There is one interview that you are guaranteed to be asked in every job interview. Whats more it’ll probably be the very first question you are asked. If it’s not first then it will come second or third after “would you like a glass of water?” and “did you have any trouble finding the office?”. Considering it’s guaranteed to be asked I am always surprised at how poorly this question is answered and how people consistently fail to prepare for it.
The question can come in a few forms but it’s generally along the lines of; “Tell us about yourself?”, “Walk us through your background?” or “Talk us through your experience?”. It’s a fairly straightforward question. Most people make a plausible effort by listing off their past roles and touching on their educational experience whilst completely missing this golden opportunity to sell themselves.
When you are answering this question you will get zero points for listing off your past roles and education. There are no marks for remembering where you currently work or what degree you completed in college. “I currently work as a Project Manager for ABC and before that, I worked as a Business Analyst for XYZ” is a terrible answer. This is the only time in the interview where you have full control, you know the question is coming and you will have the floor to say whatever you want. Take advantage of it — you need to provide an overview of your past roles but look at these as “hooks” that allow you to tell the interviewer why you are right for the role. Try something like this instead.
I currently work as a Project Manager for ABC …
it was my first Project Management role but I have been very successful because of the way I approach planning and managing my projects. My approach is to …. insert your strengths as a Project Manager here
Before that, I worked as a Business Analyst for XYZ …
where I had to manage the relationship with our business stakeholders. I understand that this is also an important aspect of this role and I’m sure I would be successful at it because … explain why you are a good communicator here
My advice is to approach every interview as though there are 2 distinctive parts. Part 1 is the most important. If you get it right then you’re well on your way to getting the job and it sets the scene for the rest of the interview. Its a 5 to 10 minute window where you get the floor to sell yourself, demonstrate progression in your career and explain why you are the right person for the job. The interviewer might not realise that there is a Part 1 but you know that its coming and it kicks off with that very first question.
Remember, if you are sitting in an interview its guaranteed that the person on the other side of the table wants to hire you. They don’t want to go back to their desk and sift through another load of CV’s or fit another round of interviews into their schedule. So make it easy for them. Don’t wait for them to pry out the reasons you are right for the job. Don’t hope they will ask a question where you can talk about your key strengths. They will give you an open floor to pitch yourself at the start of the interview. Expect it and prepare for it. Write a script, practice it, try it out with your partner or friends.
I’m amazed at how much time people will spend looking through lists of top interview questions and preparing answers for them but don’t prepare for the most important and obvious interview question of them all.