Interviews are won or lost in the first 5 minutes. Experienced interviewers can tell in your initial interactions with them if there’s potential here, or if you’re just not going to fit in. Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve worked with over 75 undergraduates conducting 1-on-1 mock interviews with them, and I can definitely tell you, after just the first few questions, which were the handful that stood out from the crowd.
So what does this mean? You need to start your interview strong! Prepare for the typical introductory questions (e.g. can you start by telling me a little bit more about yourself? Why are you interested in working for us? Why this role?), and be ready to really impress the interviewer with your answer.
Today I want to focus specifically on the introduction – what should you say and how much should you say if the interviewer asks you to tell them more about yourself.
Let me start by sharing some insights on why interviewers open with this question. Firstly, interviewers will have prepared and read your resume ahead of time, most likely the night before. However, if you’re not the 1st candidate of the day, the interviewer will have a difficult time keeping track of everyone’s details. And if the interviewer is anything like me, they’ll be running a little behind. Starting with this question allows us to begin the interview right away, and gives us the opportunity to browse your resume to refresh our memories, while we try to get back on schedule.
Secondly, there is a limited amount of time we can spend with each candidate, so we have to pick and choose which areas of your past to probe. Allowing you to start first is our way to see what you highlight as the most relevant areas of your experience, and whether what we plan to ask matches and is appropriate. Despite what you may think, interviewers aren’t out to stump you or to make you look bad. Our job is to try and determine what your strengths and weaknesses are, and whether you’re a fit for the team.
With that in mind, preparing a good holistic introduction about yourself may give you the opportunity to potentially influence the questions that the interviewer asks to you. And if you’re able to better direct us to what we want to know, then it becomes a win-win situation.
A Framework: the Front Page of the Newspaper
A good introduction is one that last somewhere between 1.5 to 2 minutes long. Think of your introduction like it is the front page of the newspaper. The front page is unique as it gives the headlines of the key news stories of the day. You should do the same in your introduction – give the interviewer just the headlines, the highlights of your background.
Another key characteristic of the front page is that it doesn’t just focus on one particular area. You don’t see the front page covered with just politics. You get a little bit of business, sports, politics, arts, etc. In your introduction, don’t just focus only one aspect of yourself, tell me a little bit from different areas. Show that you’re multi-talented.
In terms of where to start, try the following the order:
- Start with your educational background. Where are you going to school, what are you studying, but most importantly, tell us your motivation and reasons why you decided to pick this field of study. Remember to try to relate it back to the current position / industry if possible. (30 seconds)
- Next, quickly outline some of the different roles in your work experience. Then pick the one that you think is more relevant, and tell us why. Focus first on your achievements, and the impact you made. If you don’t think that’s very impressive, tell us what you learned in that one job that would make you extremely successful in this new role you’re applying for. (30 seconds)
- Finally, talk about your achievements beyond work and the classroom. “Outside of school and work, I’m very involved in the community and extracurricular activities…” Similar to the work experience, quickly tell us what type of activities (e.g. CCAs, community work, or extracurriculars) you’re involved in. Then pick the one that you’re most proud of, or is the most relevant, and again tell us why. (30 seconds)
- If there’s anything else unique about you that doesn’t fit in the 3 categories above, you can add it here at the end. Perhaps a hobby, or a passion. Best if it’s somehow related to the role or the company. (30 seconds)
Remember, like the front page, just give the headlines so the reader (in this case the listener) gets excited and wants to read the rest of the story. By telling the interview what your strengths are, this will allow them to know where to probe further and perhaps even have them adjust their questions to talk about the areas you’ve highlighted.
Having a good introduction is crucial in starting your interview strong. You want to highlight your strengths early, potentially dictate where the interview goes next. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to sell yourself, but keep it to a maximum of 2 minutes.
Also, don’t forget that half the evaluation in the interview is not about what you say, but how you say it. Remember to talk confidently, be energetic and enthusiastic. Show your passion and maintain good eye contact. A solid well-rounded introduction delivered with energy is a sure way to start to connect with your interviewer. As the saying goes, you never have a second chance to make a first impression.