Interview Question: Tell me about yourself

While many of the classic interview questions are slowly fading away, this interview question lives on. Tell me about yourself. For me, it was always tough because it isn’t really a question! A question is specific, somewhat concrete. You know what information the person is seeking. But in the world of tell me about yourself, it’s a gray area. Let’s take some of the mystery out of this one.

What does this interview question really mean?

The answer to this depends on the interviewer. Some don’t know why they ask it. It’s just what we’ve always done. Yet many others really do have a purpose.

For one, it can be a great ice breaker. It gives them a summary of you as an applicant. Sure, they have your resume and can see your experience and skills. But what are you all about? What’s going on in your career? Plus, this question also helps if the interviewer just needs help finding a starting point for questions. The candidate’s response to this can be helpful in that sense.

What kind of information are they seeking with this interview question?

Professional. That’s the short answer. In most cases, this is not the moment to talk about your beekeeping hobby or your collection of (admittedly fantastic) shoes. Keep in mind, too, that many topics are off the table for interviewers. You don’t have to give away any of those details—things like age, marital status, etc. And at least here in Massachusetts, they also can’t ask you about salaries/pay rates of your previous roles.

Ideas on what you can include

Not surprisingly, the actual content here very much depends on where you are in your career. Let’s look at some ideas.

Recent graduates

You may want to discuss applicable coursework, why you are interested in pursuing this role, and how a position like this would fit in with your overall career plan and goals. Maybe you’ve had some internships or work experience? Definitely share that! Even if your experience isn’t directly applicable, there are usually some transferrable skills you can spin off your past jobs.

More experienced candidate

At this point, you likely have some applicable experience and a more tangible career path going on. Here’s a great chance to paint the picture of how this role fits into your career path and what you can bring to the table. If this role would be a bit of a career transition, here is the perfect time to market yourself and your skills.

What not to say

Not that we have any official rules here. But overall, I feel like this is 30-60 seconds for you to market yourself. That being the case, it’s a time to focus on the positives. I suggest not talking about gaps in employment or pointing out where your resume falls short for this role. Those are things another interview question will likely cover later on.

Written by Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist