“Tell Me About Yourself”

From the endless list of job interview questions, there’s one any candidate is sure to encounter: “Tell me about yourself.” Although it’s not technically a question, the response acts as a candidate’s grand entrance.

How to Respond

The interviewer is expecting a career story that culminates at the job opportunity in question. In other words, every detail given should support the candidate’s argument that this job is their natural next step. Education, job experience, interests, and goals all take part in a career story. The following questions can help jobseekers write their stories:

How have I/ how do I want to use my education, including certifications other trainings?How have I developed my skills over time?What results have I achieved using my skills?What have I liked and disliked about the jobs, companies, and industries in which I have worked?Where do I see my career heading?What skills do I need to reach my career goals?

A great career story doesn’t only answer these questions; it answers the questions in a way that is relevant to the interviewer. For example, Kevin is applying for a software engineer position at a mid-sized company in the automotive industry. The position is a slight promotion from his current position. Kevin has multiple software engineering certifications and has consistently expanded his skills for ten years. His favorite employer was a big-name company in the automotive industry and he’s recently become interested in developing his web design skills.

While these details are all important to Kevin as he makes career decisions, he shouldn’t lead his interviewer to believe that this job isn’t exactly what he’s looking for. Kevin should talk about the software engineering skills he’s developed and outcomes he’s achieved over the years. Following his trajectory, the interviewer can easily imagine Kevin moving into this more advanced role. Kevin would also talk about how he enjoys working in the automotive industry and the know-how he’s accumulated about the industry.

However, the interviewer doesn’t want to hear Kevin say that he enjoys working at large corporations when the company he’s applying to is only mid-sized. He also wouldn’t talk about his passion for web design if the position isn’t related to web design in any way. These details are simply irrelevant at best and can count against Kevin at worst.

How Not to Respond

In addition to irrelevant  career details, interviewees might be tempted to include personal trivia in their introduction. The confusion may stem from the fact that almost any other time someone is asked about themselves, they’re expected to talk about their personal lives. While there is room for small talk in an interview, “Tell me about yourself” is not the time. The answer typically starts with a candidate’s higher education or formal training background and then moves chronologically through job experience. A candidate should not include details such as their hometown, hobbies, familial status, religion, etc.

If done right, a 1-3 minute answer to this common interview question will set a sound foundation for a candidate’s credibility for the remainder of the interview. It helps the interviewer narrow in on the more specialized questions as he/ she becomes more and more convinced that they’ve found the right fit.

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