By Jack J. Kelly
There are many annoying and irritating cliché interview questions that interviewers ask simply because they feel they should, as if they are a mandatory part of the official interviewer handbook.
One of these stereotypical questions that interviewees are not sure how to appropriately respond to is the “So, Tell Me About Yourself” question. This kind of open-ended question could have a wide variety of answers, some which will bring you down the wrong path.
Interviewers feel obligated to ask this question even if they don’t expect to gain any great new insight about you from it. In some cases, they may use it to just test your confidence and ability to think on your feet.
It tends to trip candidates up more than other questions, and if you’re not prepared for how to answer, it could get awkward and uncomfortable, which doesn’t leave a good impression. You might start talking about things that the interviewer has no interest in or offer too much personal information. It is easy to start babbling and rambling about your entire life story.
How would you respond if another parent at your kid’s soccer game asked you to tell them about yourself? “Uh, well, I get home late from work tired and cranky, and my dinner is cold. I tell my wife that I’m going to the gym but fall asleep on the couch while binge watching Netflix. My son is playing a video game with his headphones blasting, and getting D grades in school. My daughter is on Instagram and Snapchat, and I’m afraid of what she is seeing and posting.” Now that would be an awkward conversation. However, if you know the right way to answer this kind of question in the business context, it should be simple to breeze right through it.
First is that they mean this question in a business context. It’s more “tell me about your education and professional experience” than “tell me about your personal life”. This is a job interview after all, even though it’s nice to get to know your interviewer a little bit as well.
Therefore, you should tailor your answer to specifically describe your current and prior work and academic experiences, which are appropriate for the job you are interviewing for. Feel free to share details of how your background suitably prepares you to take on this new job and will enable you to offer value to the organization and succeed. Talk about how you could be a “plug and play” type person and make the hiring manager’s life easier.
Second is that you should say positive things about yourself and your experiences, not negative ones. While this may seem obvious, many candidates fall into the trap of expressing grievances about their previous employer, which can set off red flags for the interviewer. They wonder if you will be demanding and pessimistic or have nonstop complaints about them as well. You can be honest about important concerns you had or have, but try not to be extra negative.
Third, stay on point. The strategy of good politicians, who talk about their strengths and what they want people to know about them no matter what question they are asked, also works well in a job interview. You want to sell yourself to your interviewer. When you veer off course, you’re not helping yourself get the job. Remember to stay on message using your elevator pitch to clearly articulate the skills, background, expertise, knowledge and interpersonal skills you possess that will enable you to succeed in this job.
Of course, after you have spoken about your educational and professional background, if the interview is going well you can add some “fluff” conversation or answer an interviewer’s question with some lightheartedness. This is okay because you’ve already sold yourself professionally. In fact, in some cases adding fluff is good because it can connect you to your interviewer and increase your likeability. You just don’t want that to be the first thing you talk about or the thing that you go into the most depth about.