I was watching Olivia with my three year old daughter last night. Olivia is a cartoon about family of pigs, with Olivia the oldest child. In the episode we watched, Olivia’s mother interviewed babysitters. As my daughter and I watched, I was surprised when the interview turned out have some similarities to real interviews. Like so many real interviews, the cartoon pig’s first question was a Tell Me About Yourself type question.
This question kicks off a large percentage of interviews. It gives the job seeker a chance to highlight their most marketable skills, experiences and accomplishments. It also provides a risk of starting the interview very poorly.
The actual question asked to start the cartoon interview was, “Tell me about yourself, Lilly. Do you have experience babysitting children?” The qualification of the “Tell me about yourself” question makes it clear what the interviewer wants the candidate to focus on in their answer. In real interviews, it is uncommon for the interviewer to provide this guidance.
When a hiring manager asks you to tell them about yourself, they are looking for a professional summary of your background. It is very rare that a hiring manager wants you to describe personal details unrelated to your career. The question gives you the chance to make your best sales pitch.
By following the Tell Me About Yourself question with a question about babysitting experience, the cartoon character directs the teenage pig to answer the question by focusing on her experience related to the job. Most hiring managers won’t help you like this. They will ask the Tell Me About Yourself question without qualifying it. It’s up to you to use your answer to promote yourself.
In the cartoon, the teenage pig’s answer started with some info of her experience caring for children, but quickly degenerated into a bunch of unrelated details of her personal life culminating with a cheer from her cheerleading team. I’ve never had a job seeker do a cheer during an interview, but I have heard a wide range of details, from the number of pets to unusual hobbies. I’ve had job seekers answer with details of their church activities, their kids or even specifics of their health. Probably the worst answers are a non-answer – with the job seeker responding with something like “What do you want to know?” This doesn’t make a good impression.
I thought it was a little crazy that a cartoon about a family of pigs that my 3 year old loves could provide insights for a professional job seeker. And yet, the answers given by some actual job seekers are not much better than the teenage cartoon pig’s answer.
Prepare for the Tell Me About Yourself answer. Rehearse it and practice it. Try different scripts and include different information until to arrive at a version that makes a powerful impression. If you need help, find someone to work with you on your answer.
This question and answer can set the tone for an entire interview and may be the most important question you will have to answer. It is worth spending a lot of time to get right.
If you have a preschool, kindergarten or elementary age child you want to get a book for, my six year old highly recommends the Olivia books. Check them out on Amazon.