Supporting HR Teams in Times of Change
November 11, 2020

What is one of the most hated interview questions? I figured that I knew the answer, but I googled it anyway, and it turns out “Tell me about yourself” is probably the most dreaded question.

It’s crazy, isn’t it? Common sense would say that if we know about anything, it should be ourselves. After all, who knows me better than me?

So why is it so hard and so hated? Perhaps it’s overwhelming. We’ve had a whole life with ourselves; there were ups, downs, and changes in our course. There’s a lot that could go wrong in our answer. We don’t want to say the wrong thing, talk too long, seem too boring, or get too personal.

Remember, there’s also a lot that can go right in our answer! This is an opportunity to showcase who you are. It’s essentially an elevator pitch with a little bit of background.

Do:

  1. Figure your answer out ahead of time, write it down, try it on a friend or your career coach, and practice it so it flows naturally.
  2. Start with a quick overview of how you got to where you are, glossing over the whole experience.
  3. Tell them WHO you are, what DRIVES you, what you BRING, and what you WANT to do. This is a great place to give them insight into your strengths.
  4. Keep it high-level and aim for 30-60 seconds. They can always ask for more details.
  5. Keep it positive. If you were fired from a role, stick to what you learned.
  6. Tailor it to your audience. Your answer during the initial phone screen with the recruiter might be less technical than how you might answer it for the hiring manager.
  7. Watch or listen for clues that they want to move on to the next question. Are they engaged? If they’re looking at their notes, they may be ready to talk about something else.

Don’t:

  1. Ask them what they want to know. This undermines your credibility and ability to market yourself.
  2. Talk about your family and/or personal information that isn’t relevant. I know I’ll catch flack about this, because we need to bring our whole self to work, and hopefully family is the most important part of your life, but an interview isn’t the time or place to talk about your kids.
  3. Take them all the way back to preschool, unless there’s a really important connection to the job.
  4. Take them through every job, what you learned, and why you left. Never badmouth a previous employer.
  5. Go on too long or give too much detail. This is not a recitation of the resume. They have that, so keep it more about who you are and how they can expect you to show up in the job.

Variations:

Tell me about yourself” can come at you in other ways, such as “Tell me how you got to where you are today,” “Tell me about your background,” or “Why should I hire you?”  This last one obviously requires a little adapting – lighter on the history, heavier on the related experience, strengths, desire to work there, and what you can deliver.

“Take me through your resume,” especially from the hiring manager, is a version of the question with a little more focus on your work experience and reason why you left your previous company. Still keep it high-level, work in who you are, and be positive.

Example:

I’ve always loved stories and aesthetics, so marketing seemed like a natural fit for me, and I love that marketing lets me exercise both my creative and my analytical side. I started at Purple Ink 6 years ago as a part-time admin and grew to my current role as Director of Marketing. There was no marketing department when I started, and I’m really proud that I built it from scratch. I’ve loved seeing the way our marketing efforts have helped the business grow.  I believe in what the company does, and my goal is to make sure everyone else knows about it, too.

If you need help crafting or practicing responses, reach out to a trusted friend or advisor, or reach out to Purple Ink to enlist the help of a career coach. We love helping you prepare and feel confident in your responses.

Peggy Hogan
Peggy Hogan
Peggy is the Manager of Career Transition Services at Purple Ink. Peggy enjoys connecting the right person to the right place, whether she’s career coaching, recruiting or working on-site with a client. She is motivated to help create positive workspaces by offering creative solutions to problems in the workplace, resulting in reduced turnover, higher employee engagement and increased productivity.

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