I often have the privilege of sitting on interview panels and I’ve noticed many patterns displayed by interviewees at the beginning of an interview that make it hard for me to distinguish them from their competition. One of the main parts of the interview, the “tell about yourself” portion, can make or break how you are viewed throughout the rest of the interview. The following simple tips will be sure to set you apart from your competitors:
Don’t tell about yourself in a chronological manner.
Most interviews typically begin with a statement such as, “Tell us about yourself and your qualifications”. Many interviewees tend to chronologically detail all of their experience in order and rattle off a long list of work and education experience. It may seem natural for you to detail your work experience in a chronological way since it is listed as such on your resume, but our brains don’t work in this manner. Based on brain research, our brains constantly seek patterns and connections that will aid in recall of information. When presenting information about your job qualifications, it’s important to organize information in a way that capitalizes on the brain’s natural tendency to seek patterns.
Organize important information about yourself into categories.
Before interviewing for a position, brainstorm three or four categories that describe your qualifications. For example, you might want to highlight the following categories: 1) your education, 2) work experiences, and 3) unique skill set. Or, your categories might be: 1) your work experience, 3) three significant accomplishments, and 4) trainings or certifications that you hold. In my experience, three is always the magic number of categories to identify because it makes it easier for you and listeners to remember, but four categories should be the maximum if you happen to need more. Having more than four categories makes it difficult for those who are interviewing you to remember details about you, and you will more than likely leave out important information when introducing yourself.
Break your identified categories down into smaller details.
After you have identified three or four categories that describe your qualifications, write each category down on a separate card and write three to five additional details per category. For example, if I were to be interviewed under my ”Education” category I would write the following details:
- B.A. in English Literature
- M.A. in Educational Administration
- M.A. in Education with an emphasis on curriculum development
- Doctoral candidate in Urban Schooling
- University of California certificates in: Gifted and Talented education, Management and Supervision, Advanced Placement, English as a second language
If you are limited in the amount of education that you have, look for online and face-to-face opportunities to earn certifications and additional job training. Many county, city and university business departments, as well as local small business associations, frequently offer classes ranging from business development, technology skills, and other career development opportunities.
Use your index cards to practice telling about yourself prior to the interview.
It’s important that you practice many times with and without your index cards prior to the interview in order to remember key points to highlight during the interview. Including only three to five details for each category will make it easier for you to remember what you are going to say during your interview, and it will also make it easier for people to remember what you have said because the information is categorized and chunked into smaller units of information.
Use transitions between categories during the interview.
Before the interview, practice making small introductions and using transitions before each category that you are going to present in order to make the categories clear to those who are interviewing you. For example, you might introduce your categories such as,
“First, I would like to tell you a little about my education. I have a B.A. in English literature. In addition to my B.A., I have two master’s degrees-one in Educational Management and the other in Curriculum Development and I am also currently a doctoral candidate in Urban Schooling. In addition to my B.A. and two master’s degrees, I have had training and received certification in four areas: gifted and talented education, English as a second language, Advanced Placement education, and Management and Supervision. In addition to my education, I have work experience that qualifies me for this job. I……(insert your three to five details about your work experience here). And finally, in addition to my education and work experience, I have a unique skill set that qualifies me for this job. For example, (insert your unique skill sets or work qualities).
The use of transitions between categories and details within categories as illustrated by the use of italics in the example above make it easier on the listener and will make your introduction stand out from that of others.
Keep your introduction to between five to seven minutes.
It’s important to practice your introduction with sufficient practice prior to the interview in order to ensure that your introduction takes between five to seven minutes, with a maximum of ten minutes. It’s more important to have a highly structured introduction that highlights your key qualifications and accomplishments than it is for you to rattle off lists of qualifications. Always remember that you will be asked follow-up questions during which you can weave in additional information about your qualifications if needed.
Don’t include any gaps in employment or disclose that you have been fired during your introduction.
One benefit of categorizing your information is that people will focus more on the categorization of the information rather than the chronology of job employment. The “tell us about yourself” section is one of the most important parts of the interview where interviewers are either interested in learning more about you or moving on to another candidate, so don’t spoil your introduction by immediately disclosing all of your dirty laundry. During the introduction you should focus on making yourself shine by highlighting all of your key accomplishments and qualifications.
If they ask you another question that is a repeat of your introduction, provide further elaboration.
There may be times when the only time that you are asked to highlight your job qualifications will be during the “tell me about yourself” portion of the interview. However, you may also be asked an additional question that will inquire about your education, qualifications, or skills sets. In this type of scenario, don’t be worried about repeating information that you already provided in your introduction. You might want to say, “As I discussed in my introduction, I have the following education…(or experience)…(or skills)…”. During such a follow-up question it is recommended that you quickly summarize what you stated in your introduction, and then add additional information or elaboration. It’s important that prior to the interview that you plan for such a repeat question, and practice what elaboration you might provide.
Don’t be afraid of promoting yourself.
An interview is not the time to be humble. Many humble people often feel uncomfortable with highlighting positive aspects about themselves, but it’s important that you sell yourself and your positive qualities. During an interview you should say things such as, “Under my supervision, my team improved their customer service skills”. Or you might say something like, “In collaboration with my former boss, I proposed a solution to _____ that increased sales”. Don’t be afraid to use I or my and speak specifically about something that you did. If you don’t promote yourself, always remember that the person in the interview after you will. Save humility for when you actually get the job.