Trick interview question, “Can you tell me about yourself?”

Tell me about yourself
This question asks the candidate to speak about themselves, but don’t believe the hype. It’s a trick

What does the interviewer really want?

Do you freeze up when you are asked the “Can you tell me about yourself?” interview question?  Most candidates are not sure what the interviewer is looking for or where to start. Uncertainty is not the right way to start an interview. If you have answered this question with the following question, this post is for you.  

  • “What do you want to know?”
  • “Do you want to know about my personal or professional life?”
  • “Hmm, where would you like me to start?”

All are honest responses, but unfortunately, we are answering a question with another question. To the interviewer, the above answers are frustrating responses and the start to the end of the interview. 

A few assumptions about “Tell me about yourself”

  • This will be one of the VERY first questions you will be asked in the interview and you want to start the interview by building and not stalling momentum. You don’t want to start by digging yourself into a hole.
  • The interviewer asks this question 10 times a day and will hear one of the above answers from 8 out of 10 candidates. This makes it easy to separate yourself from the rest of the pack and shine.
  • You know that you should have an elevator pitch ready to go. It’s called an elevator pitch because if you are in an elevator with someone that can lead you to an opportunity, you may only get a few floors to share who you are and what you do. The above bullets just wasted 2 floors. 

The best answer

The best way to answer the “Tell me about yourself” question is to launch right into your pitch without asking questions. This shows confidence in who you are and builds momentum vs. digging a hole. A couple of thoughts on how we want to answer this question.

  • We are going to be hired for what we did most recently, not what we did 8-10 years ago. Start with your most recent history and work backward.
  • As a candidate, we don’t mention work experience that is unrelated to the role or the job description.
  • We want to keep this high level. The goal is to state our answer with a fluid story that hits the highlights. If the interviewer wants more detail they will ask for specifics. Focus on giving specifics in areas that answer the bullets in the job description
  • Include something personal about yourself, but leave this tidbit for the end. This gives the interviewer something to ask about so that we can move the interview back into a conversational mode and keep out of “interview mode”.

Strong answer #1

  • I am currently at McDonald’s and have been working there for the past 3 years. My first job was at the cash register and I did that for a few months. Over time, I built a reputation for being dependable and when someone was sick, I was usually the first to be called because I rarely declined the opportunity for additional hours. I was called in to cover for positions including the grill and the drive-thru and the manager found I was a quick learner. Prior to that, I had a part-time job at an ice cream shop while going to school. I knew that I needed to save money for college because my family wasn’t going to be able to afford to put me through. Frankly, I am glad. These jobs taught me people skills and taught me about work ethic. When I am not studying or working, I like to work out at a CrossFit gym and have recently got into cooking and love making pasta from scratch. Have you ever had pasta made from scratch? It’s amazing. 

Strong answer #2

  • Currently, I am a Senior Developer at Acme Publishing. I have been there for about 3 years. The people are great and I was promoted to Senior Developer after taking the lead on a couple of projects. I didn’t realize I was taking the lead, I just saw what needed to be done and organized the team to a common goal. Prior to Acme, I was with FirstTech where I was working in Ruby. I came to that job with a background in C and C# but FirstTech was a Ruby house so I took it upon myself to learn Ruby via internet courses and meet-ups. I have a CompSci degree from State University and always knew I wanted to be a programmer. At a young age, I was opening up the vacuum cleaner and my dad’s compressor. We got a home computer and I just fell in love. When I am not working a day job, I am working on a few personal projects. I like to BBQ so I am writing a program in Ruby that will automatically control the thermostat on my BBQ so I don’t have to be home all day when I do an 8-hour smoke. Do you like BBQ?

Coup de gras

Ending your answer to “tell me about yourself” with a personal question can help restart a conversation as long as the question isn’t too specific. This move acts as a conversation bridge back to the interview.

Key Takeaway: Have your answer ready! Talk about your most recent work history first and end on a short personal fact. The cardinal sin with this question is to answer the question with a question. 


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