Q: I am about to begin a job search. I haven’t done this in a long time. What one tough question should I be prepared for? In your opinion, is there one question that is really tough and stumps many candidates?
A: You are smart to prepare for a job search. Preparation is critical to a successful search.
When I read your inquiry, one question immediately came to mind. The question isn’t really even a question. I think many interviewees are stumped by “Tell me about yourself.” Candidates often are unsure of where to start, what to include and what to exclude. A well-prepared candidate has thought of this question in advance. A very well-prepared candidate has practiced an intelligent response before it is asked.
1. Don’t start with where you were born, how old you are, how many kids you have, etc. It is too personal and not relevant.
2. Do start with an overview of your professional career and capabilities.
3. Provide relevant examples of your successes and/or strengths.
4. Link your answer back to what you know about the role.
One possible response to "Tell me about yourself" when interviewing with XYZ Company:
I am a seasoned Business Development professional with more than 10 years of professional work experience. I consider myself a “hunter” in that I have been successful in landing new clients and building profitable relationships throughout my career. After graduating from ABC College, I was fortunate to have joined DEF’s training program in sales and business development. This formal training followed by practical work experience was an ideal entry into business development. I remained with DEF for five years. I was promoted twice at DEF. In 2006, I joined GHI. GHI is a venture-backed technology firm, similar in size to XYZ Company. I was in a business development role at GHI and landed several high profile clients, including STU, QRS and LMO. I have enjoyed the role tremendously at XYZ but I am considering other opportunities in the eastern Massachusetts area. I am concerned that XYZ will be unable to secure another round of funding in this climate. I think there are a number of similarities between the role at GHI and the job description that you have shared with me, especially the focus on landing new clients in a competitive environment.
With the sample response above, I have attempted to summarize “my” professional work history. I’ve highlighted strengths and reasons for looking at a new opportunity. My intent is to deliver a response that is positive, professional and credible. Every question asked of a candidate is an opportunity, an opportunity to provide positive information about your candidacy.
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Meet the Jobs Docs
Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.