The first question in most job interviews is as simple as they come: “Tell me a little bit about yourself”. As ordinary as it might come across, this is a loaded question with heavy consequences. Answer it right and you’ve made a good first impression that will help you through the rest of the interview, go the wrong direction and at worst you’ve dug a hole you can’t dig out of in the interview.
So let’s start with what not to do: Don’t talk about your family, don’t talk about your hobbies, and definitely don’t talk about what you did last weekend. That is probably the perfect answer for meeting a new friend or a group introduction, but it doesn’t accomplish anything towards the reason you’re in the room: gaining employment. There will be plenty of time for everyone to learn about your children, your fly fishing trophies, or your awesome quilt blocks once you’ve got the job.
Instead, use the question as a chance to sell yourself as the perfect person for the opening. This should include a brief overview of your work history, focused on how you can complete the key requirements of the position and the skills you bring to the position. You can also note previous work accomplishments or honors. This is your time. Tell them exactly why you should be hired.
Knowing how to answer the question and actually answering it are two different things. If you want to deliver this message smoothly, it’s important to prepare for the question before the interview. You know the question is coming at you, so put your thoughts in order and then speak them out. The more times you practice your answer out loud, the better you’ll deliver it in the room. You can say it out loud several times. I find the best place to practice a speech to be alone in the car. Don’t be afraid to perform for a family member, they’ll be happy to help you practice and they might even give you notes to improve it. It might feel awkward or silly, but this feeling will pass and be replaced with the confidence you earn from getting the job.