Invariably the interviewer will begin by saying, "Tell me about yourself." It is best to answer this question after the job has been described to you so that you can tailor your response accordingly. If you have to talk first, describe yourself in two minutes or less and in a positive way. Say who you are and what you are interested in doing. If you have prepared for the interview, you should be able to focus on the specific job requirements.
One employer says that his most effective screening technique is to ask the candidate to talk first. More often than not, people say something to disqualify themselves before he/she has told them anything about the company. To illustrate his point, one employer told about a candidate he interviewed for a brokerage position which had been advertised as being part of an "international real estate financial services network." The applicant talked himself out of the job by saying that he was not interested in brokerage before he had even found out what the position was about. By the end of the interview, the candidate had decided that the position sounded interesting after all, but the employer had already mentally dismissed him. Another lesson learned here is to never talk about why the job would be good or bad for you.
Don't tell a prospective employer that you are looking on the position as temporary or that you are looking for immediate advancement. One person interviewing for an entry level insurance job was asked why she was interested. She replied that the job would allow her to live at home and save money so that she could afford to relocate to a smaller market where she could get her start in radio. Needless to say, she wasn't hired. The employer was understandably concerned that she would leave whenever a job opened in radio.
There may be situations where you have to play your cards differntly because you are obviously overqualified for the job, e.g., a college graduate applying for a receptionist job. In that case, you might indicate that you are interested in the particular industry (i.e., advertising, public relations) but realize that you lack office expreience and are willing to start at the bottom and work your way up.
When you get the sense that the interviewer thinks your background is wrong for the job, you may be able to show how some aspects of your previous experience was much more closely related to the job you are interviewing for than it looks on paper. It is a good idea to think of these parallels before the interview so you are prepared.
One business school graduate, Jim, related how his present employer had opened the first interview by thanking him for coming but saying that he didn't have the background they were after. Jim had worked as an alumni fund raiser for his college before attending business school. He was now interviewing for a sales position with a mortgage banking firm. Jim said, "Your firm has a terrific reputation and I can understand how you attract top-notch talent. You may wish to consider what I'm going to tell you before making a final decision. Your business is to sell money. A real estate developer comes to you looking for money and you find it from financial institutions and then he pays you a fee. That's easy. What I did when I raised money for my college was much more difficult. I approched people every day and asked them to give me $10,000 with nothing in return." Jim got the job and is now a partner.
Merely stating to the interviewer that you are good at sales won't get you the job. It's more effective to show the interviewer HOW you are good at selling and how you can deliver sales. You can probably think of some story from your own background even if you have to emphasize certain aspects for effect. However, do not fabricate or even give the impression of fabrication.
Interviewing is a skill. Improvement comes from practive. Go on as many inteviews as possible. Ask for feedback. Make each interview better than the last one.
The Career Development and Gloria S. Williams Advisement Center
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