This is a question that I think is a wonderful one. It reflects a more sophisticated interviewer. It’s a variation on the, “tell me about yourself,” question, but it is designed for you to tell them about yourself and your life history.
You see, when a company asks that traditional question, all they care about is your work experience; but with this 1 is much more open-ended. It doesn’t mean that you go into a 10-minute monologue that puts people to sleep. The 1st time I heard this question was listing to a podcast some years ago; I believe it was an interview with a former Twitter systems engineer and he talked about his life experience where he is a member of a minority group, traveled . . . I forget what’s what town or city he lived in . . . But he had to travel on a bus and go through gang-infested neighborhoods to go to school some long amount of time one way in some long amount the other way, studying the entire time and it set up a good context for the interviewer to understand the challenges that he experienced in going to school.
For myself, if I were to answer this question, I would talk about growing up in New York, particularly in the Bronx, going to school and growing up in a particular middle-class current existence where I was encouraged to go to college. I wasn’t the 1st 1 of my family to do that but I grew up in an environment where we had a good competitive sibling rivalry going on.
I would contextualize that with how it was that started me off with the drive to be successful and how that got ingrained in me through sports and, then, along the way, figuring out that what I like doing was helping people and done a lot in the last 5, 10 years to reposition myself away from the headhunter space to one where I have been involved with helping individuals, whether it’s with videos like this, podcasts, now coaching… a lot of stuff has brought me to this place.
So, that’s using myself as an example; it’s a pretty simple one. For those of you who are not US-born, you can paint the picture of what it was like growing up in your country of origin when you came to the United States some of the challenges that you faced. Again, we’re not talking about a 10-minute presentation. We’re talking about 2 1/2 – 3 minutes tops which is a lot of time for someone to sit and listen without them interrupting you.
You want the story to be prepared where you hit a couple of basic points about growing up abroad, what was like to come to the United States, the challenges of being someone who is not US-born, and trying to navigate systems that seem to favor native-born Americans and, along the way, you developed the driving motivation through school to breakthrough. . . You get the idea where I am coming from.
Again, you don’t want to call the country that you’re now living in (and not just talk about the US. Any country, if you’re watching abroad). You don’t want to be overly critical of that country. You just want to simply say, “it was a tough adjustment but, with time, I figured out how to do this, started to work hard, drive myself to be successful, got involved with (fill the blank) and I had a great mentor when I was you in my late teens who helped me understand . . . And then you talk about the mentor.
So, that’s a simple way of doing it. The person who is asking this question is trying to get more than just simply, “ I have done a job for the last 2 years I have been responsible for . . . “They don’t want that answer. They want the emotionally intelligent answer that gives them some texture. They want the one that tells them who you are as a human being that is going to help them manage you once you’re on board.
Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2020
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1800 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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