No matter where you interview for a job, it's almost guaranteed that you'll be asked some variation of this prompt: "Tell me a bit about yourself."
Seems like an easy cue to respond to, right? After all, you're just talking about yourself. Well, not exactly. Hiring managers use this question to get a feel for who you are as a worker and a person. It's also a starting point for the rest of the conversation.
If you don't prepare, or at least know how to answer the question succinctly, you could miss a key opportunity to impress the hiring manager, or worse, actively lose their interest and derail your interview.
Unfortunately, one interviewee made that mistake on a recent episode of CNBC's "The Job Interview," in which candidates interview for real jobs while being filmed.
Andy Sajnani, CEO of software development company Think Latitude, and COO Misha Shah, interviewed five candidates for a marketing manager role within their company. To kick off each interview, they asked the candidate to explain who they were.
Sajnani said, "Why don't you tell us a little bit about your background?" to the candidate sitting across the table.
The candidate, John, launched into a speech, walking the interviewers through nearly his whole professional history without any signal of why he was highlighting the experiences or when he was going to stop.
The candidate did not pick up on the the CEO's body language, which included looking around the room, taking sips of coffee, and other small signals that conveyed he was losing interest. Instead, he rambled, only stopping when Shah interrupted him.
Great communication skills are among the top traits bosses look for in future employees. So in general, it's best to avoid. When it comes to a short interview in which every second counts, being succinct and focused is even more important.
Guy Kawasaki, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, says, "I think you need to be able to leave a 10-second voicemail, to explain what you do in 30 seconds, to use five slides in PowerPoint."
"Everything," he adds, "is brevity."
In addition, bestselling leadership author Suzy Welch says your response should be tailored to the job you're applying for. She suggests that when preparing for your interview, you ask yourself, "What is it about me that [the hiring manager] cares about?"
And don't be afraid to add a bit of personal flavor to your response, by dropping in a few words about personal passions or activities you do, if you can somehow link it back to yourself as a professional.
"Your interviewer is hoping to hear who you really are," Welch says. "They want to see if you'll fit in, culturally."
Regardless of your response, be sure to pay attention to the hiring manager's body language and be aware of how much time you've been talking. Nothing is worse than leaving the person on the other side of the table bored.