This post is part of the series, “Common Interview Questions.”
What can you tell me about yourself?
This is an excellent open-ended question which provides flexibility in making a unique impression yet still reflects the best of you.
The objective of this introduction is to prompt productive questions and discussions about you. The interviewer should be able to professionally and personally relate to you. If they can’t, then they should at least be curious about your unique background. In the end, your introduction must evolve into a memorable and exciting conversation.
Normally, one introduces himself by pointing out where he is from and where he grew up. This is relevant if the interviewer has any experience to the location or culture to any city or organization you mention. So make sure you do your homework before the interview – look up the interviewer’s LinkedIn profile in advance and determine where she went to school and where she worked. If you don’t know this information in advance, then you can only hope that your background will have some form of interest to the interviewer. This introductory statement of where you’re from is very brief and should only be elaborated upon if the interviewer inquires further.
After mentioning where you are from, quickly transition to how you got be to where you are now. Perhaps you grew up on the East Coast, but then moved to the West for college (be sure to name that specific college – the interviewer may have relationships or experience with that particular university). This part of the introduction is crucial – it gives the interviewer insight to where you were educated and provides an easy transition for you to talk about what you learned there (assuming this experience and academic focus are relevant to the job position).
Once a location or organization is mentioned, mentally prepare yourself to elaborate. When you talk about your experiences, focus on the ones that make you look positive and valuable to the employer. If you can detect there is little interest in where you’re from – then no worries. You can ‘wow’ them when you talk about your actual work experience and accomplishments (which I will go into greater detail in a subsequent post).
So to apply my advice, here’s how I would personally introduce myself to an interviewer:
I was born and raised in Los Angeles.
Then I moved to the Bay Area for college. I received my marketing degree from Santa Clara University and interned at a couple of companies, including Sun Microsystems. During my junior year, I took the chance to study abroad in Tokyo which was amazing.
After coming back and graduating, I wanted to become a lawyer so I took the LSATs and moved to New York, where I got my juris doctorate degree from Syracuse University’s law school. Loved the writing and analytical skills I gained there but ultimately decided that the lawyer route wasn’t for me.
Pursued a legal opportunity at a start-up company in Silicon Valley and ultimately found myself engaged in the company’s marketing strategies. When the company’s product could not be finalized within our expected deadline, I transitioned to where I am today.
I currently work for the 7th largest accounting firm in California and am responsible for the firm’s entire marketing communications.
That’s a lot to say and I don’t spill it all out at once. I deliberately pause between sentences every once in a while because I’m often asked about each new fact I introduce. And that’s a very good thing because interviews are meant to be a two-way dialogue – not a monologue. If the interviewer doesn’t ask about my childhood in Southern California, then she may ask about my college life in the Bay Area. And most likely, the interviewer will be interested in my experiences as a foreign exchange student in Japan since the majority of American students rarely participate in such programs. Before I know it, 10-15 minutes already passed by and I haven’t even gotten to the core strengths of what makes me so great for the job position.
Once I start talking about my professional career, the interview should become more engaging. The interviewer will want to know exactly where I worked, what I did for my previous employers, how I handled challenges, and if there were any accomplishments worth mentioning.
In the end, every statement you make, you want to use as a bait so that the interviewer will inquire more about you. Each time you mention a place, name, or activity, be ready to talk about several aspects of that one subject. It’s important you seem knowledgeable and passionate about what you experienced but you don’t give too much information – only provide detailed specifics that are asked for. Just as importantly, speak positively and the interviewer may observe your professional and respectful attitude – the most successful companies value and reward this trait.
Companies utilize the interviewing process to filter out unlikely candidates so they can ultimately identify the best job applicant. The power is in the interviewer’s hands whether or not to hire you.
However, the average interviewer fears the meeting almost as much as the interviewee. Think about it. The interviewer is essentially the ambassador and representative of the company. He must portray the company as the best place to work. That means he must know in very good detail what he is talking about or else look like a fool and tarnish the brand image of his employer. This comes to the test when he answers inquisitive questions from the interviewees.
That is why there is shared power in how the conversation flows and how likely an interviewer would want to follow-up with you after the initial interview. If the entire interview is a positive and memorable experience then you are much closer to landing that job offer. This key moment is ultimately determined by the questions you answer and the follow-up questions you ask during the interview.
Common Interview Questions to Prepare For:
1) What can you tell me about yourself?
2) Can you tell me 3 strengths you have? What about weaknesses?
3) What do you know about our organization? Why would you want to work here?
4) What is the primary benefit for us hiring you?
5) Do you have any questions?
As an interviewee, your primary goal is to get the job offer or at least another interview. This requires you to not only demonstrate your competence for the job description and discuss relevant background information, but that you are a good communicator who is organized, prepared and can logically think through applicable situations. Above all, the interview session must conclude that you add value to the hiring company. The next several posts will highlight how I would respond to these questions.
There are several factors that will empower you to be at your best during an interview. But none of them will matter if you botch up the initial 30 seconds of the meeting. What could have been a potentially awesome interview may be forever remembered as an embarrassment, humiliation and disappointment from both sides.
Yup, I’m talking about first impressions. Much of your interview success will be determined from proper research and practiced etiquette. So if you master both before your upcoming interview, the interviewer will focus more on your ability to communicate and your competence for the job.
You may be willing to work for anyone that pays a decent wage. However, hiring managers desire to recruit people who are genuinely interested in working for their specific company. These influential decision makers will appreciate those job candidates who did their homework and know all the vital facts about their company. The more details you know about the company, the more impressed the hiring manager will be.
Company’s Products & Services: what is the primary leading product of the company? Who buys it? Why is it successful? How long has this product served the market? Do you have a sense in how this product is used?
Distinguishable Awards: the most successful companies tend to be recognized for their greatest achievements. They can win awards for superior service or even be considered as one of the “best places to work” in your local city. They may also be praised for the company’s charitable donations and community service events. Find out what publications and third parties are saying about this company’s success.
Corporate Culture: if you can align your background and skills to the company’s mission statement and core values, you will be remembered. Highlighting and finding relevance in unique aspects of the company’s history will demonstrate that you are not just looking for a job, but a long-term career who pays attention to details that are essential to the business.
Competitors: interviewers will be impressed knowing how well you understand their competitive industry. They will also realize that if they don’t hire you, their competitors might. This epiphany prompts them to seriously consider whether or not your value would be best served with them or with their rivals.
Range of Your Role’s Salary: you should have a clear idea how much your job should pay by looking at salary.com. Not only will this information help with future negotiations, hiring managers will reach the conclusion that you know what you are worth. Knowing and embracing your value will portray you as the confident and driven employee they desire.
If you fail to research the company that is hiring you, that is a legitimate red flag to the company that you are not seriously invested or committed to working for them. Don’t be lazy. Do your research.
Etiquette is a code of conduct that should not be easily dismissed for the interviewing process. Every business professional knows these rules and so should you.
In essence, interviewing etiquette is all about making people comfortable to obtain your goal – get the job offer or at least be invited to another round of interviews. If there is an established set of rules that anyone can easily follow, we can create an environment where all individuals are at ease. And when people are at ease, they are not distracted from what you are trying to do. With that in mind, focus on your non-verbal communications:
Dress Well: you don’t need to pay excessive amounts of money to look professional. But don’t get lazy and dress casually or even wear business casual clothes during an interview. Dress as you would if you were a guest attending an important wedding. Nothing flashy. Be simple and common enough that when the interviewers see you for the first time in person, they will not be focusing on how different you look. Rather, they should be 100% focused on what you have to say during the interview.
Firm Handshake: it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman – flimsy handshakes equate to weak greetings that may prompt the interviewer to think you are apathetic, tired, or simply not focused in getting to know the interviewer more so. On the other hand, a firm handshake immediately notifies the interviewer that you are energetic and excited to meet the interviewer. If done properly, this greeting portrays a driven person who understands that his life can change for the better by actively engaging in this interview. This is most likely the first non-verbal communication you will express to the hiring manager – do it immediately and do it right.
Eye Contact: maintaining eye contact is important in any meaningful conversation. By looking into the eyes of the interviewer, you are non-verbally communicating a sense of concern, active interest and respect. Lack of eye contact, on the other hand, sends a message of shyness, weakness and fear.
Must you always conduct proper research and follow business etiquette to be successful in your job interviewing? Of course not. Dress however you want. Talk about whatever you want. Behave how you please.
But what is your end goal for the interview? Does your own code of conduct help you achieve this goal? If you worked so hard to land this opportunity, why would you risk NOT following the norm?
In the end, the preparation for first impressions is simply an option. But it’s a smart one.
Recruiters can provide you immediate access and visibility to interviewers. While this sounds ideal, there are some questions to consider before investing energy and time with them.
What is a Recruiter?
Recruiters are paid by client companies to find appropriate prospect employees for specific job openings. Note who is paying the recruiters. The client company. Not you.
Therefore, recruiters will not actively go out and look for openings that match your qualifications. Their entire recruiting process is driven by the needs of the client company. No single recruiter can afford to fully invest in you unless you pay the bill. This type of arrangement is risky and consequently, rarely happens.
How Much are Recruiters Paid for Their Services?
Fees charged by recruiters are significant for client companies – generally between 20% and 33% of your starting annual salary. For example, if a recruiter refers you to a client company that offers you a $100,000 salary and you accept, the client company may pay the recruiter $33,000.
Since recruiters’ fees are expensive, client companies generally don’t hire a person who does not closely fit the description of their ideal candidate. As a result, the use of recruiters is not highly valuable to job seekers who are changing industries or making major career changes.
Why Do Companies Hire Recruiters?
- Speed & Efficiency: outsourcing recruiters may be faster than internal recruiting efforts. The preparation and distribution of job listings and ads are not only expensive but they often require months to attract ideal job candidates. There is also the matter of the interview screening process which demands several hours of the hiring manager’s time. Recruiters already filter out unfit candidates and quickly generate leads that will directly address the client companies’ needs.
- Too Small: smaller businesses may not have the resources to have a full-time internal recruiter so they outsource. As companies grow and become more sophisticated in recruiting qualified candidates, they won’t rely on external recruiters as heavily.
- Confidentiality: client companies may not want to publicize a job opening and alert the competition. Business rivals often emulate their competitors’ best practices so hiring recruiters will help protect client companies’ strategic efforts.
Should I Use a Recruiter?
Yes. Every recruiter’s mission is to find ideal candidates for client companies and you may actually qualify as one. However, I would not invest more than 10% of your job searching efforts with recruiters. Treat them as you would with any other portal you are submitting your resume and cover letter to. Unless you are already familiar with recruiters, don’t bother proactively seeking recruiters and expect an immediate response. If there is any interest, they will follow-up. Top talent, excellent GPA, and/or relevant work experience will trigger their interests.
To be fair, I must note that a dear friend (who is a professional recruiter) respectfully disagrees with my recommendation and replied with the following:
I’d counter to say you get what you pay for (invest in). If you take the time to do your homework, finding out which agents/recruiters have the connections/relationships/experience/track record to place your skill sets in your industry of choice, spending time on those select relationships could open doors that you wouldn’t have been able to open, much less find.
With that in mind, I constantly remind my clients to dedicate their resources in refining their resume and cover letter, exploring networking opportunities, and building referral relationships that directly strengthen their job searching campaigns. If a recruiter can help you do that with your level of experience, there is no harm in giving that professional your time.
In the end, if you have spare time and energy, I recommend that you circulate your resume to several recruiters as opposed to one. A common mistake for job seekers is placing all their hope in the hands of one recruiter. They assume this recruiter serves the entire industry or area of expertise. However, client companies may exclusively provide job openings to preferred recruiters who served them well in the past. Consequently, sending your resume to more recruiters provides you more exposure to more job openings.
Every good resume displays the accomplishments of its author.
To effectively display your accomplishments, you will need to be selective with key words. Action verbs are the most important words to integrate into your resume. They will complement well with numbered metrics and will instantly communicate relevant experience to prospective employers.
Here is a list of action verbs I frequently use when building my clients’ resumes.
Action verbs should be the first written words of every bullet-pointed description of your resume. They immediately grab the attention of the reader. If chosen and executed properly, these words will encourage prospective employers to advance you to the interviewing process.