By Jamie Grant, C’98 GEd’99
Senior Associate Director for SEAS, Career Services
One of the most important parts of any interview happens in the first few moments, when you’re instructed to “tell me about yourself.” Whether in a 1st round phone screen or an in-person 3rd -and-final round with a committee, how you respond to this prompt can arguably make or break your entire interview.
“Tell me about yourself” is one of the only parts of an interview over which the candidate is fully in control. This is your chance to set the tone and introduce what you believe to be the most important aspects of your qualifications and experience as they relate to the role – rather than waiting (and hoping!) that the questions to come will give you a chance to talk about the projects, learning and experience you know to be most important.
Your preparation for this is actually simple, and if you’ve written a compelling cover letter that details why you believe you are a qualified candidate, you’ve already done the work! But as an example, let’s pretend you’ve been invited to interview for the recently posted Strategic Planning role at Weber Shandwick in Handshake – https://upenn.joinhandshake.com/jobs/3544739. Cut-and-pasting below from their list of qualifications, note that some of the qualifications are “check-offs” – things obvious from your resume, facts from your transcript or schedule, or other points not directly impacting your ability to do the job:
- You must be a student or recent college graduate who received academic credit at an accredited college or university during the fall 2019 semester
- Senior or recent college graduate preferred
- Available to work a full-time schedule between January and May. Business hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
You can skip right over these points. But, the list goes on – including some intangible characteristics and qualities sought by the employer – information you could share that they may not otherwise glean from your resume or assume from your application. Those other points are what is most important to work into your response; Weber Shandwick’s list goes on to include:
- Demonstrated interest and commitment to the field of communications, market research or creative campaign development
- Demonstrated leadership, creativity and curiosity
- Interest in market research and familiarity with developments in culture, brands and politics
- Knowledge of the media landscape and a variety of social platforms (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) and the latest news and trends affecting these channels
So, let’s build out a strong response to “tell me about yourself” for this particular job, with a focus on the key points highlighted, and that should take only 30-45 seconds to say:
“Thank you for interviewing me today – I’m excited to share my experience with you and learn more about this role. I will graduate from the University of Pennsylvania in May 2020 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Throughout my courses, experiences and activities while at Penn, I’ve developed and demonstrated my abilities in strategic planning, market research and creative problem solving. For example, I recently led a project where I conducted both quantitative and qualitative market research to determine the impact of trends and cultural shifts on the marketing of insurance products to young professionals; once the research stage was complete, I worked with my team to create a campaign proposal using multiple social media and advertisement platforms to engage potential insurance buyers. With this type of experience, along with my sense of curiosity and skills in working with data, I believe I may have what it takes to make an impact as part of your team.”
Now, I’ve been told that I make this sound so easy – but all it really takes is some critical evaluation of what the employer is looking for and your knowledge of what you can do – for you are the subject matter expert on your experiences and should feel empowered to make connections between what you’ve done, what you can do, and what they want. It takes practice (that’s what we’re here for, among lots of other career related guidance!), but I guarantee that a strong opening will take you a long way towards making a fantastic case to be hired!