In a recent attempt to assist my twelve-year-old daughter in preparing for a job interview with a local restaurant, I suggested we conduct a practice interview where I was the hiring manager and she was the potential employee. A local restaurant, in partnership with her elementary school, was conducting on-site interviews and would choose two students to come the restaurant one day for a few hours to shadow a server. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime!” my daughter exclaimed and then thoughtfully added, “Besides, I hear there’s a chance I might get all the tips!”
After teaching her the principles of a firm handshake, I sat down across the table from her and began the interview with the all-telling question: “So, tell me a little bit about yourself.” The look on her face was priceless. As I watched a lethal combination of fear and nausea take over her normally relaxed and happy face, I knew exactly how she felt. After all, I know I’m just one in millions who absolutely dreads that question during a job interview. When a hiring manager asks me, “Soooooo, tell me about yourself,” I can feel sweat beads start to roll from my armpits down into the waistband of the control-top pantyhose that I would normally not ever wear except in a job interview and I secretly wish I had the foresight—just as my friend Connie had in eighth grade when her crush entered the classroom—to stuff toilet paper under each of my armpits before the interview to prevent any embarrassing stains.
As I contemplate whether exaggerating will help or hurt me in a situation like this, I remember the “dream elevator speech” I formulated years ago in front of the mirror in my bathroom after a job interview that had gone very, very wrong. “After I graduated from Harvard at the top of my class, I was recruited by Warren Buffett to head a division at Berkshire Hathaway. When I felt I had reached the glass ceiling at Warren’s company, I decided I wanted to do more charity work and joined Bill and Melinda Gates’ foundation where I raised $500 million dollars to help children in other countries receive an education. Although I enjoyed my work tremendously, I decided I needed a new challenge and that is why I am here today applying for the exciting role as Server at Burgerville.”
I smile at the hiring manager who obviously lives for moments like these. As I feel the wetness under my armpits slowly begin to seep into my silk blouse, I decide to answer the question as honestly as I can, “After I barely managed to graduate from college, I really didn’t know what to do with my life. I had it narrowed down to two career choices, but I felt the job requirements for both required too much effort on my part. So, I drifted around for a few years and played my ukulele on a street corner for spare change. But after finding my first gray hair recently, I’ve decided it’s time to settle down and I really need health insurance. That’s why I’m here today applying for the exciting role as Server at Burgerville.”
Over all my years of interviewing for job after job, I’ve decided that being asked by a total stranger to sum up my life and career in thirty seconds or less, provides me with a reality check that we all need to take every once and a while. Each time I give my spiel, I realize all I have done and all I have yet to accomplish and I know that without setting new goals every day, I’ll never get to where I want to be. So, the next time someone asks you that dreaded question, “Soooooo, tell me about yourself,” don’t be afraid. Embrace the moment and answer honestly. Just don’t forget to stuff toilet paper under your armpits first.