“Tell me about yourself” is the lazy way
The “Tell me about yourself” interview question is an interview ORDER for a JOB with a BOSS that points at you with their index finger. It is not an interview QUESTION from a MANAGER /COACH for a career or a relationship with a company.
It is just as easy to say “your resume is impressive, and I have been looking forward to talking to you about this position. I would love to hear more about your background” instead of “tell me about yourself”. Both statements have the same intent, both have a different impact.
Some managers want to grill the candidate and stress them. Personally, and within our company, the culture is such that we want the candidate experience to be a great one even if we know we feel the candidate fit isn’t there. We want the candidate excited about the process, and looking forward to the next interview. The candidate isn’t buying a used car, they are buying a dream and a future. Even if the candidate isn’t qualified, my goal is to have the candidate walking out of the interview thinking “I WANT TO WORK FOR THAT COMPANY!!” Seattle is a small town and we may not be able to make a hire on this day, but the candidate could refer us someone else, or, we may be able to work with that person in the future when our needs are different. The last thing I want is a candidate walking out of the interview process thinking “those guys were jerks” and then telling all of their friends about how they didn’t like our company. Candidates can be our evangelists and customers. We have all told our friends and family about the best and worst interview experiences we have gone through.
I think that if the candidate is ordered to “Tell me about yourself” in the first few minutes of an interview, it puts the candidate on the spot and we as a company may not hear the candidates entire story. Subconsciously the candidate is put on the defense. Yes, it is an opportunity to talk about skill sets, accomplishments, etc, but there is no direction with this question. There may be situations where we want to stress a candidate and see how they perform. In that instance, after the interview, I will make sure they know the business reason for the stress so they understand why it was done and doesn’t reflect as badly on our culture/company. When hiring for Attorneys, PR, Sales or Biz Dev, this tactic may come up. These are stressful positions where a large element of the position is pitching the company to listeners that don’t want to hear the story or may be questioning the story.
As someone who is conducting an interview, I only have 30-45 minutes allocated to make a decision. I don’t want to waste time listening to the candidate go in a direction I don’t care about. I also think that a little “chit chat” in the beginning can help set the tone for the entire process. Is sharpening the ax before I cut down the tree the wrong analogy?
I prefer to get to know someone personally before I get to know them professionally. I think it sets the tone and shows a bit of discretion and professionalism. I try to take the initiative and let them know who I AM. I try to explain what my role is, how long the interview will last, and let the candidate know that I want to this to be an interactive session and for them to ask questions. If the candidate is nervous, I will try to ease their mind by talking just a little bit more about what I like about the company, why I joined the company and why I continue to stay.
I want the candidate comfortable with us. Other ways to ask the “tell me about yourself
- “what are you most proud of professionally or personally”. If the candidate answers with a personal achievement like their kids, their family, etc, I can follow-up with “what are you most proud of professionally?”
- What inspired you to apply for the position? Why did you choose the school they attended? All of these questions can be asked with a curious tone vs. an antagonistic one.
We want to get the candidate talking about a topic they are comfortable with. From there, we can get a dialogue started.
That being said, “tell me about yourself” is usually one of the first interview questions all candidates are presented with. Have your elevator pitch down and anticipate it. Every candidate should be prepared for it. One Nasty way for a candidate to get around this is to “set the tone of the interview”. Literally, take control of the interview.
As the candidate, after the initial chit-chat, say something to the effect:
“thanks for taking the time to meet with me, I have been looking forward to this since I talked with the recruiter. I don’t know if you have had a chance to review my resume, but I am happy to answer any questions you may have about myself OR I am happy to give you some background and then answer any questions you may have.”
It is very difficult to say “no” when given a choice. You are giving the interviewer a choice. I can justify this question to the Sales and Biz Dev candidates because they are being interviewed to “sell” on demand. But if I am doing my job right, I should be able to get this story in a way that doesn’t come across as condescending or antagonistic.
If you are interviewing for a position, be prepared for the question. Some form of this question will be asked and hopefully, you will get the civilized version.
See you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.
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