Interview like a Finance Professional: Tell me about yourself...Take 2!

“Thanks very much for coming in to see us. Before we get started, I’d like you to tell us about yourself in 2-3 minutes – who you are, and what value you have to offer.”

Cue one of three responses: jaws on the floor (and an awkward silence), an inarticulate ramble through your late teens and onwards, or a garbled sales pitch that uses every generic buzzword in town, including ‘strong leadership skills’. Sound familiar?

Whether you’re an interviewer or an interviewee (or both), I think after the scary ‘weaknesses’ question, this has to be the second most feared question you can be asked. But why? We all know it’s pretty likely to come up, so like most things – prepare for it!

Here are our top tips to help you present a winning pitch:

Make them sit up and listen
Before you do anything, stop and consider why your interviewer is asking you this question. Most likely, it is because they are busy, have either just come out of a meeting, off the phone or out of another interview, and they’ve only had 30 seconds to reacquaint themselves with your CV. Quite practically, they’re asking because they need to know, quickly, what you’re all about. And frankly, whether they should listen to you or not. Get this right, you’ll make an excellent first impression, but get it wrong, and you could find you interview being wrapped up toot sweet.

Don’t start at the year dot, be clear on who you are, right now
One common mistake interviewees make is interpreting this question as ‘walk me through your background/CV.” Unless you are specifically asked this, don’t start from your part time paper round job when you were 12 – and don’t try to create a chronology. Your answer to ‘tell me about yourself’ should focus on who you are, and what you have to offer – right now, not 20 years ago. Try to summarise your ‘self’ starting at your current position, i.e. “I am a Chartered Accountant and Financial Controller,” and then pull in your (relevant) career history, “with 5 years’ experience driving financial performance for sales and marketing divisions in the FMCG sector.”

What is your defining strength, or USP? What are you really really good at?
We all know that you can’t just ‘sell’ yourself on your skills these days. You have to provide a characteristic, or value, that differentiates yourself in a competitive market. If you are an FC with 5 years’ experience in FMCG, what makes you different to one of your peers who has had a similar career progression to you? This isn’t an easy question, but it is one you need to think through with some clarity. Think about what others rely on you for, where you have been commended in the past, or where you have your most success in work. Also think about where perhaps you see others fail, or not perform as well as you do – why are you able to do it better? This point of difference is your defining strength, or USP.

Back yourself up
To give us an example to work with, let’s say you’ve said your defining strength is your ability to communicate – or more specifically, to distil complex financial data into meaningful and actionable insights for the non-finance teams you partner with. That’s great – but now you have got to prove it. Just saying this is not enough. Think of a practical example you can now use to back this up, e.g., “For example, recently I worked with marketing on defining a promotional initiative aimed at…that delivered this result…” No need to explain it fully at this time of the interview, just give the headline objective and outcome.

Above all, ensure you’re speaking to the needs of your interviewer. You may only be at the start of your interview, but the more closely you can match your skill set to their ‘needs’ list, the better. This is why it’s imperative that you’ve spoken to your Consultant in some depth prior to interview in order to maximise your preparation, and fully shape your value proposition to align with the role requirements.

Good luck!

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