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Sylvia GiltnerOne question always makes an appearance at job interviews: “Tell me about yourself.” Almost without exceptions, candidates struggle to come up with a good answer.

It’s almost as challenging as that other dreaded interview question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Fortunately, there are ways to answer that are sure to impress any interviewer.

The interviewer usually asks this question with one of two motives, or both. Sometimes, they want to know how your personality and experience dovetail with the requirements of the job. Or they’re trying to gauge your ability to be open and engaging in a stressful situation.

Your best approach is to answer in a way that covers both.

It’s such a broad question, it can be difficult to know where to begin. That’s why so many people stammer their way through the answer. To answer confidently, prioritize describing yourself in professional terms.

It’s okay to start at a high level. For example, if you were interviewing for a position as a sales manager, you might begin by saying: “I’m an experienced sales manager, team motivator and I’m driven to help anyone working under me make the most out of any leads that come their way.”

Then can go into further detail: “Under my leadership, my last team increased their sales by 20 percent. We were the top-selling team in the region for two years in a row.”

Should you mention anything personal?

Yes. This is where you can communicate that you’re a good fit. Each organization develops a culture. Many hiring managers will be interested to see if you’ll fit in with your potential co-workers.

Professional resume writers suggest your answer should be 80 percent professional and 20 percent personal. Just be sure you tailor any information about your personal life to the company culture. Check out Glassdoor, the company’s social media and other sources to learn as much as possible about the organization. Then mention personal interests and activities that complement the company’s culture.

For example, if you’re interviewing with a trendy design agency, chat the interviewer up about the local art scene, music festivals and other areas of interest.

Interview research is a bit like market research. Everything you say in an interview is your message. It’s okay to customize that message to your target audience. To do that successfully, you have to learn as much as possible about that audience.

Either way you choose to answer this question, your past experience adds credibility to your remarks. Anyone can describe themselves as a success. Your experiences are your way of illustrating your talents and accomplishments.

Brandan Wood, a student career adviser for EssaySupply, shares this advice: “Take a pen and paper to create a list of awards, notable projects and other accomplishments. Then cross-reference that list to the traits you want to demonstrate in your interview. For example, if you really want to highlight your technical skills, feature the projects that you’ve worked on that demonstrate those abilities.”

Who you are isn’t simply wrapped up in your past. It’s okay to share your goals and objectives. More specifically, you’ll be expected to address the position to which you’re applying. What about the job interests you? How does it fit in your overall career plan?

There’s a real opportunity to make your answer very brand-centred. Let the interviewer know what it was that drew you to their organization.

It’s safest to assume that the question about yourself, along with some others, are going to come up. Your best bet is to make a list of likely questions, then prepare for each one. The list should include:

  • What are your flaws?
  • What did you dislike most about your last job?
  • What would your boss say about you?
  • Why should I hire you?
  • What are your five-year goals?

Sara Potts, a career expert at ResumesExpert says, “‘Tell me about yourself’ is a challenging question. It’s also a question that creates a major opportunity to shine. Rehearse a well-thought-out answer. Deliver it with confidence. That difficult question could lead to the best part of your interview.”

When you put these tips into action, you help the interviewer get a better understanding of who you are and what you bring to the table.

Don’t stress the questions about yourself. Instead, keep an open mind. Be confident and conversational. Practise enough to answer questions easily but not so much that you sound rehearsed. Then relax and let your qualifications and personality do the talking.

Sylvia Giltner is an HR manager and freelance writer. She helps people write the perfect resume and land a desirable job. Sylvia’s articles have been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, Next Avenue, Money and more. Feel free to connect Sylvia on LinkedIn.

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