completion on time and on budget. My academic background is in information technology and that training always seems to be helpful when understanding how systems can move a project forward. For example, in my last role at ABC, I was able to introduce a system that I had used in the past, GHI. GHI was ideal for our needs. We were able to eliminate a lot of costing estimate errors, which often hinder a project.”
Notice, I didn’t mention my childhood, where I grew up, where I live or how many children I have. This question is an opportunity to focus the interview on your strengths and why they should hire you as a candidate. An overview is provided. Then, I offer what every employer wants — on time and on budget! I give a taste of my academic background and then move on to how it is helpful in my professional life. Then, I share an example of how I contributed something tangible in my last role.
Now the interviewer can ask about your academic background, the system you introduced, or if you managed a team. You should be prepared for a follow-up question on any of these topics.
It is smart to be prepared for this question. Many interviewers use it to kick off an interview. Practice a response a few times. You want a response to sound natural, but not robotic.
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.