Who Are You? (And Why It Matters in an Interview)

Upon meeting Alice for the first time, in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the caterpillar asks, through the smoke of his hookah, “Who are you?” Alice can hardly answer since she, herself, doesn’t quite know who she is. In the real world, we certainly don’t encounter talking caterpillars, nor do we find ourselves down rabbit holes in Wonderland. We do, however, find ourselves across a table from hiring professionals who pose the same question in a manner of ways. What’s your story? What should I know about you? What do you bring to the table?


So…how exactly should you avoid being like Alice and, instead, respond in a clear, articulate way leading to a great offer letter?


Let’s start by considering why hiring professionals love to ask this question in the first place. Two reasons really. First and foremost, they really do want to know who you are, in addition to verifying that you are consistent with who you say you are in cover letters, resumes, and portfolios. That’s fairly straightforward. The second (and more interesting) reason hiring personnel like to ask this question is that they are interested in assessing your level of self awareness.


Why does self awareness even matter, especially when you’re coming out of a great university with an excellent GPA and a line of internships with strong referrals to boot? Well, consider this: place someone of equal educational and experiential background next to someone who has spent time understanding who they really are and what they can offer. The choice becomes simple for the hiring manager.


The quality of self awareness allows us to reach our full potential, allows us to know our best qualities and how to use those qualities effectively, and furthermore, allows us to understand others better. Studies have shown that high self awareness scores are strong predictors in an employee’s overall success. Additionally, a high level of self awareness allows a hiring manager to feel more comfortable that you’ve done your homework and considered how much of a great fit you are for the role and company. In short, self awareness allows you to play better in the sandbox of life.


Let’s now return to the original and secondary questions: Who are you….and how do you answer that question articulately and with a deep sense of self awareness? The question begs you to unveil your strengths, skills, interests, and core philosophies. To reach that point, here are a few tips:


  1. Reflect on your values, strengths, and top skills
  2. Develop a mission statement; consider what you’d like your legacy to be
  3. Read a myriad of books and/or take courses in self-awareness
  4. Take as many assessments and inventories as possible. A simple and most-effective starting point I like to use with all my clients is the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) paired with Strengths Finder 2.0. In fact, taking assessments like the MBTI, Strengths Finder 2.0, Enneagram, Strong Inventory, Firo-B, etc. is an excellent way to better understand yourself from a variety of angles.


The key take-away here is the following: in order to be a best candidate, you must know yourself well.   Don’t only prepare for interviews and networking opportunities by rehearsing answers to typical questions; spend time understanding who you really are on a deep level – your preferences, strengths, skills, interests, passions, vision for the future, even, your expectations for yourself. Stammering in front of your next interviewer, like Alice does in front of the caterpillar, won’t get you too far. Know yourself and nail the interview.