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Deadly Interview Question #1!

image The #1 most common first question asked in a job interview is also one of the most deadly. Right off the bat the interviewer gives the person a long length of rope which the interviewee very often uses to hang themselves! What’s that deadly question?

Tell me about yourself!”

The question sounds innocent enough, even friendly. Technically, it’s not even a question really. It’s a statement. So what’s the problem? MANY people answer very poorly, perhaps creating a first impression that they cannot shake the rest of the interview.

First, think about why the question is asked. There may be a variety of reasons:

  • Often the interviewer is unprepared, and is asking a general open ended question simply to buy some time to peruse your resume to figure out what to ask next.

  • Sometimes, knowing the question can be a minefield, they want to see how you handle it.

  • They may want to hear what you deem important enough to describe about yourself.

  • They are looking for cues to guide the rest of the interview.

  • That’s the first question they’ve always been asked, so they just follow suit.

Depending on the reason they asked the question, they may not be remotely interested in the answer or even listen. If you see they are reading your resume while you’re talking, you may be able to recite the lyrics to your favorite song and they wouldn’t even know it… as long as you’re done before they’re done with your resume!
However, more often than not, people give answers that are either far too long, or irrelevant, or both.

It is NOT a license to tell them about your dog when you were a child, or your favorite flavor of ice cream. “That’s ridiculous!” –you may say. It is, but not terribly uncommon. And very often the answer begins with where they were born, where they went to school, about their wife and kids, and the ‘extra-curricular’ activities they enjoy most. While it might be interesting, it does nothing to help you get the job.

Secondly, it’s not uncommon for the answer to that question to go on… and on… and on! Even if the answer is relevant, the interviewer is likely to want to move on to other questions relatively quickly, and the longer you talk the more uncomfortable they become.

The question can be a great opportunity to begin steering the direction of the rest of the interview. And it can be a chance for you to begin the selling process, showing your value for the company and the role.
So how should you answer that question? Here are some points to help you prepare:

  • The answer should be relatively brief, no more than 1 to 2 minutes.

  • It should be strictly career related. It is not the time to relate personal ‘outside of work’ information.

  • As much as possible, it should be related to the position you are interviewing for. Telling them about your background in Retail Management may not be appropriate if you’re there to discuss a position as an Engineer.

  • It should include examples of successes you’ve had that are related to this role.

  • It should be well prepared and sound natural. If you know this question will be asked, be ready! Write out your answer, rehearse it, hone it, and use words that come easily to you.

  • Bring up points that you may want to emphasize about yourself for this role, but think might not come out in other questions.

  • After a brief response, ask “Does that give you an idea… or is there something more specific you were looking for?”

Use the question to your advantage, don’t waste it, and don’t create the impression that you don’t know when to quit talking.

Preparation and practice in this question, just like any other will give you the edge over every other candidate. Put in the effort beforehand to shine when you get there!


Interview (not so) Common Sense!

Being "Assertive" in Job Interviews

ALWAYS Be Your Best!

Interviewing the Interviewer!


Unknown said...

Nothing to worry or get nervous, just be confident and never tell any lie.. answer what you know.. are the first principles while attending an Interview. I had lot of experience in this area, so collected a big list of interview questions and answers sites (more than 220 sites) on wide variety of areas. This doesn't cover just interview questions but also has information related to how to dress, how and what to ask the person who is interviewing you like if it is HR, you might want to know about the work environment, about the overtime rules, about the holiday structure, any medical benefits, insurance coverages etc.,. Thought it will be useful to all, so sharing them at the below link -- might be of some help to you... today and even in future..

C-Stat said...

I think a good rule of thumb when answering this question is: Present, Past, Future. Present: Who you are; Past: Quick overview of relevant experience/successes; Future: Tying it back into the job at hand and why you are there today. I work with college students and this tends to help give a general guideline.

Jon Jacobs said...

As usual, Harry presents a solid collection of tips for fielding what probably is the deadliest interview question. It certainly seems to be the most widely asked question - and is often the very first one an interviewer asks.

Here is another primer on "Tell Me About Yourself," which agrees with most of Harry's points. As an added bonus, the first link is a video version (the second link is the print version).

eFinancialCareers TV: How to Answer 'Tell Me About Yourself...'

http://news.efinancialcareers.com/News_ITEM/newsItemId-20120Our Take: 'Tell Me About Yourself…'

Barb said...

Yes, that IS the potentially deadly question all right! ;-) Great opportunity to use one's committed-to-memory "elevator speech"(all-the-while sounding unrehearsed of course!)


Rita said...

Consider this post RTd and linked to. Well stated.

I like to think the Tell me about yourself statement is a positioning statement. The interviewer is really asking, "Why am I talking to you."

And the answer is, as stated above, how your experience maps to the job. I advise clients to review the job description for the top three priorities and make their statement revolve around examples of how they achieved those priorities. Seems to work because my clients tell me they feel comfortable when the question comes up in its many guises.

Rita Ashley, Career Coach
Author: Job Search Debugged
Author: Networking Debugged

Michael Settle said...

This need not be a problem.

Reverse the question.


Here's how: What would you like to know?

Stop. Wait. Go from there.

New Negotiator

Anonymous said...

A lot of these articles seem to paint a picture that interviewers are unprepared, uninterested, or uninvolved in the selection process. This is not the case.

I highly doubt that professionals would waste their time by asking a question in which they have no interest in the answer. Yes, both HR and hiring managers are busy, but they made time for the interview.

I really enjoy asking this question for some of the reasons stated above. It gives you a sense of what the interviewee deems as important, and also gives them the opportunity to provide other bits of information that weren't included in the resume.

Most importantly, it allows the interviewee the opportunity to show some personality. When you are trying to build an effective team, finding the right fit for the group is essential. Interviews are a time to sell both your technical skill AND yourself as an employee. I want to work with dynamic, engaged individuals, who show passion or drive for their past projects or future ones.

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