By Menisha Megnauth
The WORST prompt to have to answer in an interview is “Tell me about yourself.” As an anxiety-plagued millennial, I’ve done my share of agonizing over how to answer this super broad question.
Do I talk about my professional experiences? If so, should I also talk about how they make me a good fit for this job? My interviewer didn’t ask that though, they asked about me. Should I talk about my hobbies and how many times I’ve watched The Office start-to-finish? No, that’s way too unprofessional. Do I talk about my family? Is my interviewer asking about my dog though, or are they asking about my career path?
The end result is that I’d end up saying a cluster of sentences about myself that didn’t truly capture the essence of “me”. Just before interviewing for my position at demandDrive, I thought I’d figured it out. By that, I mean that I put together those sentences in a slightly better order and actually came off as articulate enough to get trained as an SDR. Boom. I got a job at an amazing company, working alongside incredibly driven peers, thinking the horror of the interview process was finally behind me. Then, that same question came back to bite me again - this time, in the form of a prospect asking, “So what do you (the company) do?”
Being an SDR is difficult enough. By the time you finally get someone to pick up the phone, you’re caught off guard. You’ve might have already forgotten their title, what their company does, and maybe even your own name. You have your elevator pitch down and you know your product increases efficiency and ROI, but what does your company do? What does your product do? The answer to this question is very much like an elevator pitch, but less “pitchy.” It’s more like a conversation in an elevator. Your answer helps to build your brand by allowing your company/product to stand on its own.
The perfect length to answer the “tell me about…” question is 3 to 4 sentences. Here’s how to construct an engaging but refined response.
Know Your Audience
What does your interviewer or product want to know about you? Do your research - what is his/her title? Do they come off as brisker and professional, or more casual and personable? Take a look at the company website and mirror it. You’re probably actually being asked some version of “why are you here?”
Construct an Impact Statement
This is what you lead with - the first thing you want that person to know when they think of you, your company, or your product - so choose wisely. If you start with “I graduated from University College with a Bachelors Degree in Things”, you’ll be placed in the “recent grad” pile in your interviewers mind, regardless of your extracurriculars, interests, or work experience. If you’re asked what your product does and you say “Yeah well, it’s really interesting” before explaining what it does, you’ve lost your credibility.
This is more than “ I’m a hard worker” or “[Product] is a platform that can help you become more efficient and increase ROI”. I mean something substantial - the meat and potatoes, but in a way that sparks intrigue. Examples might include:
“I’m a lifelong adventurer looking to leverage my experiences in [field].”
“[Product] is a multi-faceted platform that is changing the way [field] looks at [issue].”
“[Company] takes an [unrelated field] approach to [field].”
You don’t have to fully sell yourself or your company product in one sentence. You just have to be truthful, different, and beg for a follow up question.
Color In With Supporting Statements
Your impact statement is purposefully vague. You’ve drawn in your listener to make them more willing to hear what you have to say. You should have evidence to back yourself up and you should be able to summarize each bit of evidence in a sentence. Back to third grade, where we learned how to construct a paragraph with a header sentence and supporting details, you’ll choose 2 or 3 relevant bits to supplement your impact statement. This is where you highlight moments in your career/life that have been impactful in determining why you’re interested in the position. Congruently, when pitching a product, this is an opportunity to highlight unique features and aspects that contribute to the reason why you’re calling your prospect.
Don’t Talk About the Person Asking the Question
He/she asked you to talk about you or your product. Don’t talk about what you or your product can do for them…yet. Stand on your own accomplishments (or let your product stand on its own merit).
Practice to sound thoughtful and natural:
In an interview, “Tell me about yourself”
Before: “I’m a hard worker. I’ve worked at Companies A, B, and C and had a really good experience there. I’m adventurous and I like hiking with my dogs Spot and Rover.”
After: “I have a vision of leveraging my experience in [Field A] in [Field B]. When I worked at [Company A], I refined my x and y skills, but I still knew I wanted a career that would allow me to impact a larger group of people, like when I worked at Company B. I found great meaning in the work I did at Company C and want to bring some of those aspects to a new role.”
A prospect asking “What does your product/company do?”
Before: “Our product can help your company save money. Our advanced technology has been proven to help companies like X, Y, and Z. Our customer service is top-notch - It can help you too. When are you available to talk to our product specialist?”
After: “[Product] is a multifaceted tool that takes a systematic, more diagnostic approach to [problem]. It does [specific/unique functions] x and y.”
(With a prospect, you’d likely follow this up with a question to help hone in on what value proposition to focus on)
Once you’ve given your interview/prospect and idea of who you are/what your product is, you can start focusing on the value you can offer your audience.
I was super skeptical when we were taught how to write paragraphs in 3rd grade with a header, supporting sentences, and a conclusion. But, I’m ready to admit it here and now: I’m sorry for doubting you, Ms. B.
Standing out in a sea of interviewees, software, and startups is tough work. Organizing thoughts and responses in this format is guaranteed to make you sound organized, thoughtful, and confident (This blog is free, so no “money back” guarantees here unfortunately).
J.K Rowling once said, “A good first impression can work wonders.” So don’t mess it up, and best of luck!