“Tell Me about Yourself.”

If I had to place a bet on the first question your interviewer will ask you, this would be it. “Tell me about yourself!” Seems like it should be easy, right? Who knows more about you than, well, you? This simple question often flusters interviewees, though, and some people struggle to answer it well. Fortunately, with practice and preparation, you should be able to respond to “Tell me about yourself!” with ease and then smoothly transition to the rest of the interview.

First, you need to understand what the interviewer is asking—and what they’re not asking. I’ve had people start their answer to this question with “Well, I was born in…” or “I’m 19 years old..” That’s not what the hiring manager wants to know! They aren’t asking for The Entire History of You, and they don’t want irrelevant information that will have no impact on whether or not they hire you.

So what do interviewers want to know? It might help to rephrase the question in your head. Instead of “Tell me about yourself,” think of it as “Tell me about your professional self.” This will steer you away from details that are too personal or largely irrelevant and toward information that your interviewer is looking for.

Even after reframing, you’ll have more success if you practice how you’ll answer. You don’t need to memorize a script, but you should mentally sketch out the beginning, main points, and conclusion. Brevity is key here: good answers to this particular question last between 30 seconds and a minute or so. Know when to stop! You don’t have to fill all available air space with words.

What exactly should you talk about? For students or recent grads, a brief description of what path you’re taking in school is a good place to start. You can then (again, briefly!) summarize your work experience. What do you specialize in? What has the focus of your work been? End by telling them why you were excited to apply to this particular job.

Don’t be thrown if your interviewer doesn’t ask this question; not all of them do. It’s common enough, however, that you want to be prepared so that you can avoid an awkward beginning to an important conversation.

As you move forward in your career, your answer to this question will evolve. I hope that it will also get a lot easier to answer. You’ll know what employers are looking for, and you’ll have built a professional background you’re excited to talk about. Until then, practice! You can master the art of “Tell me about yourself!”

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Build a Professional Wardrobe, One Step at a Time

Got an interview coming up? Maybe you’re not quite ready to apply for jobs, but you are ready to start networking. Is there a conference in your field that students can attend and you have the opportunity to go? Any of these situations can prompt a clothing crisis, especially if you have a closet full of student clothes and utterly devoid of professional outfits. If you’re a student, you might also find yourself in a position where you need to acquire a new suit without spending a bunch of cash.

Don’t worry, it’s possible! Here are some ways to get started on a professional wardrobe without going totally broke.

Exhaust Your Free Resources First

If you’re in college, start with your career center. Many schools have something like a “career closet,” where people can donate good-condition, professional clothing for students. You might get an entire outfit, complete with shoes, from this one stop, and you might not have to pay anything for it. It doesn’t get cheaper or easier than that!

Neighborhood career centers might have similar resources. These centers are also more likely to be connected to other local charities and can refer you to any religious or non-profit organizations that might be able to help.

Spend Time, Not (Too Much) Money

Thrift stores can be goldmines for brand name, like-new clothes at cut-rate prices. They’re also hit and miss on availability of styles and sizes, so you may have to spend some time digging and make multiple trips. Check with management; they can give you important information, such as when clothing is restocked each week. If you enjoy a challenge and have some time to scavenge, you can get excellent deals on quality clothes.

Check Clearance Racks

Most department stores have racks of clearance clothing at deep discounts—sometimes as much as 75% off. Target is a great place for clearance items, too. Like thrifting, this requires time and effort, and you may come up empty handed. Finding out what day new clearance merchandise is moved to the racks can increase your chances of success.

Go Online

Too busy for thrift stores and clearance aisles? You might be able to accomplish the same thing online in less time. Web resellers such as Thred Up and Twice offer gently used clothing for way less than retail prices. You may have to pay shipping, but you can often find coupons online for bonus discounts.

Borrow Stuff

If you have a family member or friend who is the same size as you, you may be able to borrow what you need. This is a great stopgap measure if you need clothes NOW; just keep in mind that you’ll eventually want to begin investing in a wardrobe of your own.

The same basic rules apply to these clothes that apply to all professional clothing and accessories: everything should be clean, pressed, in good repair, and work appropriate.

Got a good source for professional clothes on a budget? Tell us about it in the comments!

Make the Most of Your Summer Job

A summer job is a rite of passage for many students. School’s out, you’re old enough to work (not to mention old enough to drive to work), and you could use some cash. Enter the summer job. The most obvious benefit of summer work is the money you earn. If you plan well and work hard, you can reap many benefits beyond your paycheck.

Build Your Network

You’ve probably heard the term networking in the context of career development and job searching. This summer job you’ve got is a great place to start networking, and you definitely should do so. Having a well-developed network can mean the difference between a relatively short job search and a long period of unemployment.

What’s a network? In this case, it’s anyone you know who might be able to help you professionally. Family members, friends…and former managers and colleagues. The great part is that your network connects you to their network, too, so in a sense you know people you don’t even know. And who knows—some of the people might be hiring for just the kind of work you’re looking for.

Secure Excellent References

Former managers make the best references, no doubt. Don’t discount your boss from your summer job when it’s time to list references. If you’ve done a good job and your manager is familiar with your work, they might be willing to tell future employers how great you are!

The key to this, of course, is to be great: have stellar attendance, be perfectly punctual, work hard, show initiative, prove you’re dependable. Tepid or terrible references do more harm than good.

Develop Opportunities for Future Work

When August rolls around and school starts again, you may need to leave your summer job behind to focus on your studies. If you liked the work and they liked you, you might be able to come back when you’ve got a break from schoolwork. Some businesses need holiday help, and summer will be back before you know it.

Moving away for school? If you worked for a chain or franchise, check and see if there’s one in your new town. Managers love to hire people who are already trained.

To have the best chance to be able to come back, make sure you give two weeks’ notice when you quit.

Enjoy your summer job! Save some money if you can, and set yourself up for future success.