“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do,” Thomas Jefferson.
I was in Ghana at the time of the December, 7th 2016 General Elections. During that period, I had the privilege of joining an interview panel in its search to fill a vacancy. If there was any question I expected the interviewees to have predicted and adequately prepared themselves for, it was certainly this question “Tell us about yourself.” But I was wrong, I witnessed, with the exception of one candidate, a complete mess of this simple and easy question. In my opinion it was a bonus question. One which was asked specifically to allow candidates to settle comfortably into the interview. Sadly, most of the interviewees were off target, and discussed issues of less importance and of no interest or relevance. What exactly was the expectation of the panel? There is no definitive answer, and the expectation will very much differ for each job and/or interviewer. But one can, within a certain framework, sail through this question with some degree of success.
I feel so impressed upon to write an article to address this issue. After all, if the President of the Republic of Ghana’s (Nana Akufo-Addo) electoral promises of One District One Factory, One District $1 million, etc., is anything to go by, then one can safely say that there will be a lot of genuine jobs created during the tenure of the Akufo-Addo led government. Admittedly, I doubt the number of jobs created will be adequate to meet the needs of the many unemployed graduates. At the end of the day, it will boil down to potential candidates competing for jobs. Those who successfully crossed the initial hurdle of being shortlisted will be invited for an interview. This is where many ill prepared candidates fail. I am not a Human Resource (HR) expert, neither am I a coach in this respect. However, I have had my fair share of interviews. I have also had the privilege, on numerous occasions, of being an interviewer. I believe my experience can be brought to bear in this article. Today, I am discussing the interview question: “Tell me about yourself”. As always, I write from my own personal experiences and perspective.
This particular interview question has been deemed by some HR experts as “tricky”, and yet it seems to many as a straight forward and easy question to answer. The key issue to answering this question is to have a perception of what the interviewer is expecting, and to give a suitable and appropriate answer in response. Before I even go to the heart of my writing today, I would expect one’s curriculum vitae (CV) to be tailored to the job description. A good CV will ideally be broken down into the following sections:
1) Professional Profile
2) Key Skill and Competences
3) Employment History and Career Achievements
4) Education and Certification
5) Others, e.g., If you have published a book etc.
My personal advice is simple; your professional profile should be brief and concise. Make this section punchy, and endeavour to develop the appetite for the reviewer wanting to read the rest of the CV. These four headline points should guide you to write a good professional profile:
1) Professional qualification and experience, broken down by certification and industry experience
2) A demonstration of being self-motivated and details of success and achievements
3) A demonstration of being an adaptive and a team player
4) What you bring to the table, based on strengths and accomplishments, and how these can be leveraged for mutual benefit.
In summary, sell yourself without being verbose. The other question of relative importance is how detailed should one be? Stick to the 90-second rule. (The 90 second rule is simply do not spend more than 90 seconds on a question) Anything above the 90 seconds might lose the interviewer. In essence, all you need to do, when asked this question, is to run through your professional profile and key aspects (headlines) of your CV. Do not waffle. This is about you. Prepare adequately for an interview by going through possible interviewing questions, one of which one should be “Tell me about yourself”. Be fluid, concise and convincing.
The next question, I guess, is how to practically to approach this kind of question. Well, there are many approaches to tackling this kind of question. Whatever approach you adopt, one thing remains constant, the answer must be structured. This helps with your thought process and helps the interviewer to keep a handle on your train of thought. It also assists the interviewer in assessing your suitability for the role. Just like a structured essay, this question will need an introduction, main body and the conclusion. The introduction really is about your qualification and professional profile. The body is all about the headline bullet point from your resume. The focus of this should be on your achievements from each of the projects/assignments you have worked on. Then the conclusion should be to convince the panel why you should be selected over the remaining candidates. The highlight should be on your strengths, relative to the job you have applied for.
Let’s demonstrate this by assuming you have been shortlisted for a Management Accountant role. During the interview, you have been asked this question by one of the panellists: “Please tell us about yourself.” A model and expected answer should be along the following lines:
My name is Joe Blogs, I am a part qualified Chartered Accountant currently working as a Management Accountant in XYZ Limited. I have over ten years’ experience as a Management Accountant in the Insurance industry. Prior to this role, I worked in the public sector (Local Government) for five years as an Assistant Financial Accountant. I have also worked in a variety of other areas in accounting, including Business Planning, Financial Accounting, Due Diligence, Business Cases for competitive tendering and Year-end Financial Reporting. I have achieved a great deal of success in my current role. For example, I have, for the fourth time, successfully assisted in the production of year-end accounts; successfully led a team of colleagues to automate and streamline existing month-end reporting; designed a fit-for-reporting package for the Board of Directors, and successfully conducted departmental induction for new employees. I have been able to achieve this, because of my strong technical knowledge in financial and management accounting, as well as spreadsheet modelling. I am a good motivator and have used this skill to motivate my team, thus ensuring that the team’s objectives are met on time and delivered to the highest of quality. I am also an excellent communicator, which is key to team building and stakeholder engagement. Feedback from teams and senior managers lead me to conclude that I am a team player and a personable person. It is on the bases of these rich experiences that I believe I will be of immense value to ANB Limited in its strive to become a market leader in the insurance industry.
By sticking to this rather simple approach you would have played it safe and given a good account of yourself. A good answer to the first interview question always calms one’s nerves and settles you into the interview. The answer to “Tell us about yourself” should not be about who your father is or the village you come from. Neither is it about your favourite food nor pet etc. The panellists don’t really care about all these. Remember the three things most interviewing panels will be testing are as follows: 1. Can you do it (competency, experience and knowledge), 2. Will you do it (drive, motivation and ability to work with others) and 3. Organisational fit (will you fit in the culture of the organisation). This is an article for another day. Remember the interviewer is asking this question to assess your suitability for the role, and whether you will fit in the team and the organisation.
The founding fathers of Ghana will agree with this statement by Confucius – “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Good Luck, and all the best in your job interview.
God bless Ghana!
By Dominic Yooku deGraft Aidoo
Email Dominic: firstname.lastname@example.org