The #1 Job Interview Question You Absolutely Must Nail

The most important question of any job interview is the one candidates tend to prepare the least for.

Can you guess what it is?

“So tell me about yourself.” (Trick question—it’s not even a question!)

It’s the opener to nearly every interview, yet too many interviewees see it as a throwaway or “gimme” and use it as a warm-up to the rest of the interview. But to do so during your own interview would be a mistake because your answer to this deceptively simple question sets the framework for the rest of your conversation.

Remember: People develop their first impression of you within seven seconds of meeting. If you flub your first response because you didn’t give it much thought, you’ll have to spend the rest of the interview trying to win the hiring manager back. But if you nail your answer? You’ll have the edge over the other candidates, guaranteed.

The elevator pitch

The best way to think of your response to “Tell me about yourself!” is to think of it like a 30-second “elevator pitch,” a common phrase in business. Think of it this way: Say you get on an elevator with the CEO of your dream company and have only the 30 seconds it takes to get from the lobby to the top floor to catch his or her attention. What, specifically, would you tell them to make them say, “I want to hire this person”? How would you say it?

A great elevator pitch is concise and focused, yet passionate and hopefully surprising. It should be brief enough to pique their interest and leave room for follow-up (i.e. you don’t need to go into every detail about your background), but it should also demonstrate your energy and enthusiasm for your work, as well as what makes you unique. Of course, it needs to be relevant to the listener in order to pack a punch and have the intended effect—that is, captivating your audience.

The execution

“All of this in 30 seconds?!” you’re probably thinking. It’s admittedly a lot to accomplish and convey in so little time. That’s why you can’t wing it! A good blueprint for crafting a response that will eventually sound natural is taking a look at your summary statement on your resume and building off of that. 

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Start with your hook (something catchy and unexpected), then talk up your experience and skills, explaining how you’d like to use that unique talent to accomplish something else. Here’s one example:

“I like to think of myself as a team builder. In my current role as a real estate assistant, I’ve helped my team grow from one agent to five and close 100 deals a year by implementing rock-solid systems and holding my team accountable to reaching their goals. In my next opportunity, I want to take what I’ve learned and apply it to a small but mighty team to accomplish similar or better results as a Team Leader. There’s nothing more thrilling to me than seeing the results of a team you helped build skyrocket, and now that I’ve established methods for success, I’d like to accomplish that again.”

When an employer or hiring manager asks you to tell them about yourself, what they’re looking for is confidence and passion in your response, as well as evidence of a successful track record. This answer checks those boxes and shows the candidate’s worth to the interviewer.

You can also get creative with your response and capture your interviewer’s attention by telling a story, making a bold statement, showing them a physical example of relevant work, or sharing a quote that sums up your philosophy or outlook. If something inspires you, write it down!

Practice makes pitch-perfect

As much time and thought as you’ve put into your pitch, you owe it to yourself to practice it until you can say it in your sleep. Practice until it sounds conversational, not rehearsed. Practice in front of a mirror, smiling and using gestures. Practice like you really want it, and when interview time comes and you breeze through your elevator pitch, the rest of the interview will be a cakewalk.

Once you’ve mastered this most important interview question, it's time to work on your answers to some of the other most common assistant interview questions. We’ve got you covered to make sure your interview goes off without a hitch. Stay tuned (and Liked our FaceBook page) for a post on the questions we tell all our clients to ask during the interview!