During an interview, it’s the hiring manager’s job to find out as much as she can about a candidate’s aptitude in the most expedient way. No matter what kinds of questions the interview may entail, the smoothest and most efficient way to launch the conversation is to address the candidate with an open ended question, something that says “Just start talking…I’ll let you know when I’m interested in getting specific.”
For most interviews, the first question is essentially the same and is worded in any of the following ways:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Tell me a bit about your background and where you’re coming from.
- What’s your story?
- What brings you here today?
What Is the Interviewer Really Asking?
When she asks you this question, the interviewer is trying to accomplish a few simple things. First, she’s encouraging you to feel comfortable in the spotlight. She’s showing interest in your career path, and she’s giving you an opportunity to express yourself in your own style before the interview narrows down on your specific skills and qualifications.
Second, she’s listening to the nuances in your speech and the areas you decide to emphasize. She’s gaining a sense of what kind of person you are and what you’d be like to work with. She’s also giving you a chance to summarize your background and catch her up on the significant information that couldn’t be included in your resume and cover letter.
How Should You Respond to “Tell Me About Yourself” In an Interview?
First, let’s discuss what NOT to do :
1. Don’t clam up
. Never answer this question by squirming uncomfortably, declaring that you don’t like talking about yourself, or asking over and over again for specifics (What do you mean? What do you want to hear about? Etc.). This is awkward, and it shows weak conversational skills, as well as a lack of confidence and self- direction, but you’d be surprised at the number of candidates who respond in this way.
Don’t say the minimum
. Of course you don’t want to blather on and on, but if you simply say, “I grew up in Ohio, I studied computer science in college, I graduated, and now I’m here,” then your interviewer doesn’t learn very much about you.
3. Don’t worry about boring your interviewer
. She’ll stop or redirect you when she chooses. At the same time, stay attuned to social cues and don’t ignore subtle signals that suggest it’s time to move on.
Now for Some Do’s:
Here are a few things you MUST cover while answering this tricky question:
1. Treat this question as a valuable opportunity
and answer with confidence. Take a breath, smile, and then tell the interviewer when you first developed an interest in this field, where and how you took your first step up this ladder, and what special areas of interest brought you to this corner of the industry and this specific company.
2. Tell your career story
. The interviewer won’t say so directly, but she’s asking about your professional life only, not your personal life. If you need to, you can mention how your parents inspired you, or how you met your first industry contact at your friend’s wedding. But otherwise, keep the personal talk to a minimum.
. Put yourself in her position: If you were the one asking the question, what would you want to know about? Tell her everything you can about your experience with this kind of work, your passion for the field, and the most important lessons you’ve learned while on the job. Be interesting, be honest, and be forthcoming.
Before your interview takes place, try rehearsing your response to this question with a friend or mentor who can provide helpful feedback. You can also visit Livecareer.com at any time for additional advice.