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    The Most Difficult Interview Question – And How to Handle It

    Interviewing can be a nerve wracking time.  Much like a first date, if you don’t say and do the right things, there likely won’t be a second opportunity.

    Studies have shown the most difficult interview question to be, unfortunately, the one typically asked first:  Tell me about yourself.

    Great.  Just great.  The toughest question at the beginning.  Yet you needn’t let it worry you.  Today I’ll offer a strategy for handling that question to get your interview off to a positive start.

    First, let’s understand why the question is difficult and what the employer is really looking for.  Then, I’ll break down your answer into five sections using the acronym GEESE.

    ‘Tell me about yourself’ is challenging because it’s so open ended, so vague.  Should you include personal/family information, how detailed should you be about anything, how long should your answer last?  It’s also difficult because, well, it’s the first question and you’re nervous.

    Much like with a first date, your employer isn’t as focused on the actual words you use as they are with your appearance and tone of voice.  Studies have shown interpersonal communication broken down as follows:  55% appearance/body language; 38% tone of voice; 7% your actual wording.  So don’t get hung up on trying to wow them with some brilliant, detailed answer right off the bat.  Oh, and limit your answer to professional, not personal.

    At this opening point of the interview the employer is less concerned with what you say versus how you say it and your body language.

    Employers are observing you.  Do you appear nervous?  Fidgety?  Is there eye contact?  Good posture?  An enthusiastic, yet professional, voice?  Talking too slowly or quickly?

    Opinions on how to answer ‘tell me about yourself’ will differ.  I’d argue your answer should be relatively short, around 30-45 seconds.  There’s plenty of time later to go into detail about your skills and accomplishments.

    Here’s a way to structure your answer to address their question without talking yourself out of the job.

    Let’s use the GEESE acronym.  The G stands for greeting.  Let them know you’re excited about the chance to discuss the opportunity.

    The first E is education.  Briefly let them know your relevant education.  The second E is experience.  Briefly give them a sense for your overall experience and the amount of recent/relevant experience.

    The S is skills/strengths.  You’ve read the job opening, so you should have a sense for skills required for the position.  Don’t give them examples of these skills right now, just mention that you have them.

    The final E is an employer question.  After mentioning a skill or two, restate your greeting, then ask a question of the employer along the lines of, “Could you tell me more about what you’re looking for?”

    Asking a question forces you to be quiet and allows the employer to begin what they were going to do anyway – tell you about the position, the company, etc.

    Remember the acronym GEESE to help you handle the world’s toughest interview question.  Good luck!

    Randy Wooden
    Randy Wooden is Director of the Professional Center by Goodwill of Northwest NC. Randy launched The Professional Center by Goodwill of Northwest NC, the first program of its type for any Goodwill®, in 2012. His experiences in career coaching, executive recruiting, business ownership, as a hiring manager and as a job seeker have afforded him the opportunity to view the hiring process from all angles. He developed and provided on-air talent for the Internet’s first daily, live television program targeted toward job hunters. He shares job search tips through a bi-weekly newspaper column; regular appearances on television, radio; and frequent public speaking appearances. Contact information: rwooden@goodwillnwnc.org, (336) 464-0516
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