While it’s not exactly feasible to prepare answers for every single interview question, there are certain quite common questions that come up across all industries and job titles.
The most common first interview question is ‘tell me about yourself.’ And while simple on the surface, it is a very easy question to make a mistake on, and turn the interviewer off right at the start of the interview.
Why do people screw up on this question when it seems so easy to answer? According to Ryan Miller, Client Success Manager at Employment BOOST, it’s usually, a lack of preparation will lead to rambling and over-sharing. And over-sharing in our increasingly judgmental world will often result in you not getting a call back!
To help you avoid seeming unprepared or being thrown off by such a seemingly straightforward first interview question, we’ve spoken to a couple of career coaches and hiring experts to get their top tips on nailing this common interview question.
Conduct a SWOT analysis
Preparation is key to any interview success and when it comes to common interview questions, a good piece of advice is to start by doing a comprehensive, and honest, SWOT analysis on yourself—a strategic planning technique that is used to help organize your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
“Conducting a SWOT analysis on yourself makes developing your 30-second elevator pitch a straight-forward exercise, which in turn informs your answer to a question like ‘tell me about yourself.’ When you know what makes you special as a candidate, you’ll know exactly what to share,” says Miller.
According to Miller, by understanding your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, you will be able to hone in on which aspects of your professional background and skillset to draw extra attention to, and which aspects to steer clear from.
Do your research on the company and where you fit into it
“The best way to prepare for interview questions is to do your research,” explains Nadia Ibrahim-Taney, university career coach and lecturer teaching students how to get hired and be successful in the professional workplace.
“You can guarantee all interviews are going to start with some element of ‘tell me about yourself,’ but that is often the easiest and hardest interview question for most applicants because you can literally say anything.”
According to Ibrahim-Taney, writing out your story, intertwining it with the professional and personal with nods to particular skills and abilities you want to highlight is a good start.
Your opening should touch upon points in your resume but more so focus on the why: why did you choose what you studied, why you chose the companies to work for in the past and why are you interested in the role you are interviewing for? Interviewing is a practiced skill.
“The more you do it, the more your words will find you and the more confidence you gain, the strong the impact that words have,” says Ibrahim-Taney.
“Try scripts to start, practice in the mirror, then on a friend, then on someone from industry. And ask for feedback! Tell those you are interviewing with you are seeking constructive feedback and incorporate said feedback into your style and delivery.”
Consider the potential follow up questions based on your answer
Lastly, Ibrahim-Taney suggests doing research on your industry and getting comfortable with what sort of questions employers will ask next.
If you work in technology, for example, you can guarantee employers will ask about your tech skill or what programming or coding languages you’ve used in the past.