And yet, for all the emphasis put on being able to look an employer in the eye and honestly discuss your record or those huge gaps in your work history — it’s often the simple and seemingly benign questions that can trip up an ex-offender.
This came to light last week after a lively class discussion about what to say when an employer opens an interview by saying: “Tell me about yourself.”
Most of my students felt this was an easy question.
It’s not. In fact, if you don’t handle this one carefully you can end up stumbling right out of the starting gate. Despite seeming open-ended, an employer isn’t asking for your life history here. Nor does he want a long-winded dissertation on why this job is your dream come true. As one inmate wisely noted, the employer doesn’t just want to know what you’ve done in the past, but who you are and what you can do for them. In Michelle Rafter’s blog for SecondAct.com, Georgia Tech University professor Nathan Bennett offers good advice when he says, focus not on what you enjoy, but on what you bring to an organization that is uinque and hard for others to copy.
So how do you do this? The key is tailoring your skills and abilities to the needs of the employer, but in a way that doesn’t come off sounding like a canned sales pitch. Sally Chopping, a Pittsburgh-based interview and public speaking coach, suggests breaking the question down into 3 parts:
- Identify the 3 most important qualities for the job.
- Mention the most relevant last job you had and highlight one of your achievements.
- Say why you’d like to work for the particular company.
If you put these together as she does, you end up with a response that encapsulates your unique strengths and abilities in a way that shows how they will benefit the company.
This video, courtesy of CollegeGrad.com, (which is equally applicable to jobs that don’t require college degrees, by the way) also spells out a good approach to the “Tell me about yourself” query:
How about you? What have you said when an employer opens with this question? What’s worked and what hasn’t?