There tends to be a few go-to questions that interviewers love to pull out the bag.  One is guaranteed to come up straight away, acting as the ice-breaker: ‘Tell me about yourself’.

It can be so easy, especially when you’re pumped with adrenaline, to spurt out your life story and enthuse about your hobby as a stamp collector.  However, the interviewer is looking for something slightly different!

With enough preparation (and some relaxing breathing techniques!), you’ll be able to offer the interviewer what they’re looking for so that you’re one step closer to landing that dream job.

What do they mean?

A potential employer isn’t interested in where you grew up or how many dogs you have, they’re interested in your working life.  It’s the perfect way for them to get familiar with you and gently ease you into the interviewing process.

List your biggest accomplishments 

It’s important to have a few of your biggest achievements prepared before going in.  Employers “want to hear stories that point to a specific and relative outcome or accomplishment, experience, or even a failure they can measure against their perceived needs,” writes Allan Hay in Memory Mining. Perhaps it was when a boss praised you and you received a promotion or that time when you solved a problem.

If you are a recent graduate then don’t fret!  Take an example from an extracurricular activity or a project you were involved in. If you’re applying for a media job then mention working at your student newspaper or at the radio station.  This is also the perfect time to discuss your volunteer work – it demonstrates the seriousness of your character and your commitment to helping the community.

The S*T*A*R approach

It’s important to not just list a success story and leave it at that.  That’s why the tried and tested approach of ‘STAR’ is so successful.  Although it’s used for a lot of behavioral questions (you know, those ‘Tell me a time when…’ ones), it can also really help structure your answer here too.

STAR is an acronym for four key concepts.
Situation: Set the scene for your story.  For example, a time you worked together as a group or solved a conflict.

Task: Next, describe your responsibility within that particular situation.  What was required of you?  Perhaps you had to complete a group project under a tight deadline and had to tackle some obstacles.

Action: You then describe how you completed the task.  Perhaps you were the project manager and went the extra mile to create high-quality work, despite having little time to do it.  It’s important to focus more on what you did here rather than your coworker or team.

Result: Finally, explain the outcome or results of the project.  Did you learn anything from it?  Be sure to emphasize your accomplishments and how the experience helped you.

However, there are a couple of things to consider whilst using this technique.  It’s important to speak specifically rather than in general terms.  Include how many people were in your group, how long you had before the deadline and then quantify your success.  If you remain generic then the example will not have that much of an impact.

Additionally, it’s important to remember to tailor the answer to the company.  Always try and match your answer to the job description and the values that the business upholds

Wrapping up

The best way to close your answer is to explain why you’re interested in the position.  Remember it’s them, not you. It’s important to always have the interviewer’s interest at the forefront of your mind.

Additionally, you’ll want to stress that the position is in line with your plans and career goals.  It proves that the candidate has done their homework and that you’ve considered the requirements necessary for the role.

Be sure to go through your answer a few times before attending the interview.  It shouldn’t sound too rehearsed but flow naturally.  If you have that sorted then you’ll be on to a good start!

Francesca Hooper writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate marketing jobs are currently available.

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