Hiring managers often kick off interviews with a deceptively simple question: "Tell me about yourself."
Interviewees may be tempted to gloss over this question in their preparation — after all, everyone thinks they know the answer by heart. But according to bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch , you should have your answer meticulously prepared.
Potential employers will use your response to determine two things: your maturity and your authenticity, Welch tells CNBC Make It .
Here's the best way to answer this common question.
Tell your story with the job in mind
While it may sound like the hiring manager has asked for your life story, they don't want to hear a long-winded, aimless tale. And they already have the bulk of your professional narrative in front of them, in the form of your resume.
"The interviewer, usually your future boss, wants to know the parts of your life story that relate to your doing well in the open job," Welch says.
For example, if you are interviewing for a job in sales, tell the hiring manager how you ran lemonade stands when you were a kid, sold products in college or pitched a new project at your last job.
Ask yourself, "What is it about me that he or she cares about?" Welch says.
This shows the hiring manager that you are aware of what they're looking for, which is a sign of maturity.
Don't be afraid to show who you really are
While you may think it's best to stick to a script, you should also add a bit of personality to your answers.
"Your interviewer is hoping to hear who you really are," Welch says. "They want to see if you'll fit in, culturally."
For example, Welch says that if she was interviewing for a job as a journalist, she would start her answer by saying, "I was born in Portland, Oregon, and I come from a big, crazy and generally happy Italian family. But for the purposes of this job, I began my life as a writer at my high school newspaper."
One or two small details that show you are self-aware, empathetic or any other positive trait you're hoping to demonstrate can go a long way.
"Use this opportunity to actually say something like, 'The one thing that doesn't show up on my resume is my values,'" Welch suggests.
Jot down notes on what you'd like to convey about yourself in your answer. Or better yet, practice your response for a friend or family member.
"Be prepared," Welch says. "Know it's coming at you, and don't wing it. It's an incredible opportunity to differentiate yourself."
Suzy Welch is the co-founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute and a noted business journalist, TV commentator and public speaker. Think you need Suzy to fix your career? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an updated version of a post that appeared previously.
More from Suzy Welch:
- What to say when a job interviewer asks, 'Do you have any questions?'
- What to say when a job interviewer asks, 'What's your current salary?'
- The single best question to ask in a job interview
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!
More From CNBC