Talking About More Than Yourself

Do you know people perhaps who talk about themselves so much that your left with the impression that they believe the world revolves around themselves? You know, the person who no matter what you change the conversation topic to, they can bring the whole thing back to them.

Ironic that you’d think these same people would be the ones to excel in an interview. After all, the first question is some version of, “Tell me about yourself”, in many. Then the interviewer wants to know about your strengths, your value, your skills and experience, your education and certification or training, and hopefully your availability and your references. Why the whole interview would appear to be a massive opportunity to talk about the glory of you.

And yet, some of the best candidates will consistently do something peculiar and desirable; they’ll talk about the influence of previous supervisors on their growth, the productive relationships they’ve forged with co-workers, people in other organizations, other departments and then maybe situations in the past with valued clients and customers.

There is a middle ground that successful job applicants find and use to their advantage. Yes the person across the desk is interviewing you and no one else, and of course you should do your best to demonstrate your value to the company. However, the value of bringing others into your replies to questions, adds believability to your stories, puts your answers in some context, and layers your replies with richness and validity. So for example to answer a question about teamwork, best to set up the situation in the mind of the interviewer so they can understand your role in relation to the others present and what you accomplished both as an individual and as a group.

If the question is about dealing with conflict, describing a problem might initially mean talking briefly about who was there, the issue at hand, and if it’s a people problem, saying enough about the other person and their issue so the interviewer can understand the challenge you faced is critical. If you leave out important information such as someone’s attitude or poor work ethic, your strong mediation or intervention skills might seem over-played, heavy-handed, or downright unnecessary.

An applicant with a decent vocabulary will present well and come across as interesting to listen to as well. Just imagine how you’d come across otherwise… “Sure I’ll tell you about me. I’m smart, I’m dependable and I’m honest. I like people, I am great at customer service too. I’m good at computers, I’m positive!” Look at all those, “I’s”. Do you the reader have any proof of anything claimed? No; just a lot of statements that could be bragging, lying, true – take your pick.

The alternative could be this: “Sure I’ll tell you about myself. I’m very dependable having only missed a single scheduled workday over the last five years, and I pride myself in providing high-quality customer service. You’ll see in my resume I’ve had an exceptionally strong customer satisfaction rating in my last position with X Department Stores”.

In the above examples, there is a quantitative element to the excellent attendance, (missed one day over 5 years) and in the second example, there is a reference to the resume in front of the interviewer that draws the conversation back to the resume and it’s a claim backed up by the ratings of customers. Both could be checked out with a call to the former employer and therefore have validity.

You can also talk about others to strengthen your answer, and what follows here is a concrete example.
Q. Tell me about a situation in which you dealt with conflict.”
A. “Sure I’d be happy to. The situation arose when employed with X Department Stores, where I was a Customer Service Representative. A customer was exasperated with an item he had bought on sale because it didn’t come with all the necessary and advertised parts. A Cashier was in a bind explaining that all sales were final which only angered him more. I intervened and moved the gentleman to an empty check out lane so other shoppers could proceed. There I listened to his problem, and he didn’t want a return at all, but just to get the missing parts. I knew we might have the identical item in our warehouse as we usually dismantled one for replacement parts, and sure enough I checked and he left satisfied and actually apologized for his earlier anger.”

In the answer above, it’s important to talk briefly about the customer, and by demonstrating his needs and level of frustration, the intervention and resolution grow in the mind of the interviewer in line with the degree of the problem itself. Simple problem with not much detail, you don’t sell yourself much. Bigger issue and bigger intervention; stronger impression made. Please note too that no names actually get used. By leaving out names, you reveal that you protect others’ privacy and respect confidentiality. If you use a name, make sure you tell the interviewer you’re making it up to protect someone’s identity.

Layer your answers with details and you’ll do better in future interviews.


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