Tell Me About Yourself, Part 1

The best advice I have ever received for interviews is to keep in mind that not only is the company interviewing you, but you are also bloginterview2interviewing the company and finding out for yourself if the job is the right fit for you.  Fitting in with your team is an important part of your career.  For the minimum forty hours per week you spend at work, you want most of that time to be with people you genuinely enjoy interacting with.  The way you facilitate that happening is by figuring out if you see yourself growing in this environment.  Does it seem like you have the qualifications the company is looking for?  Do you think you would get along with the interviewer(s)? How is the conversation going?   Do you respect this person?  Does the interviewer help you feel as comfortable as possible given the situation? 

When the interviewer asks you a question, he or she is trying to discover more about your qualifications as well as your character.  It’s not just about what you say but it’s also how you say it.  You can give the most well thought out answers but if you don’t sound like you want the job and show how excited you are about this opportunity then the interviewer won’t be too excited to hire you.  It’s also vital that you don’t sound rehearsed.  The interview isn’t about having an Oscar worthy speech at hand for every possible question.  It’s about knowing the DOs and DON’Ts of interviews and having examples ready in your mind that properly showcase your talent, personality, and experiences. If you are reading off a piece of paper, you sound untrustworthy and not surprisingly underprepared for the job.  Do not try to spin yourself so that you appear like the ideal candidate.  Be yourself.  It may sound cliché but it’s truly what works.  If you say whatever it takes to land the job without being true to yourself, you will find yourself in a situation that does not match your personality and qualifications and in which you are not truly comfortable.

There are questions, such as “tell me about yourself” and “what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses” that may seem straightforward but they aren’t just conversation starters or a means to check off a box.  These are essential questions that are used to uncover whether or not you are the right candidate for this job. By asking these questions, the interviewer wants to see if you can speak intelligently and clearly express your thoughts, how you handle pressure, and your ability to maintain a conversation.   Whether you’re interviewing for an internship, an entry level position, or a management level spot, these tips will help you navigate phone screens, face to face interviews, and generally any gateway to getting the job you want.  I’ve been on many interviews and in this post I’m drawing from these experiences to create a valuable resource for both high achievers and ladies and gentlemen who may not know of a way to answer these questions that shows off their best self. Based on my interviews for pharmacy school, retail pharmacy, and postgraduate training (including an intense four day conference of nonstop interviewing), I have pieced together what I have learned from my own experiences and hope that this advice will help you feel prepared and confident so that you ultimately land the job you want.  Read on for some smart ways to answer the most common and tough interview questions.

1. Tell me about yourself

This is a standard question asked in most interviews and is a great icebreaker to get the conversation going.  The purpose of this help_hiding_behind_deskquestion is for the interviewer to see how articulate you are and your ability to craft meaningful sentences.  This is their first glimpse of you and really provides the foundation and direction for the remainder of the interview.   I think of this question as serving the same purpose as a trailer does for a movie.  It offers a very brief preview of yourself and what you bring to the table. A candidate who is well prepared and took the time to think about the interview in advance will use this opportunity to create a great first impression. I had one class in pharmacy school in which we all had to create our ‘tell me about yourself’ statements.  It wasn’t easy!  It’s difficult to summarize yourself in a few sentences but there are some tricks you can use to sculpt an answer that really shows who you are and why you are interviewing for the position.    Above all, limit your answer to about a minute.  Include about three or four different elements that showcase key parts of your personality.

However you answer this question, do not summarize your life story and ramble on about personal issues.  If you find yourself starting your answer with, “I was born in Russia and when I was two and a half I immigrated to the United States…” then you are heading in the wrong direction. Keep it simple and stick to parts of your life and personality that appeal to the position and allow the interviewer to see for themselves why you are such a great fit for this job and what makes you different from all the other candidates.  Match your qualifications to the job you want.  The best way to do this is to read the job description and evaluate whether your experiences and character match with what the job entails.  For example, when I was applying for fellowship positions, I mentioned that at that point in my life I was juggling planning a wedding, studying for my pharmacy law exam, working full time in a retail pharmacy and applying for fellowship positions.  That was exactly what was going on in my life at the time and truly reflected my personality as well because I enjoy planning and juggling multiple projects  in both my personal and professional life and can prioritize accordingly.

This related to the fellowship position I was applying for because the job involved working in both an industry and academic setting and balancing both long- and short-term projects.   By providing an example of how I incorporate balance in my own life, I was directly showing the interviewer that I can handle a tough program and that’s something I was looking for.  Whatever you do, make sure to not misrepresent yourself.  Anything you say should be truthful and an accurate reflection of who you are and what you have done. Focus on what you have accomplished in your career so far and how you can be an asset to the company you are interviewing with. Personally, I have always found this question difficult but once I crafted some meaningful sentences in my head, I felt confident that I could give a thoughtful answer that truly reflected who I am and what my goals were for applying for a particular position.

In summary, don’t talk about your hobbies, weekend plans, pets, childhood, stamp collection, vacation plans, or any other irrelevant piece of information. Do keep it about your professional life and highlight your work history, career accomplishments, education, and anything else that tells the interviewer why they should hire you in a concise and compelling way.  In the end, your answer should come full circle and bring you to where you currently are in your career, applying for this position.

2. Why do you want this job?

This is a great opportunity for you to show how knowledgeable you are about the company and the position you are applying for.  Before any interview, go to the company website and find out as much as you can about their history, mission, and pipeline.  What does the company stand for?  What are some recent outreach events they hosted?  Most of this information is visible to the public for the purpose of investor information.  By knowing this information, you are demonstrating that this isn’t just a job for you.  You are drawn to this company based on their values and dedication to a subject you feel strongly about.  However, you should only state this if it is indeed the truth.  It is very easy to differentiate between someone who is speaking from the heart and someone who is giving certain answers for the purposes of impressing their interviewer.

Include what originally drew you to apply for this particular position.  This job could be a way for you to build upon the foundation you established in your most recent training and a natural extension of the work you have already done.  Perhaps you’re looking for something more challenging than you previously experienced and based on the job description, you feel that this position will offer you a chance to  expand your skill set and expertise.   Maybe you’re attracted to the growth and development this role would bring and you feel that the company has a promising portfolio that could lead to an exciting future. Take a few minutes to think about what prompted you to apply for this position and you’ll find yourself with a truthful and meaningful answer.    

3. What sets you apart from other applicants? 

This question is another way of asking what are your greatest strengths.  Figure out what the interviewer is actually asking you and you’ll be able to come up with an answer that is unique to you and really does set you apart from other candidates.  Identify why you are more qualified than everyone else and express this by leading with examples from your past that exemplify the skills and knowledge you mentioned.

Be specific in your answers.  Don’t just say you volunteered at a hospital and you loved it because you like to help patients.  This is a very vague and stereotypical answer that really does nothing to set you apart from everyone else.  If you really want to stand out then avoid clichés and be original.  Can you think of a particular moment in the hospital that really stuck with you?  Did you go above your job responsibilities in some way?   If you have skills that you think an employer would value, include these in your answer.  Some highly sought after skills include initiative, the ability to multitask, being a life-long learner, motivation, picking up on things quickly, the ability to work in a team setting, and the capacity to meet and exceed deadlines.  Whichever skills you encompass, have some stories and examples in the back of your mind that you can use when prompted.

The interviewer will take away certain aspects from the interview.  It could be positive points like your excitement and ambitious personality, your ability to use examples to showcase your skills, your stellar education, your community involvement, or your leadership skills.  It could also be negative aspects of the interview, such as showing up late, appearing disinterested, or anything else you may have said that gave off a negative connotation.  Think about your answers ahead of time so that the interview ends on a positive note and you truly give an accurate depiction of yourself.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this article coming out this Wednesday evening on February 27th for more information on challenging interview questions!  In the meantime, can you think of a time when you received a difficult question during an interview?  How did you handle it?

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