We will discuss how a well-respected career publication can get it wrong and a suggestion for a fantastic improvement.

This article written in the Muse, a well-respected career website, discusses the secret to answering the all important interview question “Tell me about yourself.”  Their answer uses the standard formula “Present/Past/Future.” This is an easy formula to grasp, but the problem is, it’s ineffective.

Their interview answer

“Well, I’m currently an account executive at Smith, where I handle our top-performing client. Before that, I worked at an agency where I was on three different major national healthcare brands. And while I really enjoyed the work that I did, I’d love the chance to dig in much deeper with one specific healthcare company, which is why I’m so excited about this opportunity with Metro Health Center.”

What’s sub-optimal about this answer?

  • Length is too short
  • Candidate demonstrates no personality
  • The reason given why the interviewee wants to work with the company is superficial

Length is too short

Great interview answers are between 1-1.5 minutes.  While I do agree the answer to your first question should not push the envelope for length, I can recite their answer in 22 seconds. Because it is so short, it really doesn’t tell me much, at least much more than I can get from your resume.  So, the answer is a non-answer but took up valuable space.

Candidate demonstrates no personality

In LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2019 report, 92% of talent professionals reported that soft skills are equally or more important to hire for than hard skills. And 89% said that when a new hire doesn’t work out, it’s because they lack critical soft skills. If soft skills are so key, then put them on the table in the very first answer to set the tone.

The reason why the interviewee wants to work at the company is superficial

“And while I really enjoyed the work that I did, I’d love the chance to dig in much deeper with one specific healthcare company”. This answer demonstrates nothing about the interviewer’s knowledge of the company.  It is trite; everyone uses it. Granted you don’t want to demonstrate too much knowledge too soon, but at least talk about the company strategy, market position or personality of the fantastic CEO.

So what’s a better answer?

“I have been playing the violin since I was 10.  It took a lot of hard work, 2-3 hours of practice daily, sometimes until midnight to finally get good.  In high school I auditioned for our school’s chamber orchestra and was not accepted freshman year.  So I immediately sought the help of a senior in the orchestra who taught me how the group represented a collection of talented people and that I needed to learn to play as part of the team. For a full year, I sat in on rehearsals before I reapplied and was accepted. I really learned how harmonizing various types of instruments can take a song from just-okay to soul-enhancing.

Eventually, I became a vice president of the club where I sat on the committee responsible for selecting the songs at our holiday concert. I really loved this piece from Bach and strongly believed it would showcase the orchestra’s skills and delight the crowd.  However, I quickly learned that each committee member had a different song in mind. I clearly demonstrated to the committee why the Bach piece was perfect for the holiday party and why the 65% of the musicians in our orchestra that I spoke to supported my recommendation.

Why do I want to work for your company?  With 45% market share in domestic and 35% market share in foreign markets with your top 10 products, as well as a CEO with a passion for new drug treatments that can pass the FDA, I can enhance your orchestra.”

Now that’s a story the interviewer will love.


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