This is the biggie, am I right? When you have an interview lined up, be ready for this question. In fact, you should have this answer down pat if you're in the job search game at all. And let me remind you - if you're looking for a job anytime in the next year, you're in the job search game.
What I Often Hear
Let's start with how people typically answer this question:
- My name is...
- I majored in...
- I'm... (ramble on about your personality or attributes)
- I like to... (keep talking unsure where to end)
Here's the thing with this question. It's hard because it's so broad. You may be unclear what someone wants to know about you. And if you don't know what they're looking for, you just start talking about every aspect of your life.
How to Answer this Question
What professionals - whether they are interviewing you, meeting you at a networking event, or filling your request for an informational interview - are trying to find out is - "What is your background, where do you see yourself professionally, and why should I care?"
We are all self-interested beings. While it would be nice to think that someone wants to know about your pet and your favorite extracurricular activities, the reality is - they don't care!
This is your opportunity to hook them. To get them interested in talking with you more. In order to do so, you need a succinct, polished answer that includes the following:
- Your name (only if you have not already introduced yourself)
- One sentence that captures where you are in your professional journey. Example: I'm a senior psychology major at Virginia Tech looking to leverage my skills as a communications coordinator upon graduation in May.
- One sentence about your experience. Shape this as closely you can to the situation without fabricating your experience. Example: Though early in my career, I've already interned with several agencies, allowing me to gain in-depth experience in marketing, design, and social media analytics.
- Bridge the gap between yourself and the person you are talking to. Hint: you have to know who you are speaking to in order to do this. Example: I'm really interested in joining a company like yours that is using technology to make the workplace more efficient.
- End strongly with a question. This helps you to close your answer and turn the tables back to the person you're talking to, giving them the opportunity to share. Example: I'm curious. What do you see as the number one thing new staff should know when joining your organization?
The Biggest Mistake People Make
The worst way to answer this question is to make it all about you. Reminder - people are interested in themselves. You need to focus on what you bring to the table, not what you want.
Do your homework beforehand and know your audience as well as you can before you interact with them. This might not always be possible but use clues you gain in person to help shape your response.
Are you at a public relations networking event? Why do you think the person you're talking to is there? Are you meeting the keynote speaker? What did she talk about that was most exciting to you but also relevant to where you want to go with your career?
This will be awkward at the beginning. The only way to get over that hump is by putting yourself out there and practicing. And don't try to memorize it. Be yourself and you'll succeed if you only remember this - how can you help them? When you include in your response, you'll surely keep the conversation going.
Once you've put yourself out there, let me know in the comments below - how did it feel?