“Tell Me About Yourself”

Every interview needs to start with the first question.  That question can be meaningful or it can just be a time-filler for the interviewer – it all depends on the capabilities of the two or more individuals participating in this interaction.  Other than the cover letter and resume (both being more introductory than insightful), the most meaningful picture of who this potential employee is can be achieved through a dynamic and robust interview. 

Like any discussion, an interview’s first give and take can set the pace for something worthwhile or unfortunately just an hour of meaningless and uncomfortable talk.  Though everybody chuckles at the idea, the initial question should always be: “Tell me about yourself.” 

The icon inquiry is more than just an ice-breaker, or an opportunity for the interviewer to throw out a soft ball question – “Tell Me About Yourself” provides the candidate an initial time to show how creative he/she can be and most importantly provides the occasion to make an immediate “sell” to the potential employer before we are forced to get into specifics.

The “Tell Me About Yourself” question is probably the  most important inquiry of the employment interaction.  The response sets the pace for the remaining time together but most importantly shows that you have done your homework on the company that you would like to work for while also providing you time to point out some of your accomplishments and attributes.

The worst thing any candidate can do in responding to this question is to say “What would you like to know?”  That weak and indecisive response can only give a negative impression to the interviewer.  It tells him/her that you didn’t prepare for this interview and probably most importantly it tells the interviewer that you know nothing of the priorities, the history and the goals of the company you are interviewing with.

Don’t be mistaken to think that the interviewer might be interested in you as a person.  They don’t need to know that you are 1 of 5 siblings.  What the interviewer really wants to know is what can you accomplish on this job and whether you are the right person for it.  Talk about your experiences and your talents and stay clear of your hobbies and/or preferences, unless you are specifically asked about them.  Never talk politics, religion or sports – unless you know for a fact where the interviewer stands on these bombastic topics.

Like the first question, the first response of any interview can either make or break the whole session.  If your response is mealy-mouthed and unfocused you can set the precedent for a painful exercise.  You need to be energized and empathic right out-of-the -box.  You need to give the impression that you are expert at what you do and that you might have thought this through ahead of time.  Most importantly you need to show that you are comfortable with the environment and with what is to come.

Before the first question, make sure you are pleasant with your perfunctory introductory chit chat.  Be direct and firm with your handshake and make sure your chair, be it at a table or the other side of the interviewer’s desk is in direct eye-contact with your inquisitor.  Find a comfortable position for your legs (crossed or planted firmly on the floor) and of course – what to do with those arms and hands?

If you are a demonstrative talker, one who can’t talk without using your hands – make sure you are not using a pen for a prop or inadvertently shuffling your resume or papers while you are answering questions.  Matter of fact, the only thing that should be in front of you is a legal pad with 2 or 3 questions that you will ask later on and of course a pen.  But again make sure the pen remains to the side and is not used as a pointer or a nerve-releaser while you answer questions. 

The legal pad can also be vital in taking notes for later use and let’s face it – it may even make you look like you can react on your feet.  But do not focus so much on the pad that you forget to maintain eye-contact with the questioner(s).  Remember, you are here to sell your talents and not to do research.  The more you see for yourself the reaction to your answers, the more you can emphasize what apparently the questioner is looking for.

Your non-verbal clues are in many ways just as important as what you say.  Be careful how you react to every question.  Always appear like you know the answer before the question is even asked.  Lean forward to answer that question becasue it looks like you are interested in the give and take and most importantly make sure you have a friendly and inquisitive facial appearance.  If you look like “death warmed-over,”  the interviewer might just not respond positively to you.

Above all, prepare, prepare, prepare.  Know how and what you are going to say.  Practice the initial question and answer.  Rehearse your “elevator speech.”  Of course, though you have rehearsed you do want to give the aura of freshness and immediacy so be careful not to recite your answers in a monotone and practiced way.  Keep the energy and engagement up – after all, this can be your next job!

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2 thoughts on ““Tell Me About Yourself”

  1. This is the first question I always ask. Having been on the interviewee side of things from time to time, it amazes me how many interviewers DON’T lead with this or even ask it. As an HR professional, it sometimes leads to the candidate disclosing information that I could not legally ask… especially if you let the close of the question linger….. just a bit…. too long…….

    Most people do not have a narrative of themselves. They should. “Who are you, What do you want” should be the two things that should roll off the tongue easily as a 9 second sound bite or elevator speech.

    And I’m not entirely sure the interviewer does not want to know about you as a person. Having the candidate tell me everything I can already clearly read in her cover letter and resume is as painful as watching someone read a PowerPoint presentation. If the candidate needed some guidance on the question, I would say “Something that I’m not going to read here.” The candidate I never hired was the guy who stuck only to work and career-related topics. Perhaps I’m the odd duck out on this.

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