“Tell me about yourself.”
How many of your job interviews have opened with that line?
I used to think that all job seekers anticipated these questions and prepared their answers ahead of time. Not everyone writes it out or role plays with a friend; I usually mentally prep in the shower the day of the interview. After conducting a few dozen interviews in the last few months, I’ve discovered that not everyone preps. At least, it sure doesn’t seem like they did.
This column is the second in a two-part series with tips for job seekers. The first focused on applying for a job, and this will focus on the interview that you will hopefully secure with your new and improved résumé and cover letter.
The interview is your time to sell yourself. It’s all about you. You don’t need to brag, but you do need to communicate to the interviewer that you are capable of doing this job and fitting into the organizational culture and team that you’d be working with.
Here are some tips I’ve gathered, again from my own or close friend’s experiences.
Answer your phone.
If you can’t answer your phone, return voicemails within 24 hours. And for the love of whoever you worship, empty your voicemail if you’re applying to jobs. There were several candidates who never actually scheduled an interview — they didn’t answer our phone calls and we couldn’t leave a voicemail because the mailbox was full. That’s such a stupid reason to lose a job.
BUT, timely responses to inquiries is important for the roles I was hiring. So, if you can’t return calls regarding the position, my only takeaway is that you wouldn’t be able to return calls from our supporters if I were to hire you. I’m not going to go the extra step to email you if there are other candidates who responded in a timely fashion.
If your situation changed or you no longer want the interview, the polite thing to do would be to return our call to tell us that.
We had one candidate from the fall who didn’t respond to voicemails. They then reached out last week to say that they accepted a role after our outreach back then, but it didn’t work out, and they’re still interested in our position. Thanks for the heads up, but we’re interested in candidates who communicate well. Your lack of communication with us tells me that you would put off tasks don’t enjoy and/or ignore emails and phone calls.
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Do your research on the position’s responsibilities.
I do not want to have to explain to you the bullet points listed in the job description during the interview so that you can craft your answers. You should be familiar with the bigger buckets of work this position will be doing and speak directly to your experience and why you’re a good candidate for the position. I’ll absolutely answer questions about specifics, but I would hope that you’ll at least know the basics before you walk through our door.
Treat other staffers well.
Before the interview, also research who you’d be working with and what their responsibilities are and think of specific questions for them in case you have an opportunity to interact. Sure, you can’t always easily find that information, but the better informed you can be the better prepared you will be to both ask and answer questions.
And I shouldn’t need to say this, but everyone you interact with at an organization is a part of the hiring process. If you think I don’t talk with the person at the front desk and anyone else you interacted with during your interview, you’d be sorely mistaken. I ask about your demeanor, I ask how you treated everyone, I ask what questions you asked, and that goes into my decision as the hiring manager. The interview starts as soon as you walk through the door.
When someone says “Tell me about yourself,” they want more than your superlatives.
Sure, start with where you went to school, your current or previous role, where you’re from. But also talk about who you are as a person, why you are interested in this position, why you’re intrigued by this organization. This answer should be more than 10 seconds long. You shouldn’t treat the information you’re giving to me as boring or repetitive: This is the first time I’ve heard it, and I am absolutely judging your delivery here.
If you aren’t confident in yourself, why should I be?
I don’t want to think you’re the bee’s knees during an interview and then discover on your first day of work that you’re a completely different person that you were during the interview.
It can be difficult to figure out how to sell yourself without seeming desperate or how to share your positive qualities without bragging, but your best bet is always to be genuine. Trying to be someone you aren’t makes the interview that much more stressful for you and that much more frustrating for the interviewer.
Ask for clarification.
If you don’t totally understand a question, ask the interviewer to say it in a different way. Otherwise, you risk answering on the wrong topic or rambling through several topics because you’re not sure you’ve answered the question. Chances are, you didn’t, and the interviewer was not impressed that they didn’t get an answer to their question.
If you’re asked why now is the time to leave your current job, be as honest as you can without bashing your organization. It’s better to say something like, “I wasn’t necessarily looking for a new job, but this position looked such a great opportunity,” rather than seeming desperate to get out of a bad situation. Emphasize why this role is right for you, not why you’re so over your old job and ready for something new.
Be a fan.
Hiring managers are looking for people who want to work for them and passionate about their organization’s mission. I can tell if you know nothing about our organization and I promise you, that will not reflect kindly on you as the candidate.
When it comes down to two candidates that have equal experience, but one clearly wants to be here and one seems ambivalent … that’s a no brainer.
ALWAYS ask questions.
At the end when the interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?” I can’t tell you how quickly I will fill with rage when someone says no with a giggle and then just stares at me. Even if you feel that I’ve answered all of your position-specific questions during the course of the interview, there’s so much more you can ask:
- What do you like best about working here?
- What inspires you about the work that your organization does?
- How did you end up working in this role?
- What’s your favorite thing about coming to work every day?
- What does your ideal candidate for this role look like?
Good luck. We’re rooting for you out there.
Generocity Editor Julie Zeglen contributed to this column.-30-
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