The one thing that strikes fear into almost anyone who is starting the process of interviewing or networking is primarily that initial panic that happens when someone asks you to “tell me about yourself”. For a questions that comes up at the beginning of every networking interaction and practically every interview, precious few people have practiced what to say or have an idea of what information to include. What usually happens is a huge outpouring of random information that usually puzzles the listener to figure out how to put together the information.
In order to understand what is most appropriate to include in the answer, let’s investigate the context in which this question happens. Usually, it is when you are meeting someone for the first time, and they most likely have little to no information about you. This is your opportunity to give a first impression. Let’s list about what you would most likely want to give as an impression in this professional interaction:
- You are a professional
- You are articulate
- You are focused and concise.
- You understand my needs.
- You can make my life easier or better.
- You don’t waste my time.
With this understanding, I have come up with a three-part structure for answering that question is a way that makes it easy on you to make a good impression and move the conversation to a productive place. The three questions that “Tell Me About Yourself” really is asking are:
- Who Are You? This is your opportunity to frame who you are in the listener’s mind. Have you thought about your personal brand? What do you want to be known for. Here, you want to state who you are as clearly as possible. How you do that will depend a lot on who you are, who the listener is, and the context of the interaction. I could be anything from “I’m a computer networking professional with over 15 years experience” to “I’ve been taking things apart and putting them together since I was a little girl”. You can be formal or lighthearted or anything you want to be, but the main point is that you need to think about who your audience is and how you need to frame in their mind how you fit into their life. Are you going to be a potential team member, client, consultant, reference, ally?
- Why Are You Here? Depending upon the situation you are in, you could answer this in many different ways. If you are at a networking event, you might want to talk about the hosting organization, the guest speaker, the expertise of the crowd, your need to find customers, or just to spend time with other professionals. If you are at an interview, you can talk about why the position and organization is appealing to you and how interested you are in the opportunity. This lets you show some of the passion that you have for the same things that hopefully your listener also has, creates some bonds, and let them know that you are a driven professional with a purpose.
- What Can You Do For Me? This is probably the question that most people avoid, and do so at their peril. This is where you need to ask for what you want. Let people know that you are looking for information, looking to talk with someone from a certain company, looking for an informational conversational, or you need an introduction to a certain person. If you’re on an interview, you can let the interviewer know how you can contribute to their needs if you get the opportunity to get the job. By doing this, you make it clear to the listener what you are expecting and how they can act to help you or to accept your help. Just by doing this, you can relax the listener as your expectations are up front. Too often, I have someone introduce themselves and I don’t know what to do at the end of their intro, and I then am wondering what to do next. If you’re doing an informational interview, you can then state how the listener can help by giving information or an introduction to someone.
By following this structure, you will be more relaxed in your presentation, and you will leave the listener with a sense that you know what you’re doing, and they know how to move forward. You will need to work on this yourself and practice it, but it should be more of a checklist than a script, but one you get it, you’ll feel powerful in your ability to start off any interaction to your advantage.