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



You Are Doing It Right

christmas listA friend of mine recently posted a picture of her daughter’s Christmas wish list, which was made and displayed in her elementary school classroom throughout the holiday season.  (Yes, I did ask her permission to use and post in my blog.)

Number 4: My mommy to be nice.

See the accompanying picture – I’m not making this up.

My thought was – yep, you are doing it right.

When I was growing up my parents followed a simple philosophy: I am your parent, not your buddy.

As a parent you have a job.  In a very basic sense this job includes teaching them right from wrong; protecting them from the evils of the world and sometimes themselves; to think of a world beyond themselves; how to learn, grow, love and be independent; how to be a responsible person; how to be a respectful person – all so many different factors that you have to cram into such a short period of time.

Often as a parent you will be qualified as the “mean” one because you are actually doing your job.  If you get called mean or anything of the like then you know you are doing it right.

Display that list proudly, Natalie, all us other mean mommies applaud you!

When I saw that picture I immediately made the connection to interviewing.  Yes, this is how my mind works.

I will hear people talk about how the interviewer should call them, they should lead the interview, they should give them the job just because “given the opportunity I can do anything.”

And that would be a nice interviewer – but that is not their job.

Their job is to read through countless resumes, sift through fact from fiction, prepare for the interview and take time to talk to candidates.

They take time away from their job, billable hours, clients that need them and countless responsibilities to conduct the interview.  They have prepared, set a specific time and are giving you undivided attention and a shot.

Sometimes you are not that lucky and you get the interviewer who is, well, clueless.  They glanced over your resume but didn’t really read it, do not have questions to ask other than, “tell me about yourself” and seem distracted.

Whether you get good interviewer A or poor interviewer B you still need to respect the fact that outside of spending a little time with you, they have a job to do.

Their job isn’t to be nice and lead you along the way to the right answer.  It isn’t to fill in the blanks for information that is right in front of you.  If the posting has the job description do not ask them, “what does the job entail?”  It is right there!  Now, you can ask questions beyond the stated but for crying out loud make sure that you convey that you actually read the darn thing!

Sometimes they spring on a group interview on you; sometimes they even bring in a higher up for you to talk to.  It is not their job to say, “Now Sally, don’t be nervous, just be sure to say this, that and the other and you will be fine.”

No!  They are seeing how you deal with pressure.  Do your homework and you will be prepared for the test.  Have mommy do the homework and fail the exam.  Pretty simple.

Hiring managers are not your buddy – they are doing a job.

You can have a great rapport with them in an interview and not get the job.  Do not stomp your foot and say “that’s not fair!”  Maybe, but that’s life kid.

I can like someone and not feel that they would be a good fit in the organization.  I can take your rapport building as trying to be my buddy so I want to hire you rather than recognize the fact that you have no qualifications whatsoever.  Nice try.  Next.

It would be wonderful if after an interview you got a call back immediately to tell you if you got the job or not.  If you did not get the job it would be even better if they would tell you why, really, honestly why.  Alas, they don’t.  Throwing a fit and stomping your foot while saying, “but it isn’t fair”  or “but I deserve to know!” isn’t going to help.

And here is where I can insert one of my mom’s favorite sayings when we were kids: “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candies and nuts oh what a wonderful Christmas we would all have.”  Yeah – try growing up with that logic and sing-song phrase stuck in your head.

Rarely will they tell you much, maybe a “we went with someone with more qualifications” or “we decided to go in a different direction” or something along those lines.  They should call, I mean, don’t they realize the stress this is putting you under?  You just want to know!  You just want them to call!

Well, mothers all across the country want their child’s room to be clean and actually stay that way – let’s see who wins in that race.

For your next interview remember, that hiring manager is not your buddy.  They have a job to do.  Your job is to convince them that you are the right candidate.

That means knowing what your skills are, how they translate to that position, how you can add value and be able to demonstrate all these things.  Clean the room – don’t just shove everything in the closet or under the bed.  Mommies know that trick, we were kids once too, you know.

Do your homework: know the company, the position, the industry – as much as you possibly can.  Do not waste valuable time asking the interviewer to fill in this information.  Keep asking me how to do load a dishwasher will not get me to do it for you, it will make me find reasons to dirty every single item in the cabinets and drawers until the dishwasher is not only full but you have to do the overflow by hand.  Yeah, mommies know that trick too and we have learned how to fight back.

This is your shot – don’t blow it.  Don’t waste time sucking up – spend it demonstrating.  You have one real chance to ask for the car for that big date or event; don’t use a lackluster strategy.  Asking if you can do something for mommy because she has been so busy or telling her how pretty she is just got you a one way ticket to “what do you want and the answer is probably no if you are being that lame in approaching it”.

Take responsibility and recognize that there is another person involved here.  Sure mommies can be mean, but those are the ones that teach you the most.

Lisa K. McDonald, CPRW

Career Coach-Strategist

Certified Professional Resume Writer

Career Polish, Inc.