The Most Dreaded Interview Question
"Tell Me About Yourself"
Regardless of your industry, level of experience, or job type, the most common way businesses begin formal interviews is by asking the dreaded open-ended question: “Tell me about yourself.” For the interviewer, it’s an easy way to kick off the interview and break the ice. It also serves the dual purpose of them getting to know you more than just what’s on your resume and what rounds out the whole person. What makes you tick? What are your passions and values? Gaining this insight to the core of who you are is something they can’t get on paper and can speak volumes as to how you will fit with the organizational culture.
This question allows you to place yourself squarely in front of the position’s requirements, to market yourself, and to present yourself as the right individual for the job. Your end goal to answering this question should be to give insight to you are (both personally and professionally) and to develop some level rapport with your interviewer.
However, when coaching individuals on this response, 99% typically fall victim to simply regurgitating everything in their resume. Do not summarize your resume! They have a copy of your resume in front of them and will surely ask you specific questions about your work history during the interview. Give them something more, something new and refreshing.
Think of it this way… The resume is what got you in the door. The resume’s sole objective is to get you the interview, not to get you the job. The job does not necessarily go to the individuals with the best credentials, but to the individual that interviews the best.
Let’s say HR received 69 resumes and they were tasked with narrowing it down to the top 5 individuals they would bring in for a formal interview. Their decision-making process at this point is 98% objective… meaning, taking a look at your resume. It’s black and white data. You either have the experience or you don’t, you either have the education or you don’t, you either have the certifications or you don’t. But, the decision-making process completely flip-flops come interview time. It goes from being 98% objective to 98% subjective… meaning are you and the interviewer hitting it off?, do you have the ability to blend in with the culture of the organization?, do you have the aptitude to work in the multiple dynamics or individual verticals in the company? Or god forbid you need to take a bi-coastal plane flight with this individual, you want to be sure that you are not wanting to rip your hair out at the end of the flight because you can’t stand each other. The interviewer can’t get that out of the resume, but they certainly can on how you interact with them.
When constructing your answer to the question “Tell me about yourself”, your response should be composed of two parts: 1) Personal 2) Professional.
Begin with sharing some personal interests that don't directly relate to your work. By doing so will serve various purposes.
- Help the interviewer see who you are outside of work. There is more to you than what you do in the office. What are your interests, hobbies, and passions? These are the things that shape you. By sharing these items, it can also indirectly demonstrate your skills. For example, if you love travel or are intrigued by history, that showcases your intellectual learning.
- Connect with the interviewer. Maybe you’re both an avid runner, or maybe you’re a foodie. Either way, answering this question with a personal twist can help you and the interviewer relate and hopefully establish a rapport. A true interview should be a conversation.
- Cultural fit. How does the “whole you” fit with the company culture? For example, if an applicant applying for a position in a small, family owned and tight-knit sports marketing company, doesn’t even like sports, what would that say to the interviewer? How would this applicant enjoy and be passionate about their potential work environment? How would they fit with the other employees and “talk shop”? If someone looks greats on paper, but can’t hold their own in the office and be part of the “team”, how effective will they really be? How long would they stay? Giving the interviewer insight to who you are aside from your resume can separate you from the masses.
- The interviewer’s hands are tied in the types of questions they can ask you. Why not give them some insight of who you are? Give them a holistic look of what makes you, you. Note: this does not mean you must give them the nitty gritty details of your life or share things you are not comfortable sharing.
Keep it short, simple, and at a high-level overview. Don’t give them your entire life story or go into deep detail on any one subject. And please, please steer clear from religion and politics. No matter your stance or point of view, you will never "win" and conversations on these topics are sure to get your interview off topic in the wrong direction. That being said, if for example, you are a very faith based individual and you do volunteer or charitable work in your community, by all means mention that, but there is a huge difference between mentioning this and preaching to someone.
Once you’ve shared a few interesting personal aspects of your background, it’s time to transition to sharing what drives you professionally. Remember: Do not repeat your resume! In fact, don’t even talk about the contents of your resume. What you should convey is the passion that drives you to do what you do. What gets you out of bed in the morning to do what you do?
The transition from the personal to the professional is not always easy, but with planning and guidance it will become second nature.
This transition statement should open the flood gates for you to tell the interviewer the passion that drives you, how that passion gets results, and how you are the candidate they’ve been looking for. Below is an example of how someone might transition from the personal to the professional.
“On a professional aspect, I’ve always been fascinated with marketing and promotions, even when I was a young girl and before I completely understood just what marketing was. I remember being 8 years old and running my own lemonade stand, my mom gave me this great idea of putting balloons up to help attract people to my stand and get noticed. This is where it all started and lead me to pursue my marketing degree with an emphasis on sales. I truly believe marketing and sales is the heartbeat of an organization. I possess an uncanny ability to step into an organization and take a strategic look at how marketing and sales are impacting the bottom-line and then develop a team to implement the tactics to streamline the marketing efforts and maximize revenue opportunities…”
You should always shape your response in an interview to highlight the specific connections between your qualifications and the requirements of the available position, so do your homework. And remember, your reply should take at least 90 seconds and no more than 3 minutes. If you’re talking more than 3 minutes, you’re talking too long!
So, don’t let the very broad, open-ended question of “Tell me about yourself” knock you off your game. Break it down into the personal and the professional, plan it out, and commit it to memory. Let this question be your opportunity to market yourself and emphasize the points that you most want the potential employer to know about you.