There is one question that you will get asked in almost every interview. You know it. It is the notorious “tell me about yourself.” There are several other versions such as “walk me through your resume” or “introduce yourself”, but the essence is the same. It is usually the first question in an interview, and arguably the most important one. Failing to effectively answer this question will lead to a quick rejection by the interviewer. The good news is that you can fully prepare for it in advance.
I want to first show you some common mistakes that I have noticed over the years:
Too long: Most interviewees have the tendency of talking too much during an interview, especially when answering this question. 90% answers I have heard are longer than 3 minutes and some even last for more than 5 minutes. That is way too long! They seem to hold the view that the longer the answer, the better. But that is not true for three key reasons:
1. You will likely bore the interviewer with your life stories. You may think your stories are exciting, but the interviewer usually is not as interested in them. They are more interested in quickly assessing if you are a good fit for the role they are hiring.
2. You end up repeating yourself in the subsequent interview questions when you have to draw the same experience that you have already talked about in detail earlier.
3. You come across as someone who lacks communication skills and emotional intelligence.
Lack of structure: For someone not familiar with your experience (i.e. the interviewer), not having a structured answer makes it even more difficult to follow you. If you jump back and forth from education to work experience, the interviewer will quickly give up listening.
Not fluent: This is largely due to lack of preparation and practice. This is the question you are almost guaranteed to get, and it is entirely about you – so no excuse here.
Aim for a 2-min answer: That’s around 250 to 300 words, which allow you to highlight key items on your resume without losing the interviewer’s interest.
Be specific: Yes, you can be specific without going over 2 minutes. The key here is to select the most impactful responsibilities and accomplishments that are most relevant to this role instead of reciting every bullet point on your resume. For instance, “I managed a portfolio with solid returns” is an average answer, whereas “I managed a $12MM portfolio of large-cap U.S. equities and generated a total return of 17.4% in 2018” is much better.
Have a logical structure: Start with your education, transition to your work experience, then highlight your extracurricular activities and finally describe your career goal, which should tie back to why you are interested in this opportunity (this is something 99% students miss). When it comes to walking through a particular section such as professional experience, I recommend you to present it in reverse chronological order since the most recent experience is usually more relevant.
- Master of Finance from York U
- BCom in Accounting from UofT
- CFA Level II Candidate
2. Work Experience:
- Intern Debt Capital Markets Analyst at TD Securities
i. Prepared weekly indicative new issue pricing
ii. Facilitated transaction execution
- Intern Client Advisor at RBC
i. Helped retail clients with day-to-day banking needs
ii. Collaborated with product specialists to cross-sell products to customers
3. Extracurricular Activities:
- CFA Research Challenge
i. Represented York U, led a team of 5 and won the 3rd place in Ontario
ii. Produced a 36-page equity research report and presented to judges
- Marketing Director at UofT Chinese Students and Scholars Association
4. Career Goal:
- My career goal is to become an Investment professional
- I believe this opportunity is a great fit for me