Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tell me about yourself

In my daily work I help Marquette students and alumni develop their interviewing skills. The question I like to start off with in many cases is "Tell me about yourself." It seems like such a simple question, but this is one that throws many people off because it is so open ended. The nature of this question is intentional. How you answer it can show how prepared (or underprepared) you are for the interview. Additionally, your answer can give the interviewer a quick summary of your skills, knowledge bases and traits that match the position. Doing this in a concise, yet informative, way takes preparation.

The question "Tell me about yourself." really means "Tell me about yourself in relation to the position you are interviewing for." That means that employers are interested in the information about you that relates directly to the position that they are trying to fill, so this is not the time to tell your life story. An answer to this question typically lasts between one and three minutes which means that you will need to be concise and prioritize what you choose to share with the employer. The key to being concise is preparing in adavance and practicing out loud either with family, and friends or perhaps a practice interview in career services.

To get you started I have an example of one strategy to answer this question using a fictional Career Counselor position at Marquette. I have divided the question into three sections (opening statement, middle content, and closing statement) to help give the ambiguity some form. After each section description and example, I give a few main points.

Opening statement: The opening statement can be something very simple, such as stating your degree and briefly describing your skills and experience in the profession thus far. Experience can include internships, volunteer work, or other experiences where you have gained professional skills, as well as jobs that you have had in the industry.

Example: I have a masters degree in psychology as well as six years of experience working in the higher education industry. My experience includes career counseling, academic advising, and mental health counseling.

Main points: This part is pretty basic, I simply stated my degree and then breifly summarized my experience. I included this because it sets up what I am going to talk about next. I also considered what experiences are most relevant to the employer. Through my research I know that counseling skills and experience in higher education are both important so I highlighted those first.

Middle content: This is where you could talk about what specific skills or attributes that you bring to the position. A nice addition to this could be to touch on what sets you apart from other candidates.

Example: I bring strong counseling skills as a result of my education and work experiences as well as a passion to help others reach their potential. I developed my counseling skills through working in a variety of settings inside and outside of higher education. Inside of higher education I have worked with both traditional and non-traditional students, each of which have different needs. As a student, I also served as a mental health counselor in a community counseling clinic. I beleive that the diversity of my experiences gives me a strong set of core counseling skills as well as exposure to a variety of different counseling scenarios and perspectives. My passion to help others stems from my personal path of initially striggling with career choice, but overcoming that obstacle through utilizing my resources such as career services. The combination of those experiences have lead me to the counseling profession and career services.

Main points: In this section, I wanted to talk about my counseling skills, but also how I developed those skills. In my case my diverse counseling experience is something that I wanted to highlight. In addition to counseling skills I wanted to touch on my passion for helping others and why I am interested in career counseling. This helps make the connection for the employer that I am both skilled and passionate, which will motivate me to excel in my role.

Closing statement: The closing statement is where you bring it all together and make the connection between the skills/attributes that you just mentioned to the position.

Example: I'd love to bring my skills and experience to Marquette University. I am looking for a position in a university that has high standards and I know that Marquette values excellence, faith, leadership, and service and so do I. These values are what draw me to Marquette. I believe that my skills and experiences as a counselor, passion for helping others, professional skills, passion for the career counseling profession will fit well in this position and the Marquette community.

Main points: In this section I applied what I learned through my research to connect my experience, skills, and attributes to the employers needs. I then gave a final plug to my skills. I mentioned these specifc skills as a result of my research (i.e. online research, informational interviewing, visits to campus, etc.) which helped me to determine which ones that I have are a match for that specific employer.

Being such an open ended question there are many ways to navigate your answer. The example I gave is just one way. If you are a Marquette student or alum and who would like to develop or improve your intervewing skills, the Career Services Center is here to help. Just call 414-288-7423 to schedule an appointment.

Jeremy Eudaly

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