By Peter Studner
If you become a job seeker, you can bet you'll run into the request, "Tell me about yourself." And you can also bet that your interviewer isn't looking for an answer like, "Well, I'm a Pisces, I like to read sci-fi novels, and I have a pet rabbit named Sesame."
The truth is, people struggle to give interviewers an accurate, targeted portrait of themselves as job candidates. If you're one of them, here are ways to turn a perhaps rambling, unfocused answer into an articulate pitch for yourself.
Think of your answer as a 90-second “commercial” that presents the essence of what makes you an experienced, and engaging local government administrator. You'll need to write and practice performing this commercial with as much enthusiasm as you can muster while still seeming natural.
Here are some steps to develop your own 90-second commercial:
1. Start with a brief introduction. State your name and thank the person for his or her time.
2. My background is. . . . List your degrees or certificates and the schools you attended.
3. I specialize in . . . . Briefly describe your area of expertise and any particular skills you have. At this point, it wouldn't hurt to mention a special accomplishment; for example, "During my last management position, I was instrumental in restructuring the local government’s budget process.”
4. I've worked at . . . . Share your most pertinent jobs, not a list of every position you've ever had. Remember that the interviewer has a copy of your résumé. Just in case the interviewer doesn't have it, make sure you bring a copy to the interview.
5. I was responsible for. . . . Don't recite a laundry list of all the responsibilities you held in your previous job. Share the most prominent and pertinent.
6. I'm especially proud of. . . . List one or two additional major accomplishments, including the benefits they brought to your employer(s). Don't fall into the trap of getting into the details of how you achieved each accomplishment. Of course, you might be asked, "How did you do that?" Then you know you've hit pay dirt, as the interviewer may have an identical problem that you already know how to solve.
7. I'm excited to be here because. . . . The interviewer understands you're at the meeting because you're looking for a job—this is an opportunity to make it a bit more personal. Using (well-researched!) details, you could mention the local government's reputation, services, or other management points and how these things fit with your skills and aspirations. If you are currently unemployed, this might also be a good place to share a plausible reason for leaving your last position.
8. Close, but keep the conversation flowing. Turn the questions back to the interviewer with, "So I can better relate to the management position, could you please tell me a little about the elected officials or the administration department?"
Note that some of these components might change from interview to interview. Before each meeting, think about which of your skills would best fit with this particular organization and this particular job. Consider what problems the local government might have and how you can solve them. Then tweak your pitch to reflect your conclusions.
And what if you have a long, detailed work history that doesn't fully fit into this template? I urge you to remember that 90 seconds is a long time to listen to someone's monologue. You can always provide more information later in the interview—and if you craft your personal and professional commercial well, interviewers will ask to hear more.
Once you've developed your commercial, record yourself reciting it, speaking slowly enough that someone hearing it for the first time will be able to understand and process what you're saying. Edit, improve, and record again and again until you can deliver your commercial with the same ease with which you would tell a favorite anecdote.