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Top 5 Ice Breaker Questions #1: “Tell Me About Yourself”

by Mark Ellwood

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While interviews generally tend to focus on skills and competency-based questions, the interview itself is also a discussion. And to start the ball rolling, the person conducting the interview will usually ask some form of ice breaker questions. As simple as these seem, sometimes (for someone who’s been up all night preparing to talk about work examples and competency-based case studies for example), these can really throw the applicant off course.
 

So, to help you through these, we’ve starting a series of articles tackling what we’ve identified as the top-5 ice breaker questions and how to handle them. And we start this week with:

 

“Tell me about yourself”

 

Often the first question to be asked at interview, this seemingly innocuous opener can in fact make or break the interview.  A good answer really sets the tone for the rest of the meeting, while a poor answer can actually write you off at the first hurdle.

 

Variations

 

The question can be asked in a variety of ways, such as:

  • “Walk me through your background”

  • “Tell us a little about yourself” 

  • “What should we know about you?”

 

What’s being asked?

 

The question here is asking you to make a summary statement about your professional self. After all, this is a job interview. It is not a question about the personal you – the book reading, stamp collecting horror film enthusiast. It’s about how you relate to this job.

 

What’s being assessed here?

 

As with many of the classic interview questions, several things are being assessed at the same time:

  1. Content – how you relate your experience to the role and the hiring company. This demonstrates that you have done your research and understand why you are a good match to the role, and what you can offer the firm

  2. Style – this can include tone of voice, delivery and body language. It will also be clear if you are repeating information off your CV word for word, or if you are reciting an answer you’ve practiced for days. Are you confident and articulate?

  3. Response time – can you think on your feet?

 

How to answer?

 

To answer the question, you’ll need a concise, enthusiastic reply that highlights your fit to the role. The five rules of thumb for this answer are:

 

  1. Keep it brief. You need to be talking for over a minute, but no longer than two minutes. You don’t need lots of details – these can be covered later in the interview. Keep it big picture

  2. Focus on job-positive personality traits such as confidence, professionalism, enthusiasm, team playing and quick learning, but also remain humble – don’t brag. On the flip side, don’t be overly modest – be confident in your successes by describing them clearly

  3. Cover primary selling points - your key strengths as they relate to the position you’re interviewing for (such as experience in an industry/specialisation, special training, technical skills). Relate to the job description and how you meet and exceed the requirements

  4. How you add value. Here you can include relevant past achievements that demonstrate your understanding of what needs to be accomplished in the position you’re discussing and your track record of success in this area

  5. Why now? Talk about why you are looking for a new challenge and why you feel this role is the best next move for you

 

Try an example

 

Let’s hypothesise that a mid-tier consultancy is looking to hire a Senior Salesforce Solutions Architect with a minimum of six years’ experience, who has worked with a broad range of CRM packages, but also has good client facing skills, some technical expertise and some team management experience.
 

Interviewer:  
“Okay, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?”
 

Interviewee:
“I’m an accomplished solutions consultant with eight years of work experience, four of those in Salesforce implementation. I graduated with a degree in computer sciences and started as an analyst for Vodafone, before moving into solutions consulting with Accenture, working across technology, finance and banking clients as both a project leader and team manager, managing the solutions delivery by the offshore technical architecture team in India. An aspect of the role was business development, while the real focus was on collaborative team skills and two of my projects my team and I worked on won Salesforce awards. As well as being a certified Salesforce Architect, I’ve worked with Siebel, Oracle and SAP integration and I’ve gained a reputation for being the go-to man for clients who need technical solutions explained to them in simpler terms. So, I think this role will enable me to further develop my technical project management expertise while leveraging my strong client and team skillset in a smaller, more closely-knit team environment”.
 

Lets look at what this reply tells us:
 

  • Years of experience exceed the job description and the experience with Salesforce is an exact match

  • A technical degree, certifications and working with technical architecture teams fulfils the technical aspect of the job description – in fact the multiple teams and virtual working may well exceed this requirement

  • The interviewee has strong team playing and team leading skills – fulfilling the team management experience

  • New business development and becoming the ‘go to’ person for clients matches the client skills mentioned in the job description

  • The interviewee has won awards for successful projects. The inclusion of the team effort here relates back to team playing skills while allowing the speaker to show off success without bragging – there’s an element of modesty here

  • Experience with multiple CRM systems such as Siebel and Oracle, while integrating these with Salesforce may be a bonus

  • The whole passage concisely summarises a logical journey to this point, while the final sentence is then selling the interviewee to the hiring firm. He/she is saying that the role offers them the opportunity to move up to ‘senior’ consultant level and to get more technical, the payoff being that he/she brings their excellent big firm client and team skills into the IP of the smaller firm. It also tells us the interviewee has read the job description and understood the company

 

Do it yourself

 

So now we understand this key ice breaker – it’s time for you to craft your own response and rehearse it until you can remember it without sounding like you’re reciting a learnt passage. The key to this is to remember all the details of the passage, not the exact wording. It may be a little different every time you recite it, but you’ll have all the details to hand. In fact, the process of writing or updating your resume and/or your LinkedIn profile can really help with crafting your response, because in both cases you are summarising your work.

 

Some final tips

 

  • Body language – positive. Keen interviewers judge you by eyeballing you as well as listening to what you have to say. Also make sure you’ve dressed appropriately for the interview

  • Don’t sound robotic and rehearsed. This is a big put-off

  • Avoid negativity, even slight negativity. Keep everything positive

  • “Please describe yourself in three words”.  This is another, much more concise variation on the same question. To answer this, you’ll need to boil everything down to three words that do the same job as a whole script. The way to do this is to boil down the job description into the three most important requirements and pick three words that address those requirements, although you have the option here to substitute one of those for a personally trait, such as ‘driven’