At a recent workshop I lead called Interview Boot Camp, I asked the question, “Can you tell me something about yourself?” It was the very first question of the morning. The participants were sitting next to each other in a U-shaped configuration, and there were eight of them. This question seemed simple enough, but they were naturally nervous and self-conscious. Interview Boot Camp is not advertised as the name implies; rather it’s intended to be a friendly and educational workshop.
I asked this question of the first attendee, who began with “This is tough. I guess I’d answer by saying…”
Oh no, I thought, there is no narrative allowed, just answers. I predicted this would be a long morning.
The next person was no better prepared for the question than the first. She began by talking about where she lived and upon seeing the look of disapproval on my face, she said, “I’m not doing this right, am I?”
At this point I called a time-out. I was noticeably perturbed—uncharacteristic of me in a workshop. I regained my composure and said, “No, you’re not. Look, here’s what I want. You have to focus what’s important at an interview, which isn’t talking about your personal information. It’s about telling the interviewer about experience, skills, and accomplishments. And it’s about telling the interviewer information that is relevant to the job for which you’re applying.
“But since you’re not applying for an actual job, your answer today will be more general. I want to hear about your previous position and maybe one before that. What were some of the outstanding skills you demonstrated? I’d like to know about some outstanding hard skills. Give me an accomplishment or two. Wrap it up with some strong adaptive skills, such as the energy and enthusiasm you demonstrate in your work.”
They were taking notes while I was talking. The person who prompted me to explain what was expected in the answer regained her composure and started afresh. She did beautifully in all aspects of her delivery.
One of the participants brought up another one of my workshops she had attended called Personal Commercial and how it would be helpful in answering this question. I agreed, telling them that in this workshop they would write a commercial, recite it to their peers, and then get some valuable feedback.
Another said that maybe Personal Commercial should be a prerequisite. They all agreed. From that point forward the remaining six nailed the question like pros, which is what they are. They just don’t know it.