When I interview individuals for openings at my office, I often start with one of two “icebreaker” type questions:
- Tell me about yourself
- What interests you about this position and office?
While these two questions seem innocent enough, most of the candidates I interview damage their chances of being hired by the answers they provide. The key is to think about what is driving the question –
Tell Me About Yourself: When I ask this question, I am I am not looking for a candidate’s life story but rather what highlights are in his/her background that make the applicant a strong candidate for the position.
The strategy a person employs when answering this question can drive the rest of the interview by a) forming a positive first impression as a strong ‘fit’ and b) driving the focus of the interview to specific topics and examples.
When a candidate highlights skills and experiences in his/her background that are aligned with the skills and experiences I am looking for in a hire, I begin to envision this person in the position. A seemingly benign question can be very powerful if thoughtfully answered.
What Interests You About This Position and Department?
A recruiter at Google said that when she asks this question, too often she hears “I love Google.” or “I have always wanted to work at Google.” In my experience, I am often the recipient of “Notre Dame is such a good place to work.” or “I want to work at Notre Dame.” These responses sound like good answers, but they are missing the point behind the question.
The hiring manager needs to know why one is interested in a specific job function and/or department. The recruiter at Google needs to know the candidate is just as excited about the job function (finance, ad sales, IT, etc.) as he/she is about the larger Google organization. I need to know the person has an interest in the type of work we do in my department and not just about being associated with ND. There has to be a match for the job and office/department in addition to the larger entity.
The fear of hiring someone who is only interested in the larger company is that after short honeymoon period, the employee will become disillusioned with the job and try to move to another position within the organization. When this happens, the recruitment process will start over for the hiring manager. No manager is under the daydream that staff members will never leave or will all be happy in their current positions forever, but good managers will try to find the candidate who is the strongest “fit” for the job. Anyone who has had to hire a position that has a huge turnover ratio will understand this fear.
Interviewers tend to form an opinion early on during the interview and use the rest of the interview to confirm that initial decision. By starting off with a strong answer, you could be helping your chances more than you realize.