After a presentation on job hunting skills, an audience member stopped me to ask how he could get beyond the interview stage. He’d had no luck, and it took only 30 seconds to guess why.
Before he’d told me what kind of job he wanted — or anything else about his work history — he made a politically divisive comment.
It doesn’t matter exactly what he said. What mattered was that it was irrelevant to his job search. And because he had no idea what I thought about his comment, he had no idea whether he’d just elicited a knee-jerk reaction.
Whether you’re doing an initial screening interview on the telephone or an in-person interview inside an organization, you need to be prepared to paint yourself in a relevant, non-divisive way. That’s especially true when you hear the open-ended question “Tell me about yourself.”
You must be ready with a few well-practiced sentences that focus on your work history, your skills, your interests and your enthusiasm to share your strengths in the particular job at hand.
Don’t waste a precious moment telling about your children, your health, your interest in a paycheck or your political leanings.
If — and only if — it’s relevant, you may include references to your hobbies, volunteer activities or association memberships. You don’t want to give the interviewers any information that might prejudice them against you.
You should be ready to briefly summarize the educational degrees, if relevant, or work experience that prepared you to seek this position. Explain your special expertise that makes you perfect for the opening. Unless you’re speaking to a hiring manager who is a specialist in your field, don’t use abbreviations or jargon that may not translate to the interviewer.
Don’t be afraid of bragging. Mention professional honors, fast-track promotions or big-dollar sales or savings that you made for a previous employer.
Even if you can’t put a dollar sign on your accomplishments, include a sentence about the value you brought to your previous organization. You can mention “soft skills” like customer service, teamwork, a strong work ethic and energy.
Remember, too, that an interview isn’t all about you. It’s about whether the interviewer sees you as a good fit for the organization. Be ready to show knowledge about the company or the job opening and tell how you can meet its needs.
Finally, when you have the floor because of an opening like “Tell me about yourself,” “Why should we hire you?” or “Why do you want this job?” express enthusiasm for the organization. And thank the interviewer for the opportunity.
Often, job hunters share anger, deep frustration, political rants or personal information about their health or family situations. It is essential to be able to share all these emotions and situations with friends, loved ones and career counselors. But don’t ever think that an official job interview is the time to share that kind of information about yourself.