So, Tell Me About Yourself – i.e. Interviewing Hell

nervous intervieweeThis is one of two questions during an interview that strike the most fear in the hearts of interviewees; the other question is, “Why are you looking?” 

Job seekers fear the “tell me about yourself” so much that they play this odd mind game with themselves.  They create this little delusion that if they do not prepare for it then maybe there is a chance that it will not be asked of them.

It is called avoidance and it is not a good strategy. 

It is an icebreaker, an opener for the interview.  Would you rather have them start with, “Why are you looking for a job?”  I did not think so.  Although, that question has been asked before anything else in some interviews.  I personally think this is very cruel of the interviewer, but that is just me.  This is a nicer, softer way to rev up to the interview.

This question is setting you up to shine or sink.

How do you sink?  That is easy and normally happens in one of four ways:

  1. Get a bad case of verbal diarrhea
  2. Talk only about your kids, grand-kids, fur-babies or non-job related interests
  3. Recite, word by word, your prepared speech in the same monotone voice as a news reporter reading a list of school closings due to snow.
  4. Answer with, “I hate that question”

 This last one makes me laugh.  Whenever I would hear that, I always wanted to ask the candidate, “Well, what did you think we were going to talk about?”

Now that we have the “what we don’t want to do” out of the way, let us look at how to shine.

It is about you, but only about professional you.

When an interviewer asks you to tell them about yourself, they really, really do not want to know about your kids, pets, high school glory days (unless you just graduated high school and even then…). Please, do not start with your winning the spelling bee in the third grade and detail every detail until the graduation of your children through college. Please. I beg of you.

It is more than a question. 

Perhaps the interviewer is really looking for something – they have a specific person in mind they are waiting to hear key words they are looking for.  They also could be listening to your response, but listening to your body language.  They are gaging your general communication ability and summing you up. Do your words and confidence match your presentation?

Do your homework.

What is the job you are interviewing for, what are the important skills, abilities, experience and knowledge that are required for the position?  What is the company like, what is their environment, their mission, their goals, their successes and their plans for the future? 

Be prepared to make the correlation between your strengths and their needs.

This is a sixty to ninety second free forum for you to give your experience, talents, education/training and skills – as they relate to the position and company.  A minute (but less than two) of All-About-Me time. Hit on a brief introduction, your key accomplishments, your strengths as defined by these accomplishments and how these are important for the prospective company based on your research.

Avoid generalizations.

This is not a time that you jump at them and say, “I am a people person, I love people, I love working with people, I love interacting with people”. I cannot tell you how many times I heard this.  It got to the point that I started replying with, “That’s nice, I’m a dog person.”

Learn to be quiet.

Once you give this wonderful introduction of yourself as you have anticipated and rehearsed (without memorizing) just one last favor I must ask of you – shut up. The worst thing you can do is mistake their silence for anything but them making mental notes of those wonderful qualities. Do not feel as though you need to keep talking. Trust me, they have more questions for you and once they process your introduction, they will ask you. Just wait for it.


Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Brand Strategist & Career Coach

Certified Professional Resume Writer



Answering Difficult Questions: Are your Explanations Reasons or Justifications?

I will have to admit, I am a word and a numbers person.  My mom was head of payroll for a very large corporation for many years, my uncle is a well-known and respected CPA, my brother traded money on the Chicago Board of Exchange and I worked in finance. 

We are all kind of number freaks.  I remember my brother teaching me our phone number when I was little, the last four digits were 4217, he taught me, “Four plus two plus one equals seven.”  I think I was five. 

But the other part of me is a word freak.  I love new words, I love creating stories and images using words, which is a good thing since I do a lot of writing of resumes!  It is not so much the origin of words that I like to explore, but how words can be used differently in different situations.  In other words, how people twist words to suit their purpose. 

Teenage boys are a wonderful source of entertainment for this purpose.

For example the word justification.  According to the definition of justification is: a reason, fact, circumstance, or explanation that justifies or defends. Although I really don’t like to see a word used in a definition, it seems to defeat the purpose. And listed within is the word reason: a basis or cause, as for some belief, action, fact, event. 

When you are asked a difficult question, is your explanation a reason or justification?  In my house there is one determining factor: are you trying to get away with something?  If you are then the explanation is a justification.  If you are not then your explanation is a reason.  Sounds simple enough. 

During the job search and interview phase remember that the person you are talking to is much like me when talking to my boys: we have our BS meter on and in full force.  So when you are asked a difficult question make sure that your explanation is stating a reason, not a justification. 

Normally other’s actions are not justification for your stupidity and in extreme examples that is a debate best left to a judge.  My gentle reminder for the day would be to think carefully about how you are going to answer difficult questions then run them by a trusted friend who has a great BS meter to get their input.

The reason for this is simple: you do not want to come across as whiny or complaining or assigning blame to anyone at any time.  If your actions are valid, honest and true then you do not need justification now do you?