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Do you break out in a sweat when you think about a job interview? Most of us do. Want to know how to sweat less? Be prepared. Not only will this help reduce the stress that goes along with interviewing, more importantly, you’ll turn the odds of crushing the interview in your favor.

Play offense

I’ve always been the kind of person who over-prepares for everything. This probably goes back to my Boy Scout roots. As you know, our motto has always been, “Be prepared.” For me, preparation has given me the confidence to focus on what I want out of life. I’ll use a sports analogy to explain how preparation for a job interview will win the day.

To be prepared is to play offense. Sorry to all my defensemen and defensewoman readers, but when it comes to a job interview, the offense is the best position to play. Why? Because you decide how the game is played. You’re causing others to react to your moves. When you’re not prepared, you’re playing defense and allowing others to control the interview.

I’m sure you’re saying, “But Bob, they’re asking the questions. Aren’t they on offense?” Yes and no. They are until you take the ball.

Think of it this way. When two football teams play, one is on offense until the other side gets control of the ball. Then, after they score, the other team gets the ball back.

Your goal…steal the ball

This back and forth is similar to a job interview where the interviewer asks a question, you respond, and then they ask another question. When you’re responding to the question asked, your objective is to steal the ball and score.

Do they know you’ve stolen the ball and scored? Not really. It can’t be that obvious. In other words, you can’t say, “You know, that is a great question. But, I’d rather answer a different question.” It has to be very subtle. The last thing you want to be is controlling. So how do you prevent that? In a minute I’m going to give you an example, one I’ve used many times and works.

Ever hear politicians avoid the questions asked by interviewers? Of course, you have. They make a living doing just that. But the great ones answer the question that wasn’t asked. And the reporter is so enamored with the response that they wished that was the question they’d asked.

Bottom line, this is a delicate business. You can’t avoid the question asked all together and you don’t want to. But if you do it right, and provide a response that tells a more powerful story about you, the interviewer will be delighted with your answer.

“So, tell me about yourself.”

This question is your golden ticket. Pray that they ask it. If you were playing defense and allowing them to control the job interview, you’d likely be shifting in your seat wondering how to respond. But instead, you’re prepared to answer this question. You can’t believe it, you were hoping all morning they’d ask this question and they just did. Score!

How NOT to answer the question

What you don’t want to say is this;

“My name is Bob, I graduated from University of Michigan (Go Blue!), I’m 24, I love motocross and Pinterest and I live with my parents.”

All of this may be true, but there are several reasons why this should never be your response in a job interview. Maybe the reasons are obvious but indulge me.

First reason. All you did was tell them what you thought they wanted to hear. Guess what, that isn’t the response they were looking for. They really don’t care about that personal stuff and if they did, most of it is on your resume.

By the way, this question is usually asked by those who are not very good at interviewing. They’re as uncomfortable as you. It’s true. They’d just love for you to throw them a lifeline. And, you can.

The lifeline you throw them is a response that tells them they need look no further, they found the perfect person for the job. Of course, you can’t say this verbatim, but the response I’ll show you in a minute will do the same thing.

The second reason you don’t want to answer it the way I described above, is that you’ve now missed your opportunity to take the ball and run. The next sixty to ninety seconds following this question are precious seconds you own. Own the moment!

Important: The job description is your golden ticket in a job interview

In preparing for a job interview, there is one thing you need to have nearly memorized and that is the job description. This might seem obvious, but the hiring manager wrote that job description to find the perfect candidate. He or she spent a lot of time, trust me I’ve written many, thinking about their ideal hire.

What they’re looking for is staring you in the face. If you want the job, you need to be that person. Or, better yet, more qualified, experienced or motivated than the person they have envisioned.

HOW to answer the question

Armed with the job description and the fact they’ll likely ask a “Tell me about yourself.” question, you’re prepared to craft a response that’ll put you in the driver’s seat.

So let’s say the job description, among other things, says they’re looking for someone who is motivated, able to do analysis, is a team player and has excellent written and oral skills. These are pretty typical and you should dissect the job description to find every single element for which you could create a response. But, let’s start with these.

Here is how it should go;

“Bob, would you tell me a little bit about yourself.”

“Mary, thanks for asking and thanks for allowing me to interview today. What I’d like you to know about me is that I’m a highly motivated individual who is excellent at analyzing numbers. I love working in a team environment because of the give and take and how the results of teamwork often exceed the results of doing it any other way.

I’m a great writer and would be happy to provide multiple writing samples. I know that you didn’t ask for them, but I’m proud of my work and would love to share them with you if you’d like to see them.

Also, I saw in the job description that you’re looking for someone with excellent written and oral skills. Aside from my writing, I’m an accomplished public speaker thanks to the time I spent in my university’s speech and debate club. Is there anything else you’d like to know?”

The beauty of this response may not be obvious

This response has four amazing advantages.

  • It’s short and sweet, most answers should be kept to under a minute, ninety seconds top.
  • It begins to covers items from the job description. You’ll want to use this same approach to all questions in your job interview. In other words, when preparing your response to the typical questions you might get asked, make sure your responses map to the requirements of the job.
  • This response has shown that you are confident, but not cocky. At some point in the job interview, you’ll want to mention that you need to boast a bit about your qualifications today because it is an interview, but that this makes you feel uncomfortable because you value humility in your self and others.
  • You’ve shown them you’re a well-prepared candidate. This is not only a plus for the job interview itself, but leads them to believe that you’ll use this same level of preparation on the job.

Congratulations! You’re on offense! Now go crush your next job interview.

You’ve taken charge by setting the tone for your job interview, a tone that is upbeat, transparent and positive. You’ve taken advantage of an amazing opportunity. And you were able to do so because you were prepared. You realized from the start that although they might be interviewing you, it’s your job interview.

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Take care till next week,



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