Ambitions concept with businessman climbing stairs

You’ve taken a seat and prepared for your job interview to begin.

The interviewer opens with, “Tell me about yourself.”

You hesitate. Where should you start?

“I’m a really hard worker and know I would fit well into this company.”

Not what they’re looking for.

“I graduated from Christopher Newport University and majored in business and did an internship at Company Z.”

Don’t recite your resume.

“I was born in 1989 and attended first grade at Podunk Elementary. In second grade …”

Um, no.

If you don’t have a feel for where the interviewer wants you to go with your response, ask a clarifying question, suggests Wes Ashworth, Vice President of Executive Search at Lee Group Search.

Consider, “Sure! I would love to. What would you like me to focus on?”

The interviewer might actually answer with, “Walk me through your resume,” but another possibility — “I’ve looked at your resume and LinkedIn profile. I’d like to hear more about who you are.”

You don’t want to blabber with a long-winded response that focuses heavily on any one subject area. But by thinking about this question in advance, you should have an idea of a few relevant details that inform the interviewer about you, your passions and how the position you’re interviewing for will fit into your life. It’s OK to drop a few clues that would pique the interviewer’s interest. Wait for follow-up questions to give more specific details.

The “tell me about yourself” question can be the interviewer’s way of small talk before transitioning to the actual questions related to the job. But often your response can steer an interview and lead to a chain of follow-up questions, setting the flow for a conversation instead of a Q&A.

It’s OK to start with the present and mention a recent accomplishment. Make sure to include a few details from your past and wrap up by talking about your future and your interest in the opportunity in front of you. Personalized answers with specific examples that reflect your passion always trump vague responses. You want to leave an impression.

Finally, while you don’t want to offer a memorized response, there’s no harm in practicing aloud what you might say beforehand. Don’t speak too fast and don’t be one run-on sentence. Ideally, aim for one to two minutes, but watch for cues from your interviewer, too.

Whatever the case, don’t be stumped when asked, “tell me about yourself.” Remember, you’re the expert on you!

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