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Ace the Most Common Interview Question



"Tell me about yourself" is one of the most common prompts we receive to start off an interview. It is also the prompt that people have the most trouble with. The natural inclination for many people is to list off their last job position and duties. For example Tom, a person interviewing for a teaching position, may answer something like this:


"I have served as a third grade teacher for the past 5 years. I worked at both Martin Luther King Middle School and after that John Jay School. My main roles were devising lesson plans, teaching, classroom management, holding parent teacher conferences, and doing a variety of administrative work. I hope to bring these skills and experience to your organization."


Looking at this from the interviewer's perspective, the answer did not provide them any additional information on what is unique to Tom as a person and a teacher. All it tells the interviewer is that Tom has teaching experience. This is information that the hiring manager probably already knows from reading Tom's resume.


Here is some information and tips to help you ace this prompt in a way that is authentic and helps you stand out from the crowd.


Understand the Context: This prompt appears at the beginning of an interview. The interviewer wants to get a sense of you as a person beyond your skills and job duties. This is a chance to tell your story, show what makes you special, and connect to your interviewer from the beginning. Interviewers tend to hire employees that they can understand and relate to on an emotional level.


Focus on Your Values and Your Approach: Instead of focusing on your skills, you can highlight what you care about and how you approach your work. We tend to be more energized when we talk about our values and approach rather than job duties. This enthusiasm and positive energy will show in your interview. Here are some questions to help you reflect on your value and approach:


1. What motivated you to get into the profession you are applying for?


2. What is a common theme that emerges about what energizes you about your work even if you worked in various professions? (ex. problem solving, creativity, helping others reach their potential).


3. How would your coworkers, bosses, and people you serve describe you and your work?


Tell a Succinct Story: Stories are the way that we connect and understand others. Stories tell where you have been, where you are, and what you want in the future. The end of the of an "interview story" connects who you are and where you have been to what draws you to or what you hope to bring to the position you are applying. The story or answer to the "Tell me about yourself" prompt should be under 3 minutes (ideally approximately one and a half minutes).


Let's see how Tom's answer to "Tell me about yourself" would be different by incorporating the information above.


"I believe that teachers can serve a crucial role in children's lives at a young age. I was the child of a single parent which was challenging. I feel my most influential teachers had really taken the time to know me on a personal level and gave me the extra support and guidance I needed to enter and graduate from college.


Reflecting on the role of teachers in my life is what encouraged me to enter the profession and help other children. I have had the privilege to serve as third grade teacher for five years. One of my best moments as a teacher is connecting with my students on a personal level. I work to understand their strengths and provide both the emotional and practical support to help them flourish. It brings me great joy to see a student succeed.


I was drawn to this position because of your school's unique focus on small class sizes and providing personal attention to students. I feel the small class sizes will provide me the opportunity and space to get know, support, and serve as a positive influence for each child in the classroom."


Compare Tom's two responses to the "Tell me about yourself" prompt.


1. What do you notice?


2. How do you feel after reading each response?


3. What information do you get about Tom from each response?


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