The Killer Question

Land a Job - Interviews

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Article Index
The Killer Question
Prepare to be Prepared
Speech! Speech!
Example Little Speech
Introduced the Requisite
Another Example
Hard Worker
Focus the Interview
Who's Running This Interview
Getting Ready for the Killer-Question
All Pages

 

Sometimes, the simplest question can be the most difficult. How many times have you been asked the following question?

“So, tell me a little about yourself.”

I've always been an advocate of getting the most difficult things out of the way first. So to help you prepare for job interview questions, I feel compelled to deal with this, the absolute favorite question of all interviewers (okay, so it's not really a question!) and the least favorite of most candidates. This little inquiry puts you on the spot in a way no other question can. It turns up the spotlight and your pulse and makes your throat go dry... especially if you are unprepared for it.

However, if you prepare, it gives you the opportunity to show interviewers the four traits they are looking for most in job candidates: enthusiasm, confidence, dependability, and intelligence.

 

 

If you are not targeting your job search, you are probably wasting a lot of time...


Prepare to be Prepared

"So, tell me a little about yourself" is among the favorite icebreakers of seasoned interviewers (the type you'll usually meet in Human Resource departments) because it gives them a chance to study an encyclopedia of reactions, from verbal cues to candidates' body language. It is also a favorite of untrained interviewers, such as hiring managers, simply because they don't know what else to ask. In fact, untrained interviewers are more likely to ask this question to fill "dead air," rather than as a means to get the interview off and running.

How to prepare? Well, developing a successful answer to this common question is one of the key reasons I urged you to complete a personal inventory. (If you haven't done so, please do before reading on.) Take a good look at it now, particularly those items under the headings:

 

My strongest skills

Greatest areas of knowledge

Strongest parts of my personality

Things I do best

Key accomplishments


Speech! Speech!

Now, take the information under those headings and mold it into a speech of 250 to 350 words (roughly 60 to 90 seconds when spoken). What should this speech be like? Here is a generic outline:

 

1. Brief introduction to wonderful, wonderful you

2. Your key accomplishments

3. The key strengths demonstrated by these accomplishments

4. The importance of these strengths and accomplishments to your prospective employer

5. Where and how you see yourself developing in the position for which you're applying (just to add the right amount of modesty)


To give you a better idea of how these little speeches should read, let's look at a couple of examples. Here is what a recent college graduate applying for an entry-level sales position might say:

 

"I've always been able to get along with different types of people. I think it's because I'm a good talker and an even better listener. When I began thinking seriously about what careers I'd be best suited for, I thought of sales almost immediately. That thought really stuck in my senior year of high school and during summers at college when I worked various part-time jobs at retail outlets because, unlike most of my friends, I actually liked dealing with the public.

However, I also realized that retail had its limitations. I read about various sales positions and was particularly fascinated by what is usually described as consultative selling. I like the idea of going to a client that you've really done your homework on and showing him how your products can help him solve one of his nagging problems and then following through on that.

I wrote one of the papers in my senior year on the subject of consultative selling, and that led me to begin looking for companies at which I could learn and refine the skills shared by people who've become more like account executives than run-of-the-mill salespeople.

That led me to your company, Mr. Shannon. I find the prospect of working with companies to increase the energy efficiency of their installations an exciting one. I've also learned some things about your sales training programs, and they sound like they're on the cutting edge.

I guess the only thing I find a little daunting about the prospect of working at Cogeneration, Inc. is selling that highly technical equipment without an engineering degree. By the way, what sort of support does your technical staff lend to the sales effort?"

Not a bad little speech, huh?

 

If you are not targeting your job search, you are probably wasting a lot of time...


So let's take a look at what this fine candidate - let's call her Barb - has done with her speech:

1. Introduced the requisite amount of modesty before beginning to brag about herself ("I think it's because... ").

2. Laid claim to the single most important skill a good, consultative salesperson should have (the ability to get along with others).

3. Demonstrated industriousness and at least some related experience (part-time positions in high school and college).

4. Showed a decided interest in the scope of the job (the term paper and the research on the company).

5. Gave concrete evidence of some of the other skills any good employee should have: the tendency to be a good self-starter (again,by mentioning the research on the company), a willingness to learn (reference to the training programs), and deference to authority (the question about technical support).

6. Provided herself a breather by ending with a question, one he'll have to take some time to answer.

That’s quite a lot of accomplishments for a mere 275-word speech, isn't it?


Let me give you another example before providing a list of pointers on how you can tailor-make a speech to fit your personal inventory. "Kenny" has had nearly a decade of experience in his field. He is applying for his dream job, but he knows he has a couple of strikes against him - he's moved around a bit (four jobs) and doesn't quite have enough management experience. He's applying for a job as a General Manager of a district office for a firm providing maintenance services to commercial and residential properties. It is a demanding job, virtually the equivalent of running one's own $7-million per year business.

Kenny sweated out the preparation for his big chance, anticipated the potentially devastating interview punch ("Tell me something that will help me get a better feel for you than I get here on the resume.") and came up with the winning counter punch...


Kenny's presentation:

"I am a hard worker who loves this business. I've been an asset to the employers I've had, and my experience would make me an even greater asset to you. I think these are the most exciting times that I've ever seen In this business. Sure, there's so much more competition now, and it's harder than ever to get really good help. But all the indications are that more and more companies will outsource their maintenance needs and that more two-income households will require the services that we provide.

So I ask myself 'How do we get a bigger share of this business? How do we recruit and train the best personnel because they are, after all, the secret of our success?' Those are the key challenges managers face in this industry. I can help your company meet those challenges. While resumes don't tell the whole story, mine demonstrates that:

1. I'm a hard worker. I've had promotions at every company I've worked for.

2. I would bring a good perspective to the position because I've been a doer, as well as a supervisor.

3. People that work for me always respect my judgment, because they know I have a very good understanding of what they do, and,

4. I have a terrific business sense. I'm great at controlling expenses. I deploy staff efficiently. I'm fair. And I have a knack for getting along with customers.

I've always admired your company. I must admit I have adopted some of CleanShine's methods and applied them in the companies I've worked for. I see now that you're branching into lawn care. I was a landscaper during my high-school summers. How is that business going?"

Way to go, Kenny!

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In a mere 275 words, this successful general manager candidate managed to:

1. Focus the interview only on the positive aspects of his resume. Sure, Kenny has moved around a lot, but, after this answer, the interviewer might think, "Gee, look at all he's managed to accomplish everywhere he's gone."

2. Got the interview started the way he wanted it to go. He demonstrated experience, leadership capabilities, and a good understanding of the market.

3. Introduce just the right amount of humility into what is a fairly braggart-like answer to the question ("I must admit..."). The result: Kenny has portrayed himself as a roll-up-the-shirtsleeves type of manager who will have trouble neither in getting along with bluecollar workers nor in discussing strategies with the "suits" back at headquarters.

4. Turn things over to the interviewer with a very informed question.

Note that both Barb and Kenny did not attempt to write and memorize an answer that would make a professional writer proud. Sentence structure is correct and grammatical, but it is not overly complicated. There is a sprinkling of industry "jargon" in Kenny's answer, but it is appropriate. The more "perfect" you try to make the words in such an answer - replacing every word with its higher-falutin cousin from your thesaurus, making every paragraph a single, multiple-claused sentence - the more artificial it will sound.

 

Just make sure the five key points in the generic outline are covered - a brief introduction, key accomplishments, key strengths, the importance of them all and how you see yourself fitting in, and that you communicate the information you want to in a clear and concise manner.


Hey, Who's Running This Interview, Anyway?

One of the most important things to note in Kenny's reply is that he approached the interview knowing what he wanted to accomplish during it. So many candidates go into the interview like cadavers being wheeled in for a med school anatomy class - they just sit there, letting the interviewer slice them apart. They spend far more time on wardrobe selection than answer preparation. Kenny's answer should demonstrate how wrong-headed that approach can be. It is essential for you to develop an interview strategy so your strengths can shine through and your weaknesses never surface (or, if they do, do so in a context that makes them seem relatively minor and unimportant). This strategy should help you determine how you will answer almost any of the questions put to you during the screening interview or the interview with the hiring manager.


Getting Ready for the Killer-Question

1. If you haven't already done so, fill out a personal inventory.

2. Distill your personal inventory into a compelling picture of you as the worker.

3. Include in this verbal portrait words and phrases that convey enthusiasm, knowledge, confidence, intelligence, experience (if you have itl), eagerness to learn, and dependability. In the world of sports, these are usually summed up in the phrase "good attitude."

4. In case this question is asked early in the interview, be sure that it helps set the course you want the interview to take.

5. If you want to talk about your experience, play it up. Make the potential negatives job-hopping, lack of experience, etc., positive or irrelevant. (This, of course, might require the writing skills of Joseph Conrad, so work hard).

6. Write a 250 to 350 word reply. Rewrite it. Rewrite it again. Then rewrite it again. Get it to sound as conversational as possible, and practice saying it until it does.

7. Memorize this speech and repeat it over and over until it sounds as though you never rehearsed it at all. Sounding like you're reading from internal cue cards during the interview will be a sure turnoff.

8. Put the ball back in the interviewer's court by ending your little speech with a question. It will help give you a breather and, again, demonstrate enthusiasm.

9. Check your references to make sure they aren't bad mouthing you.

So there you go...you are now prepared for the "Killer Question". Knock this question out of the park and the rest of your interview will most likely go very smoothly!

 

If you are not targeting your job search, you are probably wasting a lot of time...

 

If you found this article to be helpful, you may be interested in browsing similar articles. May we also suggest more Explore Articles and Take Steps Articles, which have information to help you move forward in your job search process. If you are new to our websites, these articles talk about having a personal strategy and mistakes to avoid. Also, our sister website, ILostMyJob.com sponsors daily video podcasts as well as a great email newsletter. We encourage you to follow or subscribe during your job transition -- It's Free! Thank you for your visit, and all the best!