As the founder of the constellations, a female-first recruitment agency, I spend a good portion of my time working with candidates to prepare them for interviews. One of the most important things we work on is creating a narrative that weaves her professional and personal experience together without giving the interviewer a dry, spoken-word version of her resume when asked: "So, tell me about yourself."
In my experience, I find women struggle with this question much more than their male counterparts. I assume this is largely due to the fact that women are conditioned to refrain from bragging about their accomplishments (among many other things) for fear of appearing egotistical or self-important. I hope to free the women I work with of that notion altogether. There is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to being proud of your accomplishments and accolades.
But, while practicing releasing oneself of social conditioning, here are the 4 steps to creating the perfect answer to that notoriously tough interview question:
Develop a biography and practice it over and over until it feels naturally conversational. Grab a friend or tape yourself and make sure you aren't speaking too quickly or in a way that feels robotic. Think of your answer as a brief synopsis of the personal and professional. Share how you came to be in your respective field, what you're doing currently (this should be high-level) and anything you are particularly proud of — perhaps that your team saw year-over-year growth or that you were instrumental in implementing a new infrastructure. You can also share personal passions and what excites you about the role you are interviewing for.
Next, adapt your response for each job you interview for. Conduct in-depth research on the company and role to ensure you can make sure you are highlighting your strengths in a way that lends itself to the prospective job. Also, put those stalking skills you've honed on social media and do some digging on the person(s) conducting the interview. Find a commonality and if it feels organic, casually drop it in. For example, maybe their Instagram is full of photos of their dog, so you share in your free time you love hiking with your pup. A large body of research indicates people gravitate towards those they believe they are similar to or have a lot in common with, so make sure you are that person to the interviewer.
Another tip, and I wish I didn't have to say this, is to refrain from sharing personal information that could potentially serve as a hindrance when talking about yourself. For example, sharing you have a newborn or just got engaged may jeopardize your chances of moving to the next round of interviews. Of course, if you require special accommodations ( like set hours or a work from home day) you will need to divulge that information at some point. But I always suggest waiting until you are confident there is a mutual interest between you and your prospective employer. And conversely, do not feel compelled to answer this question (it is illegal to ask) should the interviewer inquire. You may be perfect for the role, but sadly employers can make a lot of assumptions about you and your potential performance based on where they think you are in your personal life.
Lastly — and most importantly — let your personality shine through. Your success has as much to do with your delivery as it does with the content of your answer.
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