"So, tell me about yourself?" You've probably been faced with this question every time you've been interviewed. You may not have even known it was part of the interview. It seems like such a harmless question...on the surface. On the other hand, your first impression rides on this question. So, how should you answer?
Let's start with what NOT to do. They don't need your family history, your birthplace, your age, marital status, number of kids, dogs, fish, goldfish... They don't need to know about any "issues" you are currently facing, why you left your last job, your political or religious views, or anything else that might seem controversial. Basically, don't waste your first impression by giving details that do not show why you are the PERFECT FIT for the company and the position.
What you DO want to tell them is: Who you are, What you can do, and How you are going to make their company better. Some call this the "Elevator Speech". Simply put, if you were riding an elevator with Donald Trump, and you knew that you only had the length of that ride to convince him to give you a job, what would you say?
Let's break down the pieces just a bit.
Who are you? This is your name, possibly your degrees, certifications, strengths, and any particular skills or abilities that set you apart from your competition.
What can you do? Give 2-3 BRIEF and SPECIFIC examples of recent successes you've created...a team you lead, a project you completed, an process improvement you developed, etc. Your comments heat should not be theoretical. Nothing about what you hope to do or think you could do. Just the facts.
What are you going to do for the company? This is where you need to be able to tie your abilities to the needs of the company. This also means that you have to do some research ahead of time so you know what the company is looking for. You might also mention how you positively relate to the company's mission or core values to show that you are the right type of person for the job.
You should be able to answer these questions in 30-60 seconds. It should come across as confident, but not rehearsed. It should be prepared well in advance of your interview and practiced on a regular basis. You should be able to present your elevator speech at a family barbecue just as well as you can at a formal interview. Let's be honest, more jobs come from networking opportunities than from formal interviews anyway, so you might as well give a good first impression at social events too.
Practice, practice, practice. This needs to be a habit that you add to your list of successful career search activities.