The Dreaded: “Tell Me About Yourself”

By
Amy E. Andrews
September 2009

You got the interview. Now: the preparation. You scour the website for information on leader bios, values, mission, client reviews, stock performance, and anything possible you might need to demonstrate you’re invested in them before they invest in you. But are you prepared to answer the one question that doesn’t involve a web search? The one question which can distinguish you from every other candidate in the pack? The question: “Tell me about yourself.”

Personally, I’m not a fan of this question. It’s way too general and can often lead both candidate and interviewer into areas that are better left off limits in an interview. Nevertheless, there are employers out there that don’t arm their managers with appropriate interview techniques. It’s these managers that seem to think this is a valid question and don’t know the potential legal pitfalls it presents.

That being said, as an interviewee, you should always be prepared for this very broad and general question. After all, you’re in the door, you got the interview, so apparently you have demonstrated you have skills. Now it comes down to competencies, then cultural fit, which let’s be honest is often personality-driven. This question opens the door to demonstrate both. If you anticipate the question and prepare a response, you can successfully answer the question as an individual with character and personality versus a robot that does as they’re told.

  1. Review the job description for the position you’re interviewing. You’ll want to tailor your response to meet the competencies required for the job. Prepare a 30-60 elevator speech that summarizes who you are; what you’ve done and how that has prepared you for the job you’ve applied.
  2. “Know thyself”— Nearly every interviewer will eventually ask: “What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? Cut ‘em off early by including this in your response. “I really enjoy brainstorming and creating strategies to reduce turnover; however, I need to work on my execution of the strategy.” This demonstrates that you have key strengths and are aware of your development areas. Be sure you explain how you’re working to improve your weaknesses. Remember: even Superman had Kryptonite, so employers should not expect that you have no weaknesses.
  3. Ask your friends, family and former co-workers to describe you. Incorporate this into your answer: “Previous co-workers have described me as creative, dependable and a good team player.”

The question: “Tell me about yourself” can be a dangerous, open-ended question, if not prepped for in advance. However, if anticipated, you can successfully transition the question to more specifics on why you’re the right candidate for the job.