Job interviews can be nerve-wracking no matter how many times you’ve gone through the process. Being prepared for one means more than showering and dressing the part. It means having done some research on the organisation you’re applying to, reviewing your significant accomplishments to date, predicting what types of questions may be asked, and preparing your responses.
It’s important to not only prepare for factual questions, but also for “out of the box” ones, such as the often-used introductory question, “tell me about yourself.” This question is thrown out as an icebreaker; as a recruiter’s attempt to show interest in you by turning the conversation over to you. It is also used as a starting point for the rest of the interview, as in most cases, the only thing a recruiter knows about you is the information on your CV. A recruiter may also ask this question to gather information he is not legally allowed to ask for. There are a number of personal questions recruiters are not allowed to ask, but if you offer this information freely, he gets a picture of you without violating employment laws.
While a recruiter doesn’t mean to put you on the spot, putting you in the driver’s seat can be off-putting. More than likely you are on his turf where he is comfortable, but being asked to initiate a conversation with someone you’ve just met before you’ve reached your comfort level might be intimidating.
The question, “tell me about yourself”, is rather wide-open and vague. You may be tempted to jump in with a long litany about your life, but it might be more practical to ask the recruiter to be more specific about what he’d like you to share. You could respond with one of the following questions:
• “What would you like to hear about?”
• “Would you like to hear about me personally, or about my work experience?”
• “What part of my background would be of most interest to you?”
If after asking one of these questions he is still vague, begin by offering information about what led you to apply for the position; what part of the position interests you and why; and what past experience you have that relates to it. Hopefully, something you say will lead him into more specific questions, and get the conversation going in a good direction.
A good recruiter listens between the words you speak. He is looking for a variety of things, mostly to get a picture of whether or not you’d be an asset to the company and to get a clue of your work ethic. He’ll be looking at your comfort and confidence level. He’ll look to see if you can make good eye contact and be at ease.
He will be looking at how you word your answers. If you make excuses or show too much humility, you might give off an air of low confidence. If you boast too much, you may be seen as cocky. If you freely use what the recruiters sees as offensive language, you may blow your chances of being hired solely because of your communication style. Many are offended at the use of profanities and it is unprofessional to use them in a business setting. It is also not in your best interest to talk negatively about other employees, past employers or to reveal confidential information about any other company or person.
As you talk about yourself, the recruiter will be looking to see what excites you. When you talk passionately about something you are interested in, you will usually talk a little faster and with a smile in your voice. He will want you to be passionate about something, and it will give him a clue about where you might fit best.
In order to prepare for a conversation like this, it helps to research the organisation in advance. Each organisation has a culture of its own; that is, a certain way they like to do business. He will be looking for clues as to whether or not you are the right fit for the culture. For instance, in some offices, employees barely talk to each other, only exchanging information by email. This type of office hums with the quiet of a library. If he feels you are loud and boisterous he may sense you wouldn’t fit. Another office might encourage employees to meet after work for social functions, sometimes with clients. If that is important to the organisation, the recruiter will want to see how well you will fit into that aspect. If you happen to play a great game of golf, it may be a good thing. If the organisation thrives on giving off an air of physically fit employees, the recruiter may look for signs that show that you value fitness. If the company has a serious personality they will be looking for someone who seems focused and intellectual.
If the recruiter picks up that you are a misfit and you don’t get hired, consider it a positive. No one wants to work in a climate that is incongruent with who they are personally.
Many professions have their own terminology. If your educational background is in the same field as the proposed position, or if you’ve worked in the field before, you should be acquainted with the language. Being an accountant in an engineering office can be vastly different from being an accountant for a charitable foundation. The recruiter may look for commonalities between your past and the position he’s hiring for to evaluate how much training or transitioning you would require.
Last but not least, in preparing to answer questions about yourself, practice. Practice on your own or with a friend. Knowing who you are, who they are, and having a few good answers prepared, will send you on your way.