Almost every interview starts with this question. Therefore your answer will be the first sentences the interviewer is going to hear from you and it might frame the rest of the conversation. This is your chance to give a great first impression.

What is the interviewer looking for?

1. A high level summary of your career

The quantity as a rule of thumb is to keep your answer within 1 or 2 minutes. There are several styles that are effective based on what you want to convey and what you think is more relevant for the position. You might want to start chronologically, focus on specific achievements or talk about your current position.

2. Why did you make those career choices

The way you frame your sentences will give you the opportunity to show who you are as an employer and what they can expect from you. If you say you are always looking for the next challenge you will look ambitious, if you mention you enjoyed your 5 or 10 years in the same company you will be perceived as loyal.

3. What are you passionate about and good at

Passionate and good. Not simply good. The reason being you are competing with other candidates who might have more experience than you but might not be as passionate. Your experience is not likely something you can change overnight, your passion is already there and you just need to show it.

If you show that you are passionate and driven by what you do (i.e. what you will be doing in this role) the interviewer will see you under a totally different light than someone who just wants to collect a paycheck.

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How can you structure your answer?

1. Explain your current qualification and position

Whichever way you decide to tell your story remember to tell the interviewer where you are right now in your career so you can focus his attention on tasks and responsibilities you have today that are similar to what you will do tomorrow for them.

2. Describe one or two experiences relevant to the one you are interviewing for

If you have direct experience in the role you are applying for make sure to use the terms of that very domain (e.g. acronyms well known in the industry or specific tools or products). Otherwise you can figure out what skills are needed for that position and describe a few experiences where you applied them successfully.

3. In the last sentence explain what you value of this company/position which made you apply

Interesting enough a lot of candidates do not mentions this. Doing so they leave the interviewer guess on what are in his opinion the real reasons why you are applying to this position. You want to make sure you articulate this point in a compelling way to show your motivation.

Example of a good answer:

“I am Mike Ross and I am a computer engineer. I graduated from UC San Diego last year. My favorite subjects at university were all the ones related to software development. The main reason I am passionate about developing is that I can leverage my creativity because there are so many ways to achieve the same goal when you code software and I like to find the optimal one for each scenario.

As a matter of fact during the last year of university I was hired as an intern in a local software development company where I had a chance to develop both front-end and back-end code working with their development team on their main project.

I also like to learn new technologies by experimenting by myself. For instance last month I have created a mobile app that uses machine learning because I was curious about how the new mobile frameworks work. That is why I am interested in your company since I know is committed to innovation”

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How to avoid common mistakes

Look at the interviewer(s). If you feel she is disappointed with your answer it might be for one of the following reasons. Stop and politely ask if that is what she was expecting you to cover or if she was interested in something in particular.

What is the interviewer NOT looking for

1. Hearing about your personal life (e.g. family)

Remember you are a professional candidate working professionally in a professional environment. (did I say professional enough times?) The last thing you want is the interviewer leaving the room with the image of you playing with your kids, unless you are applying for a job in that field. 

2. Hearing about your problems (e.g. previous job issues)

This is true not only for interviewers but for everyone who is listening to you. If you talk about your personal problems you project a weak image of yourself, or you might look like a troublemaker if you describe issues you had in the past with your boss or coworkers. It is fair to assume that you will have difference of opinions with people around you, there is no need to focus the interviewer attention on them. 

3. An impersonal list of your job experiences that gives no additional information to your resume

If you just list your positions and companies you worked with it is very unlikely that the interviewer will even remember them after the interview and if he needs to know your career history he certainly can read it on your resume. 

Though to be safe you should always assume that the interviewer had NOT read your resume prior to the interview and you can walk him through the relevant parts of your experience adding some interesting highlights and achievements.

Absolutely avoid the following topics.

You might think I am stating the obvious but you would be surprised of what interviewers hear during interviews.

1. Negative, racist, sexist or class comments

2. Discussing politics or religion

3. Come across as very opinionated

Example of a bad answer:

”I am from New York. I am the third of three brothers, and since our parents passed away I had to take care of the family. It was hard to find a job but I am a hard worker and I finally got a job for which I think I was overqualified.

Last year we moved because my spouse had a good job opportunity and so I worked around here ever since. I do not agree with the strategy of the company and in fact I think the management is doing it all wrong. I spoke with some of the leaders and they would just not understand so I decided to look for another job.

I am sure with my experience I could find many things that need improvement in your company so you will certainly benefit from hiring me.”

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What can you do next?

Now that you know how to craft a great answer you might be tempted to assume that you will be able to do it in real time on your interview. You might, but you will certainly see how you can improve how it sounds every time you rehearse it. Not only that but every time you will feel more confident too.

The last step to make sure you really are ready is to get feedback from someone who has experience in evaluating candidates. You can get feedback from family and friends, which is better than nothing. But is just an experienced recruiter or career coach that can tell you how much your answer is compelling from an interviewer perspective or how to tweak it for it to sound special compared to all the other dozens that they hear every day from other candidates.

At FasterSkills you can find top recruiters and experienced professionals with 10+ years of experience in companies from startups to Fortune 100 firms. They have been on both sides of the interview table so they not only know how it feels but also they can help you get to the next level, stand out and thus land your dream job.

Given the demand for Top Coaches FasterSkills created a new service called Limitless Coaching that allows you to get access to expensive Top Coaches that only wealthy executives could afford, getting the best advice at affordable price.

However you decide to do it. Practice. Practice. Practice. If you don’t know where to start you can always ask for a free consultation

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” – Yogi Berra