Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.
Many job interviews begin the same way: You’re called into the hiring manager’s office and try to calm your nerves. Your interviewer asks, “Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself?” It’s an extremely important and disarmingly dangerous question. The answer can lose you the job or set you up to win the offer.
At this point, the hiring manager is interested in your professional persona. He or she is not looking for the “real you” until it’s clear you can ace the job. Your answers should aim to show your skill level as it applies to the position. Use your answer to illustrate that you can do, will do and love doing this work, especially dealing with the problems that pop up (later you can explain how you can anticipate, avoid and solve these problems in a timely manner).
Preparing a great resume helps you prepare for a great interview. Your resume should objectively detail your skills in a specific job as defined by employers currently looking to fill such a job. This resume tells what you bring to the table relevant to the hiring manager’s needs.
Start by condensing and prioritizing all your research on what employers are looking for (referred to as the Target Job Deconstruction process), and write a short paragraph—called a Performance Summary—at the top of your resume. This paragraph highlights your skills in four to six of the job’s most important responsibilities. This can be followed by three or four bullets, making a maximum of 10 big points that highlight your major professional skills as they relate to your target job.
This paragraph lists the points you should make in your answer to the “tell me about yourself” request. Your answer will be focused on what the hiring manager wants to know and will describe you as the person he or she needs to hire.
I’ve written resumes and coached a lot of managers and executives over the years, and when we discuss this opening question, and how to structure the answer, people are surprised by how well this approach works. They comment on the strong impression such an answer makes because it focuses on the experience you bring to the responsibilities and deliverables of the job, which shows your grasp of the real issues and ability to handle them. Use it and you’ll come across as focused, qualified and thorough yet succinct—that’s one tough combination to beat.
Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We’ll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.