"Why Mr President - I help put men on the moon!" A unique approach to a classic interview question.

Interviewing for Finance Professionals: Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” With Confidence

I hear you – where do I start? What do I say, and how long should I talk for?

As a seasoned consultant I coach accountants and finance executives on how to deal effectively with exactly these types of questions. I am used to the look of unease that crosses many a finance professional’s face when asked such a broad and to be honest vague question. When actually, with a bit of preparation, it’s a really easy one to answer. And if you do prepare, it may just make your interview.

Make An Immediate Match
Before you start preparing, it is critical to understand why the interviewer is asking this question. Most likely, it’s because they want to understand who you are, what you have to offer and your background or training – quickly – in order to make an initial call on whether you might be suitable or not. You may interpret the question as an invitation to provide an overview of your career history, but it might be worth considering whether you’re really giving the interviewer what they want – which is to get to grips with who you are, in the shortest time possible. We are all time poor, so it’s vital to be concise with your answers and relevant with your content to make a good first impression.

Be conscious of talking about yourself in the present first – who are you right now? What is your title, what industry to you work in, how many people do you manage and what are your key strategic objectives. Having a very clear sense of your present self is key to making an immediate match in the eyes of the interviewer. Think about this as your opportunity to grab the bull by the horns – don’t digress from the task at hand, give them what they want.

“I am a CIMA qualified Commercial Finance Manager with over 15 years’ experience in the FMCG sector, in both distribution and manufacturing. For the last 3 years I have been working with ABC Ltd, an X revenue business supplying Z products to a Y customer base across 1/multiple jurisdictions. Managing a team of 2 Analysts, together we drive financial performance through the provision of business partnering support to the sales and marketing team.”

Context, Context, Context
Interviewers, in the main, don’t want to know about what you did when you were 18. Likewise, they probably don’t want to hear about experience that is not relevant to their hiring criteria, or something that might question your commitment to the field you are in now. Resist the temptation to give a granular, chronological view of your career history. After explaining who you are, now, a brief summary of your most recent history covering those key points – title, industry, role mandate and team size – is all that is required. In practical terms, really a minute or two is more than enough. Think of equating the time you give to talking about various roles as a set of Russian nesting dolls, stacking priority towards the present day in experience.

“To give you a very brief overview of my career history prior to my current role, I worked with 2 major food manufacturing companies, holding duties across project and cost accounting and a more typical month-end management accounting role before progressing into a Finance Manager role with XYZ Ltd.”

Articulate Your Point of Difference – Why Should They Hire You?
After explaining who you are now, and summarising briefly your relevant career history, it is important to sum up the answer by presenting your point of difference. Evaluating this is hard, but it’s critical to being able to successfully communicate why they should hire you, over other people. Perhaps the best way to approach it is to start with an achievement you are exceptionally proud of and work backwards. Why were you able to deliver that when others couldn’t? What elements of your personality or skill set made the difference in making it successful? Most likely, this is your point of difference.

“I think the best way to sum up who I am is my ability to secure buy-in from non-finance business managers to drive financial performance improvement. For example, I recently led a customer profitability project to examine how we could achieve increase in margin on a number of key accounts. As you know, rolling out price rises to customers are never popular with the sales team, so I had to work hard to communicate how and why we needed to do this, accompanying various sales executives to meetings to support them to successfully achieve a 2% increase this year.”

Above all, take a bird’s eye view. To deliver most impact, approach “tell me about yourself” as an invitation to tell the interviewer what it is you do, and why that’s important. To quote the NASA Janitor when asked in 1962 by President Kennedy to tell him what he did:

“Well Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon!”

Now that’s a way of thinking about what you do, that just warms the heart…

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