You’ve studied up on the company culture, you know everything there is to know about the field, but then your interviewer asks a question that stumps you: “tell me about yourself”, maybe, or “what are your hobbies?”
We’ve all been there before – it’s not a matter of not knowing yourself, but how should you describe yourself in a job interview? What does a hiring manager want to hear and what’s completely off-limits?
1. What Not to Say
First, let’s quickly run through what to avoid. An employer asking you about yourself does not mean they genuinely want to know about your personal life – keep it professional. Don’t discuss anything you wouldn’t put in a cover letter.
If they ask about your hobbies, daily routine or how you spend your time, you can get a little bit more personal, just tie it back to the job. Let’s say you like to paint in your spare time and the job you’re interviewing for isn’t art-related at all. It’s not unprofessional to bring this up, but you can’t say “painting” and leave it at that. If you can’t tie this information to the job you’re applying for, use it to explain your work ethic or drive to constantly expand your skills – “I’m a hard worker even when it comes to hobbies, I spend hours getting every detail of a painting perfect” or “I love learning new things and being challenged, so I’m always looking for new things to paint”.
Now, when I say “keep it professional”, this doesn’t mean that you should just retell your resume. They’ve read it already, they want to know more. If you hit every single point they’ve already read, they’ll lose interest in you.
2. Mix Profession and Passion
Since you want to be professional but not just repeat things the interviewer already knows about you, expand on it. They’re already aware of all your accomplishments, so get personal in the sense of explaining how you came to have all of these accomplishments. What is it about your past gigs that drove you to succeed in them? Why is it important for you to bring this to the table in your new job?
For instance, let’s say you’re applying for a job in retail – you could express to the hiring manager that you’ve always loved to help people and, as a fashion enthusiast, it would bring you a lot of joy to help them find clothes that make them feel beautiful. If you’re asked about what you do in your spare time, tie that back into your job as best you can, too. Let’s say you’re applying for a position as a journalist – let the employer know that you’ve been writing your entire life and have always dreamed of making it your career.
Knowing these little details about you and your career journey will set you apart from other applicants, especially if you can find a way to connect to your employer directly. Just keep it succinct and to the point.
3. Tailor it to the Company
Before you go into an interview, you should have done a ton of research on the company so you could be prepared for discussing their values and culture if asked. It shows extra initiative to slide these details about the company wherever you can in your interview, and when you’re asked about yourself, this is a particularly great space. In one go, you show off your achievements, share your knowledge about the company and express that you’re the ideal candidate because your values align with the company’s.
Express to the employer that moving forward in your career journey, you’re looking for a job with similar values to theirs. Let’s say you want to run the social media for a non-profit that helps underprivileged women. Sure, you could talk about your passion for social media marketing, but it’d be great to mention the importance of feminism and womanhood in your life and how you’d love to tie that to a career.
Of course, remember to be as honest as possible if you go this route! Sometimes a job’s just a job and you aren’t passionate about the company’s values at all – but they’ll be sure to realize it once you’re on the job.
In short, keep it professional, but pop in little details of your personality wherever you can. Use any opportunity to talk about yourself to connect with the company or employer, or simply to explain why you’d be a valuable employee at any company. These questions are bigger than they are when they hit you, but with vague plans of what you’d like to say and some practice, you can nail them!
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Emily Morrison is a media professional with a passion for writing, film and popular culture.
Feature Image: Adobe Stock