Career Coach: Tell Me About Yourself
Recently my niece Erika Kleibrink had a job interview for a landscape architect position in San Jose. I was able to coach her in person and asked her the dreaded, timeless question that seems to be a favorite of interviewers everywhere, “Tell me about yourself.” I was ill prepared when I was asked this question years ago by Peter Schneider at Disney, followed by the “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” I wanted Erika to be ready to field these questions and I want you to be ready too.
Here was my number one piece of advice to Erika regarding telling the interviewer about yourself. Talk about your passions - why you are interested in that job and how you got interested in that career.
I asked Erika the question, “Tell me about yourself” and her first response sounded flat and rehearsed. She was trying to guess what the interviewer wanted to hear. It was a generic, unmemorable response. (Probably similar to mine during my interview at Disney).
When I coached Erika to talk about why she was interested in the career and how she found out about landscape architecture, her whole posture changed. She transformed into a vivacious, engaging person as she related how she learned about landscape architecture through her grandmother and how it tied all her passions together (her painting, love of color, ability to illustrate) and how she developed her sense of landscape architecture through her volunteer projects throughout high school and college, and her concerns about the environment and her ideas about sustainability. She looked and sounded like a different person. There was a visible change because she spoke about her passions, she spoke from her heart and she couldn’t help but be enthusiastic. She glowed.
An employer wants to hire someone who is passionate. You don’t have to be a cheerleader, but you have to be willing to share your why. Why is what drives you. Why are the things you love about what you do. When people talk about what they love doing they exude energy and a sense of purpose.
Because an interview is also a sales call, I told Erika it’s also vital to focus on the employer’s needs. Talk about your passion as it relates to what they are looking for. In Erika’s case it was easy because the agency she was interviewing with needed a landscape architect. Sometimes it is not as obvious. That is why it is essential to prepare before your interview which means doing your homework and research.
Sometimes you have to be proactive to land an interview. I advised my niece to target a company she wants to work for and research it. Study the company website–not just the careers or jobs section, but also their press releases, their projects and products, the bios of the founders or any other bios they post. Find out what the company’s upcoming projects are, what they are known for, what their history is, essentially everything you can. If it’s a public company, read their annual reports. What is their focus? What are their forecasts for future projects? Companies and businesses must grow and expand. How can you help them do that? What do you offer that they need? That is what you will stress in the interview. Relate your passions to their needs.