The First Question in an Interview

Posted by Nancy Gober

I'm an Intel analystTell me about yourself.

And so the interview begins. The interviewer asks this ice breaker question as much to start a conversation as to actually learn about the job seeker sitting in front of him or her.

The question: “So why don’t you tell me about yourself?” is generally considered the most frequently asked interview question. Not a particularly good question by a long shot, nevertheless it is most commonly asked in order to get the conversation – the interview – going.

And while appearing on the surface to be a simple question to answer, in fact, it not only throws many candidates but throws them right out of the competition! Why? Because an unprepared candidate can sound like this:

“Umm, well I grew up in Florida, lived there most of my life, went to Florida State University, majored in philosophy, and then I took a year off to help my Dad in his printing business. My first job was in 1982 when I was hired as a clerk in…..”

The interviewer listens patiently, acts interested, but is secretly thinking: “What does this have to do with the job he’s applying for as an intel analyst? Get to the point.”

The interviewee continues to rattle on, clears his throat a time or two, and continues the monologue that goes on way, way too long!

If you have ever sat in the interviewee’s seat and experienced the situation just described, you are not alone. In fact, many, if not most job seekers, have had a similar experience. You know what you want to say about yourself and your job-related experience, but you can’t seem to say it!

Make a Good First Impression

In an interview any cleared job seeker wants to make a good first impression. You want to convey that you’re the right candidate for the job and that you can get the job done! You want to appear motivated, capable and committed to the mission. You want to show that you are qualified to perform the duties of the job and then some. You just can’t seem to say it as well as you would like.

Why not? What goes wrong? What’s missing?

Generally when a job seeker stammers, and hems and haws at the beginning of an interview or is just too wordy, what is missing is a short presentation that strategically:

  1. Tells the interviewer about you, and
  2. Sells the interviewer on the idea that you can do the job…well!

This short, precise presentation, highlighting relevant experience, qualifications, and skills, is — by another name – an elevator speech.

What is an Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is a professional self-description that can be said in 30 seconds or less. Theoretically, it can be said in the time you travel in an elevator from the first to the top floor, hence, the name elevator speech! When you’re done, your listener has a pretty good idea of what you do and do well.

In other words, your elevator speech is a short, concise, prepared-in-advance, and well-practiced description of your expertise, abilities, skills, and accomplishments that are relevant to the job you are interviewing for.

5-Step Model

It can be a bit mystifying to try to figure out how to describe the essence of your experience in less than 30 seconds. So, here’s a method to do just that. Below is a 5-Step Model for preparing your elevator speech. The model allows you to tell the listener, in 30 seconds or less, what you do and what you are expert at. It helps you showcase your skills, and highlight relevant accomplishments. It provides a way to ask for your desired outcome from the discussion. So take out a pencil and paper and begin to craft your elevator speech — your answer to the #1 interview question: “Tell me about yourself?”

Craft Your Elevator Speech 

Step 1. Start with your profession. State what you do in a couple of words.

I am a _____.

I’m an Electronics Engineer. I’m an Intel Analyst. I’m an Administrative Assistant.

Step 2. Identify your area(s) of expertise. What makes you stand out from the crowd?

I’m a _____, with in-depth experience or expertise in _____.

I’m an Electronics Engineer, with extensive experience in designing systems that….

I’m an Administrative Manager who consistently runs departments that function like clockwork.

I’m an Intel Analyst who never misses a detail or a deadline.

Step 3. Identify your areas of skill that are relevant to the job you are seeking.

I’m particularly skilled in _____, or I’m adept at _____.

I’m skilled in helping the customer implement new systems with no downtime.

I’m really effective at planning and budgeting so the programs I manage come in on-time and within budget.

I’m expert in using IC systems and databases, so I’m productive immediately!

Step 4. Identify knowledge, strengths, and unique attributes that are relevant to the position.

I’m certified in _____. Or, I am trained in _____. Or I was awarded the _____.

I hold a Master’s degree in advanced electronics engineering.

I’m a Certified Program Manager.

I was recognized as the “Employee of the Year” by my former employer.

Step 5. Ask for what you want. What are you trying to achieve?

I am looking for _____. Or, I am seeking _____. Or, I hope to _____.

I am looking for a Systems Engineering position that uses _____.

I am hoping you can refer me to a person in your network who is familiar with _____.

I am seeking an opportunity to _____.

Using the 5-Step Model helps you craft an elevator speech that gets to the point and accomplishes your objective of:

  1. Telling the interviewer about you, and
  2. Selling the interviewer on the idea that you can do the job.

Answering “tell me about yourself” well won’t in and of itself get you the job. But, it can put you on the path to achieving a successful interview and securing a great job offer!

Nancy GoberNancy Gober is a career strategist who has helped thousands of job seekers find employment. She’s also been a popular resume reviewer at our Cleared Job Fairs. You may reach Nancy via email at [email protected]. Follow Nancy on Twitter @AfterJobClub.


  • Nancy Gober

    Nancy Gober is a career strategist who has helped thousands of job seekers find employment, and the author of “Jobs Are Not Found Sitting at the Computer.” You may reach Nancy via email at [email protected].

This entry was posted on Monday, November 24, 2014 10:53 am

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